Movies & TV / Columns

From Under A Rock: Battlefield Earth

April 21, 2018 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
Battlefield Earth


I’m a pretty decent fan of “So bad, they’re good” movies. This week, I wanted to pick one that I don’t remember too well but its reputation precedes it.

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Aaron chose Caché. This week Michael takes Aaron out from under the proverbial rock to show him Battlefield Earth.

Battlefield Earth
Released: May 12th, 2000
Directed by: Roger Christian
Written by: J.D. Shapiro & Corey Mandell, based on the book of the same name by L. Ron Hubbard
John Travolta as Terl
Barry Pepper as Jonnie Goodboy Tyler
Forest Whitaker as Ker
Kim Coates as Carlo
Kelly Preston as Chirk

Michael Ornelas: I remembered this as being a fun bad movie, but I watched it as a sophomore in high school. I was wrong. This was just really bad, and not fun.

Aaron Hubbard: No it was not. It was a boring, ugly mess of a movie and I am flabbergasted by how badly it fails on every conceivable level. This is indescribably bad.
Overly Complicated, Yet Numbingly Simple
Michael: This movie’s plot moved at a pace that only it could understand. We were denied motivations and details of scenes, yet everyone in the scene would be on the same page and I wouldn’t know why. But it was all dumb! It was up its own ass in so many ways, and yet it’s like they didn’t even try with dialogue. It was a complex narrative attempted by simpletons.

Aaron: I was vaguely cognizant of the fact that if there was competency… anywhere, really… that this might not have been a total disaster. Even trying to sum up what happens in the movie, it does not sound boring. But the execution of everything is so terrible that any shred of something interesting was destroyed. The hero? Perhaps the most uninteresting protagonist I’ve ever seen. The villain? Travolta makes Broken Matt Hardy look like Humphrey Bogart. And the visual look of the film is something I can only describe as a 1990’s Television show’s diarrhea put through a meat grinder. This movie is bafflingly terrible.

Michael: I feel bad for every actor in that movie who took it seriously. Props to them for being able to, but this is the type of bad where you have to know it’s bad while making it, right? Forest Whitaker and Kim Coates stood out to me as especially honed in on their crafts, yet did nothing to enhance the movie. And I like both of those guys!
Awful Effects
Does Anyone Here Know Anything About Anything?
Aaron: As a rule, I try to assume that I am not more knowledgeable about movie-making than the people working on movies. That feels arrogant and disrespectful of the hard work people put into their jobs. But you know what? Fuck this movie. Does anyone know how to do anything right? The movie is almost two hours of Dutch angles. Why? Are we supposed to feel unbalanced the entire time? What’s our baseline for normality? How is the off-center nature of the Psychlos’ scenes different from the off-kilter nature of the human scenes? This is “Intro to Film” basics! Does Barry Pepper know that you are supposed to use emotions to create a connection to the audience? Director Roger Christian was apparently a protégé of George Lucas. This movie makes Attack of the Clones look like 2001: A Space Odyssey. I loathe this movie so much.

Michael: I love your “this makes x look like y” comparisons. Bringing in Broken Matt Hardy and Stanley Kubrick in the same column is quite the feat. And you’re not even wrong in doing it! No choices in this film felt motivated by anything logical (other than maybe the special effects, despite how awful they looked). I don’t get how it’s the future but all the humans are dressed like advanced cavemen? I’ve never read any L. Ron Hubbard, but it makes me wonder if this was a good adaptation of terrible source material? Or if the biggest con artist in recent religious history would be ashamed of the effort put out by Travolta and his pals.

Aaron: I do know that J.D. Shapiro was ashamed by the results and felt that the movie wasn’t at all in line with the screenplay he wrote. Which may be egoism running wild, since I haven’t read the screenplay to see if it’s any better, because I’m a sane human being who doesn’t want to give this shitfire any more of my time. But at least one person involved was appalled by what ended up on screen. What a monumental failure of a project.
Its Place in History
Michael: It’s regarded as one of the worst movies of all-time, it won 8 Razzie Awards, and it was a financial mess. To me, even that level of notoriety is too much recognition for this truly awful waste of time. It felt like it was 6 hours long by the time the first hour was over, and I wish it had gotten less attention so I’d have been less inclined to check it out for laughs (that I didn’t get, by the way). This is a failure on a monumental level.

Aaron: I actually did manage to get a few laughs out of Travolta’s unique performance. He’s about as subtle as Rita Repulsa, but at least he’s bad in a sort of interesting way, as opposed to everyone else who is bad in a boring way. Also, can I just discuss how this movie loses all track of logic in the final act? The human’s plans to fly all over the U.S., from the capitol city to Fort Knox, without being noticed for two weeks, is so stupid. And then the movie literally ends with a planetary explosion. Okay, minor credit; they explained that the Psychlos’ air is destructive with nuclear radiation. All well and good. One Nuke can still not destroy the entire goddamn planet. A movie this bad shouldn’t be capable of jumping the shark, but at this point, if you can still care, it’s just finding new levels of bad to be.

Michael: I guess as much as I wish it would quietly go away, it does have a notorious reputation that will likely keep it in viewing circles for the “so bad it’s good” crowd (even though I adamantly disagree there’s any of that. It’s just regular bad).

Aaron: Watching this film was about as pleasant as watching a two-hour slow-motion video of someone shitting. I don’t usually indulge in fecal comparison but this movie deserves it. It’s one of the absolute worst movies I’ve ever watched and I just hope it can fade from my memory before I have to think of more metaphors. This is getting a big fat fucking F.


Michael: That’s…colorful. Anyways, I’m dusting off the one rating we have that’s lower than an F, and we’ve yet to give it out!


Aaron: Oh, I forgot we had that one! Can I redact?

Lumiere: Be my guest.

Is this the worst movie ever?

Next week:

Aaron: Mercifully, this next movie is so beautiful I might be able to forget we ever watched this week’s pick
Michael: I love martial arts. I’m already excited.

Aaron: In terms of cinematography, this might be a top ten movie for me.

What other martial arts movies should we introduce each other to?

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Check me out here to see my star ratings for over 1,000 films. Recent reviews include Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Isle of Dogs and High Noon

The final score: review Torture
The 411
This movie sucks at everything. There might have been a decent plot in here at some point, but the acting sucks, the script sucks, the sets suck, the costumes and makeup suck, the effects suck, the pacing sucks and I put more effort into that summation than director Roger Christian did into learning how and why to use a Dutch angle. It's two hours of concentrated awful that feels like two years and we would not wish this movie on anyone. Avoid at all costs.