The most important cinematic event in the last 20 years - Battlefield Earth starring Oscar Nominee John Travolta and directed by Oscar-winner Roger Christian finally invades Blu-ray. The Story of man's survival in the year 3000 plays out against the staggering backdrop of iffy CGI, strange makeup, and even stranger performance choices - and it's brilliantly entertaining. Mill Creek Entertainment does the honors of releasing this film to Blu-ray with a decent enough video transfer, solid audio, and a terrific collection of new interviews. Love it or hate it, Battlefield Earth makes a Recommended Blu-ray debut.
"Greener" Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper) is tired of seeing his clan struggle to survive; slowly dying of starvation. In desperation, he heads out into the wild unknowns without fear of the God's or the evil "demons" that forced man to hide in caves. Jonnie quickly learns why man has lived in far-flung caves for the last 1000 years. A profit-driven race of evil aliens the Psychlos have conquered Earth and are stripping it of gold and other valuables using "Man-Animals" as disposable slave labor. The Chief of Security - a Psychlo named Terl (ohmygod it's John Travolta, ohmygod!) wants off the planet and has devised a scheme to train Man-Animals to mine gold in heavily radiated areas Psychlos can't reach. But by teaching Jonnie Goodboy Tyler to mine, Terl has accidentally trained the man who will rise up to lead the human resistance and free Earth from Psychlo rule.
Well… where to begin on this one? We all know it's bad. There's no getting around the fact of the absolute badness of this movie. There's a lot going on that just doesn't work. It's impossible to even go into the legal issues about this movie's financing but suffice to say the full allotted budget allegedly didn't go into the movie. From the original L. Ron Hubbard source novel to the adapted screenplay to the production itself - nothing about this movie actually works, at least not in the way intended depending on who you talk to.
Performances are all over the map from one actor to the next. Half the movie is shot in slow-motion. Every scene is a Dutch angle. Special effects are neither special nor are they really effective, the shot of the rocket missing the Psychlo ship, turning, and then catching it from behind is the best effects shot in the movie. Alien makeup is subjective to the performer - as is the number of fingers they have. You can feel director Roger Christian channeling his Star Wars roots he won an Oscar for set decoration for - but even with a supposed $70,000,000+ budget, it doesn't come remotely close to scratching the surface of Lucas' sci-fi space opera. Christian was basically trying to make Flash Gordon while conspiracies surround the film was a serious recruitment effort for Scientology and/or a means to allegedly embezzle nearly two-thirds of the budget. Every frame is ripe for a Rifftrax commentary. This is just one of those movies that imploded - and I love it!
For me, this movie is endlessly entertaining. When this came out in 2000, I was 18, I worked my local movie theater and when the poster came out, I thought "Oh, Travolta! That could be good!" At the time Travolta's star power could provide a decently entertaining movie. The Generals Daughter wasn't the best but the man was also coming off of The Thin Red Line and Primary Colors - his career was on solid footing. Not knowing anything about L. Ron Hubbard, hardly knowing that Scientology was even a thing, I took my chance and bought a ticket despite what reviewers were saying. As I sat in the theater on opening night - I quickly learned why I was alone in that room. But by being alone, I was able to enjoy this clusterF*&# of a movie on my own terms. I was howling all the way through it. I genuinely wish I had someone with me to enjoy the experience because it was a ton of fun.
When the movie bombed in theaters, Travolta kept expressing his wanting to make the sequel and film he last half of the book. The last half? What was in the book that wasn't in this movie? Out of curiosity, I bought the book and after three straining attempts, I finally finished it. The movie is basically the first half of the book - and the only half that actually worked. All cultish activities aside, I'll give Hubbard credit for tapping into the pulp sci-fi genre with an interesting story idea, but the man could not write subtext. The whole book is painfully on the nose, and the last half is atrociously stupid with a race of banking aliens (with some blatant antisemitic depictions) trying to take over Earth because the Psychlos owed them money. The race of aliens that violently took over countless planets owes them money? The book is godawful and the world lucked out the sequel wasn't made.
But I love this movie all the same. I love this movie because Travolta looks like he's having a hell of a good time. It's his passion project and he force-feeds this movie his passion making cinematic foie gras. He gets to strut around in ridiculous moon boots to make him look 9-feet tall. He's got a massive oval Predator-head thing going on complete with dreadlocks. He's got these weird little discs on his temples for no reason - no other Psychlo has them. And then the number of fingers he has on each hand can change from shot to shot. But most of all - I love his performance. His line reads are like a hammy villain wildly gesticulating as he takes his voice from a 5 to a 12 back down to a 7 and then blows it out to a 20. Every line read is like that. And he's the only one who does it! This is the one movie where Forrest Whitaker's performance choices can look decidedly understated and nuanced by comparison!
