Friday, December 04, 2009

Avert your eyes

The end of a decade is always a time of reflection. Film reviewers from the AV Club have compiled a list of what they consider to be the worst films of the 2000s. You won't find much to disagree with on this list. I'm not alone in saying that I'm glad to see that Battlefield Earth made the list. Back in the days of VHS, my brother Scott and I spent an excruciating 2 hours on a Saturday night watching this film. We made the experience slightly more palatable by making sarcastic comments all the way through.

To summarise, in the year 3000, Earth has been invaded and conquered by giant dreadlocked aliens from the planet Psychlo, who have enslaved the remnants of the human race. One man, Johnny "Goodboy" Tyler (Barry Pepper) is depicted as a quasi-messianic figure. After escaping his alien captors, he assembles a band of resistance fighters who rise up and defeat their alien overlords using jetfighters, which despite having been locked away in a hangar for 1000 years, are still in pristine condition.

Apart from the fact that it's adapted from the novel of the same name by L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology (aka an elaborate scam to rip off gullible, insecure celebrities) you may ask what's wrong with this film? Where do you start?

For one thing, someone should have a quiet word to the film editor, and told him that editing a film is not like editing a book, where for the sake of consistency, you use the same font on every page. Hence the same wipe effect is used for every scene transition. Along with the text crawl during the opening titles, the use of this technique suggests that the producers and director envisioned this film as a science fiction epic in the vein of the Star Wars saga. They were wrong. It's not.

As for the cast, most of the actors make the most of the material they've been given. We haven't heard from Barry Pepper for a while. John Travolta is simply unconvincing as the lead villain, Terl. I've never been a fan of Travolta. Villains are supposed to be evil and menacing, he comes across as fey and campy. By comparison, Kenneth Williams was far more convincing when caled upon to play villains in the Carry On seem films. It can only be assumed that Forest Whitaker only took a role in this film for the pay cheque, or that his agent gave him bad advice. At least he has since become a widely respected and accomplished actor.

The screenplay is largely confusing and incoherent. The plot, such as it is, is riddled with holes. Watching films often requires the viewer to suspend disbelief, but it stretches credibility to ask us to accept that 1000 year old fighter planes are still airworthy. To make matters worse, the dialogue is so bad that you wonder how the actors can recite it keeping a straight face. The Psychlo characters speak using nonsensical compound words like "breathe-gas" and "man-animal." These also appear in Hubbard's novel. Did anyone ever think to tell him this wasn't a very good idea? Apparently not.

Many of the scenes are filmed on an angle and using a blue filter. You can also pick at the bargain basement special effects. The film's grainy look is achieved by having production hands stand out of shot and throw handfuls of dirt across the screen. These elements are supposed to evoke a dystopic vision of the future, but all it does is give the viewer a headache. If you can make it through this film in one sitting, then you should be affirmed for your resilience in the face of adversity. If not, I suggest you write an angry letter to Mr Travolta, and ask him to give you back the two hours of your life that you wasted watching this travesty. It's his vanity project, so he should accept responsibility for inflicting it upon the world. Look for it in the weekly section of your local video store.


JD Curtis said...

I missed this one when it came out. I heard the negative reviews and stayed away. Never been a Travolta fan Ross? How about Pulp Fiction? Now THAT was a classic!

His Lordship The Gun-Toting Atheist said...

Ross, that movie was so awful, and I had entirely forgotten about it, but now you reminded me of it. Did Highlander 2: The Quickening make the list? I hope it did. That was even worse!

Ross said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ross said...

Is Pulp Fiction worth seeing if you're not a Tarantino fan?

I've seen the original Highlander, but haven't bothered with any of the sequels. Aside from the suspension of disbelief required to accept a Scotsman playing a Spaniard, how did they bring back Sean Connery's character even though he was most definitely killed?

His Lordship The Gun-Toting Atheist said...

Ross, I hope you get this message in time. Whatever you do, DO NOT WATCH HIGHLANDER 2. It will make you age prematurely by 2 full hours. It is a horrendous waste of time.

The movie explains where the immortals came from: They are aliens from planet Zeist.

Connor MacLeod gets desparate in one scene, and wishes that Ramirez would be there to help him save the ozone layer. A flash of light from the sky, and BOOM! Sean Connery appears on stage during a performance of Hamlet. I am not kidding. This is WAY beyond suspending disbelief. You would have to be totally drunk and high on illicit substances to find this mildly believable. It's baaaaad.

I do not wish this cinematic torture to be inflicted upon any human being.

The first movie was decent, and "there should have been only one". Then again, I was reading rumors this morning that the guys who wrote the new Iron Man movie are going to make a remake of the original Highlander movie.