Iris Out: “Battlefield Earth,” or the worst film of the decade

Micah Paisner

(Photo courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures)

As many of my friends and readers may know, there’s not much that I love more than a bad film. But a film has to be really bad to truly catch my eye. This term, for example, I am taking a film studies tutorial on cult film, in which we view and analyze many notoriously bad films, such as “The Room” and “Showgirls.”

That being said, it may come as a surprise to some that last weekend I watched “Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000” for the very first time. I had heard many things about the film — it was a huge commercial failure and it was the worst acting that John Travolta had ever done. It won every award that it was nominated for at the Razzies, an award ceremony that recognizes the worst films of the year — except Forest Whitaker for Worst Supporting Actor, but only because Barry Pepper, who is also in the film, won instead.

“Battlefield Earth” is based on the novel of the same name, written by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. The plot concerns the future of the Earth in the year 3000, after a species of alien called Psychlos have overtaken it. The film begins by telling the viewer that man is an endangered species. The remaining humans live in clans and are reminiscent of cavemen. As a result, many of them, including the protagonist Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (Pepper) — apparently Jonnie is still a popular name 1000 years in the future — have a warrior mentality and wish to take back the planet. This beginning plot is the only part of the film that truly makes sense, for everything becomes quite convoluted as it progresses.

It is when Jonnie gets captured by the Psychlos that the film really takes off. At this point, the focus of the film switches drastically to Terl and Ker (Travolta and Whitaker), two high-ranking Psychlos. Terl desperately wishes to be transferred back to the home planet of the Psychlos, far away from Earth. Earth is a place that he despises, as the remaining humans disgust him. He comically (but clearly not intentionally so) refers to the humans as man animals, and calls Jonnie “rat-brain.”

As the film progresses, the focus slightly comes back to Jonnie and the enslaved humans as they plot their revenge against the Psychlos. The final showdown between the two is one of the funniest parts of the film, especially a shot of Jonnie avoiding gunfire. The sequence is nearly identical to the infamous one in “The Matrix.” Another choice moment is when a human tells Jonnie to hurry because the Psychlos are coming fast. The camera then cuts to show a group of Psychlos walking at a normal pace.

Where the film really shines is Travolta himself. He delivers some of the most memorable lines, ones that I’m sure will soon work their way into my everyday speech. My personal favorite is when he drunkenly tells Ker, “While you were still learning how to spell your name, I was being trained to conquer galaxies!” What makes the line great is the way it is delivered. Travolta’s intonation makes absolutely no sense. You have to hear the line to completely understand the beauty of it.

If you have not seen “Battlefield Earth,” you are truly missing out. It recently won the Worst Picture of the Decade at the Razzies, and I am here to tell you that it was well deserved. It’s unfortunate to think the film was originally going to have a sequel that was scrapped after the film flopped. I can tell you that seeing Travolta as an eight-foot alien with dreadlocks never gets old.