Insomniac Movie Theater: Battlefield Earth

by Trevan McGee on May 20, 2010

in Columns,Insomniac Movie Theater

64 million people a year suffer from insomnia and every so often, I am one of them. But rather than use the extra time I’ve been given during an insomniac episode to be productive, balance my checkbook, study for the LSAT or exercise, I instead fool myself into thinking the time isn’t my own and can therefore waste it without guilt.

Netflix instant queue is the perfect response to this mentality as it gives me access to countless B and C movies all of which I willingly watch while everyone else is fast asleep. Enter Insomniac Movie Theater, where I subject myself to some of the worst, campiest and outright terrible movies the world has to offer … and the occasional cult classic.

The inaugural Insomniac Movie Theater deserves a truly infamous movie–one that’s so transcendentally awful that it actually becomes entertaining. It single-handedly killed the career of Barry Pepper and relegated John Travolta to the occasional supporting role and object of self-parody. That’s right rat-brains, it’s the multi-Razzie-award-winning trainwreck, “Battlefield Earth.”

“Battlefield Earth” is like a unicorn–a shitty, shitty unicorn. You hear stories about it, you completely doubt its existence and then once you’ve actually seen it, it’s so surreal, you think you imagined it. There’s so much wrong with this movie it’s hard to know where to begin. Even the character names are horrible.

Barry Pepper plays Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (see!), a member of a small, caveman-like tribe of humans in the year 3000. When his father dies, he leaves his tribe in search of what lies beyond his desolate home. During his travels he meets Carlo, played by Kim Coates (Tig from “Sons of Anarchy”) and an armada of giant, dreadlocked aliens collectively known as Psychlos. They are led by Travolta’s scene-chewing Terl.

Terl despises humans and Earth and when he gets the bad news that he has to stay there for another 50 cycles (with endless options for renewal), he snaps and decides to start training humans to use alien technology so that they can secretly mine gold for him. That’s the plot. Right there. “Battlefield Earth” basically boils down to a giant gold heist.

And how does Jonnie Goodboy (seriously?) and the rest of the gang react to this? Well, once they learn how to use alien technology, they meet up with some other cavemen, learn to fly harriers, and kill the alien insurrection in one fell swoop.

If “Battlefield Earth” is memorable for anything, it’s Travolta’s scene-chewing and director Roger Christian’s love of slow motion and squibs.

Here’s how I imagine the conversation between Christian and Travolta regarding his character Terl:

Christian: You play Terl. He’s a world weary leader, fed up with the bureaucracy of his superiors. Finally he resorts to betraying his comrades. How do you want to play the character?

Travolta: Like a flamboyant high-school drama teacher.

Seriously, Travolta’s overdramatic verbal flourishes, such as when he says “top of my class” in the first clip becomes a running gag. By the movie’s conclusion, it’s hard not to find him oddly endearing, if only because he’s the king of the turd mountain that is the movie.

On a production level, the movie is hilarious as it features some of the worst greenscreen and scaling effects ever committed to film. When we get to see the planet Psychlo, visually, it’s on par with one of the Action Pack made-for-TV movies from the mid 90s.

And the writing, oh, the writing. There’s so much cheesy dialog that our own Eric Melin came up with a drinking game for watching “Battlefield Earth.” Here are the rules:

  • Drink whenever anyone says “rat-brain.”
  • Drink whenever anyone says “leverage.”
  • Drink whenever anyone says “man-animal.”
  • Drink whenever anyone says “blow the dome.”
  • Drink whenever anyone says “Psychlo.”

I would also add:

  • Drink whenever anyone yells “No!”
  • Drink whenever the movie slips into slow motion.

I should point out here that if you were to follow these instructions to the letter you will die of alcohol poisoning within the movie’s first hour.

Until “I Know Who Killed Me” (starring Lindsay Lohan) earned eight Golden Raspberries, “Battlefield Earth” was tied with “Showgirls” for the most dishonors by a single film. In 2000, it won worst director, worst actor, worst supporting actor, worst supporting actress, worst screen couple, worst screenplay and worst picture.

You would think that having the rest of the decade as a buffer for other horrible films to replace or at least match the scorn critics had for it. “Battlefield Earth” won Worst “Drama” of Our First 25 Years and Worst Picture of the Decade awards from the Razzies. Screenwriter J.D. Shapiro even publicly apologized for it.

There are some movies like “Blade Runner” or “Alien” that are initially poorly received, but after enough time passes finds its audience and is eventually rightfully appreciated. “Battlefield Earth” is not one of those movies. It is laughable, though. Then again, so is “Plan 9 From Outer Space.”

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Matthew May 26, 2010 at 7:38 pm

Oh man. This is awesome. Your site pretty much ruled already and then you started doing this. It’s funny, though, because my friend and I actually just started a similar website to the Insomniac Movie Theater at absolutedreck.com. Not to get all self-promotional or anything, but yes. Keep up the excellent work.

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