Liz Tells Frank What Happened In “Battlefield Earth”

Dear Frank,

So remember that whole not-drinking thing I mentioned last time, Frank? Well, over the subsequent week, I decided that maybe instead of quitting drinking entirely for a month, I would instead work hard to practice moderation. I won’t lie to you — knowing that Battlefield Earth was on the horizon was a factor in that.

You might be surprised to learn, however, that I didn’t drink a lot while watching the film. That was due to some innate sense of self-preservation, knowing that if I did drink too much, I’d black out and forget what had happened, which would be a good thing in the long term but bad in the short term, as I’d then have to watch it AGAIN. Because OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD, Frank, I know that saying that Battlefield Earth is a bad movie is hardly a revolutionary concept, but I don’t know if I can fully describe how fucking terrible this film is. It’s really truly amazingly the worst.

When I say that Battlefield Earth is the worst, I mean that it is lifeless and depressing and completely devoid of any genuine emotion. It lacks any pretense of humor, humanity and wit; no one, not even the usually awesome Forest Whitaker, escapes with any dignity. I feel truly lessened for having sat in a room while it played on a TV. The only one who seems to be having a good time is John Travolta, which is good given that he invested millions of his own dollars into the production but sad for everyone else involved. This includes Friends of LTF Megan, Nayla and Drew, who helped mitigate the pain of watching this movie with wry comments and explanations of plot points that my brain kept actively rejecting.

So, Frank, let me tell you what happens so that you never have to make my mistakes. I’ll begin by saying the only nice thing I will say about this movie: I actually kind of respect the way it immediately throws us into the barren post-apocalyptic landscape of Colorado in the year 3000, where a bunch of now-primitive humans live in tribes and have terrible hair. However, it quickly becomes clear that the choice to begin the movie this way has nothing to do with artistic intention, and everything to do with the fact that the director clearly didn’t give a shit. (Roger Christian, by the way, also directed Masterminds, aka The Only Bad Performance Patrick Stewart Has Ever Given.)

Here comes Barry Pepper! Poor Barry Pepper. He totally had a promising career before he made this movie.

Sure, he was good in "True Grit," but c'mon, seriously.

After his dad dies in the first five minutes of the movie, Barry decides to go wandering around through the ruin of human civilization. But while Barry’s hanging out with these two other guys in a mall, for like no reason whatsoever, an alien attacks them with a laser gun. Despite the fact that the alien duder is physically bigger and stronger and has a fucking LASER GUN, it takes an alarmingly long time for him to capture them.

And then we’re at the human processing center of Denver — what the fuck that means, I got no clue, but that’s what the on-screen text tells us…

To hell with it. Here’s the deal Frank: I seriously can’t tell you what happens in this movie with any great detail or coherency, because the movie itself lacks those things. So here’s the vaguest of gists: Barry Pepper ends up in human prison, and while attempting to escape he impresses John Travolta (who spent his own money to make this movie), who is playing one of the totally bizarre-looking aliens (they’re called Psychlos, but that is too stupid for me to type more than once so I am just going to call them aliens) who brought about the ruin of human civilization all those years ago.

Practically every moment of this movie is shot with a Dutch angle. At a certain point, it got so bad that you thought the film was gonna turn sideways.

John Travolta (who spent his own money to make this movie), assisted by the unrecognizable alien Forest Whitaker, wants Earth gold — why, I have no fucking clue, because there’s no indication that the aliens have anything resembling currency or the gold standard — and he wants it without having to deal with the bureaucracy of his stupidly-named alien organization. There is so much fucking screen time devoted to fucking alien paperwork and fucking alien middle management that I am actually angry, thinking about it.

There is some reason why the stupidly-named aliens cannot mine the gold themselves, either because they cannot go below a certain altitude (hence their colonization of Denver, the mile high city) or because of some sort of radiation. Maybe both things? I seriously have no clue. I dunno. I’m just going to sit here and feel sad.

Especially because apparently the plan is that John Travolta (who spent his own money to make this movie) will teach Barry Pepper how to speak the stupidly-named alien language and fly the stupidly-named alien spaceships and all sorts of other skills that will prove to be very handy when Barry Pepper decides to unite his fellow humans in revoltion. GOOD PLAN, JOHN TRAVOLTA (who spent his own money to make this movie). GOOD PLANNING.

Apparently flying a spaceship is easier than getting a haircut.

I mean, the plan kind of works for John Travolta (who spent his own money to make this movie), because Barry and some of his fellow humans do fly a stupidly-named alien ship to Fort Knox and pick up a whole bunch of gold bars for him. But then, OMGWHODATHUNK, Barry Pepper leads the humans in revolt thanks to all of the knowledge and skills he’s gained thanks to John Travolta’s TOTALLY FLAWLESS PLAN.

Thus, Barry Pepper and his ragtag human buddies successfully defeat the stupidly-named aliens, even blowing up their entire planet thanks to some science bullshit about their atmosphere. They lock John Travolta (who spent his own money to make this movie) up in Fort Knox because of irony. Fuck this movie. Fuck it. THE END.

Oh, wait, sorry, I forgot to mention that Kelly Preston (who John Travolta, who spent his own money to make this movie, is totally heterosexually attracted to) has a brief cameo in this movie as an alien secretary, which is Nayla’s favorite part of the movie because of this:


NOW we’re done.

Oh, except that I should say this: Frank, you might have noticed a pretty obvious omission in this summary — namely, that Battlefield Earth is based on a science-fiction novel by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, and contains parallels to many of Scientology’s teachings. Honestly, that was kind of deliberate. Certainly, Scientology is, according to way too many reports, a clandestine cult that destroys lives, and Battlefield Earth is not the worst of its sins (one bad movie really can’t live up to attempted murder and forced abortions).

But here is what I wanted to emphasize: Even disentangled from Scientology and all of its wrongs, Battlefield Earth is still the fucking worst.


About Liz Shannon Miller

Liz Shannon Miller is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor, and has been talking about television on the Internet since the very beginnings of the Internet. She is currently Senior TV Editor at Collider, and her work has also been published by the New York Times, Vulture, Variety, the AV Club, the Hollywood Reporter, IGN, The Verge, and Thought Catalog. She is also a produced playwright, a host of podcasts, and a repository of "X-Files" trivia.

Posted on January 17, 2011, in All the Spoilers, Movies and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Way to take one for the team, Liz. Now uou owe it to yourself to go listen to this:

    Battlefield Earth recently won the Razzie for being the “worst picture of the decade.” The two credited screenwriters on that film — J.D. Shapiro and Corey Mandell — say, “Don’t blame us!” We find out how their careers survived writing one of the most notorious movies ever

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