Then you have Barry Pepper coming off a strong presence in Saving Private Ryan, Enemy of the State, and The Green Mile - this was his leading big break as Jonnie and he's great. He's acting his ass off here - but just using some pretty rough material. Even with a bad script, he's committed and his performance keeps things grounding and offers a welcome counterbalance to Travolta's own brand of awesome. The rest of the performances are here and there, most of the actors are placeholders - but any time you get Kim Coates going full weird like his turn in Waterworld - you're in for a treat.
Battlefield Earth is easy fodder to be shredded and dissected. You could spend twice this movie's two-hour runtime picking it apart. You could make a movie about the making of this movie and all its issues and shady legal troubles. It's low fruit to say the least. However, if you stop trying to pick apart what's wrong with the movie and decide to enjoy those little eccentricities, Battlefield Earth becomes a richly entertaining show. Not a good one in the traditional sense - but one that provides incredible replay value! It's a 1-star movie that gives the audience 5-star entertainment value. It's the perfect movie to watch with friends and a few drinks in hand - safely when there isn't a pandemic. Battlefield Earth is not the movie to risk the heath of friends and family for!
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Battlefield Earth lands on Blu-ray for the first time in the U.S. thanks to Mill Creek Entertainment in a single disc Blu-ray + Digital release. The digital code is available only through MovieSpree. The disc is housed in a standard sturdy case. The disc loads to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options.
The 2.35:1 1080p transfer supplied for this Blu-ray release of Battlefield Earth doesn't appear to be sourced from a recent vintage. Compression artifacts, some edge enhancement, and sporadic DNR appear throughout. It's difficult to interpret what of these anomalies are issues with this HD master or simply cooked-in side effects of the source. A number of softer scenes have been that way since the theater. Any time an actor is in front of a green screen background, the movie loses fine details. But even when there isn't an effects shot - like the opening sequence in Jonnie's cave - the Elder's makeup can appear well detailed or soft and blurry from shot to shot. Likewise the makeup for the Psychlos. One moment Travolta has detailed textured skin, the next it's soft and nondescript. As such the image doesn't offer much of a natural grain structure. About the only time you see any film grain is during the slow-motion sequences or if you do see it, it's gloppy and unrefined. The image also lacks depth as black levels appear more of a hazy brown/gray color than approaching true black. Considering the movie, I'm not at all surprised this wasn't given a 5-star effort. If I had a wager this is a dated HD master used for DVD and broadcast that was simply repurposed for Blu-ray.
While the image quality may not be the most impressive thing out of the box, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix does a decent enough job. Even with the amount of activity on-screen, the front/center channels handle the majority of the workload. The sides and rears pick up some of the activity here and there, mostly during big action beats and the final act. Some imaging with the Psychlo attack ships zipping around offers some notable channel movement. Again, that last action-packed act of the film is the sonic highlight. Aside from those moments, most of the mix is pretty standard. Dialog is clean. There are some atmospheric effects - when the Man-Animals are being held in the Zoo that offers a nice cavernous quality to the audio. All in all, not bad just not the most dynamic thing out there.
Mill Creek partnered up with the great guys over at Ballyhoo to score some informative new interviews. It appears these interviews couldn't be done in person, I guess because of COVID so they're all audio interviews played against scenes from the film, behind the scenes footage, and production stills. While it would have been great to get these guys on camera, each interview is fascinating. Roger Christian especially has a lot to offer stating that a lot of the camp qualities are intentional - but the big bomb I enjoyed learning was when he started shooting his budget wasn't even $30,000,000 - $9,000,000 of which was earmarked for VFX…
The next best interview comes from the first screenwriter attached to the film, Robin Hood: Men in Tights writer J.D Shapiro who talks about writing an adaptation with many changes to the story to make it more cinematic and less referential to the source material - and by all accounts a probably better script than what was ultimately used. Lots of great stuff here and all of it fascinating.
No - Battlefield Earth isn't the greatest science fiction cinematic venture ever attempted. Whether you believe it's intentional or not, it's too hammy for its own good relying on some pretty silly plot contrivances while Travolta feeds himself on a steady diet of scenery-chewing. But because it is what it is, it's actually damned entertaining. You can't watch the movie straight-faced but with the right group of people, it's a fun one to ride along with. Finally out on Blu-ray in the U.S. from Mill Creek Entertainment, Battlefield Earth lands with a serviceable transfer, decent audio, and some interesting bonus features with director Roger Christian, writer J.D. Shapiro, and a couple of the design and effects team members. How much value you get out of Battlefield Earth on Blu-ray depends entirely on your taste. Most won't go for it, but after not having earnestly watched this movie in over a decade it was a fun jaunt. Recommended