Omega 13 “In defence of…”- A weekly treatise in which we analyze publicly derided Box Office Failures using granular convection to piece out the good that might lie beneath.
With the internet taking great pleasure casting an askance view on even the minute of failures in all manner of creative endeavour I thought it might be nice to look at those famously bad films of the past and revealing all the moments where they made the right choice. All movies have them, and they are even easier to see in a bad movie than in a good movie (since good movies are brimming with goodness). Kind of a Devil’s Advocate, but with a Pollyanna attitude; This is Omega 13…
Episode 04- Battlefield Earth (2000)
Distributer: Warner Bros
Release Date: May 12, 2000
Budget: 73 Million
1st Weekend Total: 11.5 Million (Domestic)
The moment the papers started spreading rumours that John Travolta’s pet project Battlefield Earth was ripe with subliminal messages about Scientology the film was destined to fail. Much like Waterworld, Heaven’s Gate, and Ishtar, word of mouth that was not even pertaining to the quality of the film had swept through public opinion and doomed this once touted Star Wars killer to a life of bargain bins. But is it as bad as they say? The short answer is yes, this is a truly an awful film, but it does have its shining moments and we are here to pull them out to the light, because amidst the bad direction, the bad acting, and the sub par story is a film about hope, about transcendence through education, about slavery, and ignorance.
Let’s take a look.
In the year 3000 Earth has been under the rule of the alien race Psychlos for a thousand years. Man has been treated as an insignificant race that is akin to the domesticated dog. The ones that have not been enslaved live in the wilds like animals, although luckily the connection to the english language is still in tact. The Psychlos did not take the time to learn the language under the belief that humans did not have the capacity for higher brain power.
One day, a young man who has been living in the hills is caught and brought down to work in one of The Psychlo’s camps, he shows enough smarts that one Psychlo teaches him to use heavy machinery in hopes to mine a secret vein of gold and steal it from the government. That human plots an insurgence that will hopefully rid Earth of the aliens forever.
Ultimately, Battlefield Earth is a quite an on-the-nose metaphor on slavery. The Psychlos’ disgust with this assumed lower-life form, their belief that only the simplest of tasks could be completed, and their treatment of them as if they were items you worked until they died, then replaced, ad infinitum. Example, trying to escape, Jonnie wrestles away the gun of his attacker and shoots him. When the security chief, Terl (John Travolta) inquires as to what happened, he assumes the other guards are lying. His belief that these less-evolved beings could handle an advanced weapon is beyond him. He then hands the gun back to Jonnie and forces another guard to advance on him until Jonnie shoots. Although humans had spent hundreds of years killing each other with their own weapons, the irony is not lost on me that in the future we will have lost our ability to kill.
“What is this species?”
“According to the historians. The species is called Dog.”
“Obviously, the superior race having man-animal chauffeuring it around.”
“Yeah, well, dogs did prove to be more cooperative than man-animals but for some reason they were not as useful when it came to manual labour.”
An unfortunate blot on humanity’s history that we still have not completely wiped from the world. With over 30 Million people still enslaved all over the world we can only hope to work to eliminate it, but until the human race somehow quells its need to feel superior than others we may not have a chance. It is implied that the Psylochs came to Earth, humans could not speak their language and in the year 2000 had not created the flying car so we must have looked pretty archaic with our slow internet, and a world wide web devoted to videos of cats falling down, I suppose we are, yet we can also assume they did not try. Their corporate greed saw Earth as an untapped wilderness with resources they needed and much like the catch-22 of the American Indian, the humans were either going to join them in destroying their world or be destroyed themselves.
Religion vs Science plays a big part in the story. None more prevalent than in the early scenes after meeting the protagonist, Jonnie is told the story that the God’s left earth because they were mad at us and allowed for Demons to come and ravage the land. Religion, much like the children’s game Telephone, through years of telling and retelling and embellishing has turned the Psychlos in to the Demons and religion and legend as the humans’ way of coping, and further still a statement that the ignorance of metaphorically sticking your head in the ground instead of reading the facts as they are laid forth has devolved the humans.
There is a great series of books written by James Morrow affectionately called, The Godhead Trilogy. The series begins with God’s 2 Mile long body falling dead in the Atlantic Ocean. It dealt with the affect of God on believers and non-believers. But, in the 3rd book, after the world had tried to move on without having something to believe in (whether real or otherwise) humanity falls to pieces in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Morrow puts forward the idea that regardless of proof, all humans need something more, and it is only when the creation of a new deity that they rise above their pale, wasted existence. What Battlefield Earth adds to this is perhaps with the absence of science and education, man will resort, or in this case revert, back to the need to place the wonders of the universe on Gods once again in order to cope.
One character refers to stone statues along an overgrown city street. “Look. Frozen ones. The way to the great god village is marked by these frozen ones. When the God’s left this world they ordered man not to look at them. Those that disobeyed were frozen in place for all of eternity.”
So, when Terl teaches Jonnie the Psyloch language it awakes in him the need to grow, to learn. Much like the Enlightened era of human history where we became aware that the Earth was not the centre of the universe, Jonnie’s metaphorical eyes are opened to the possibilities of a life that is not governed by mythical monsters and absentee Gods but, in fact, he is led directly to the Library of Congress. And through this new-found evolved being Jonnie is able to pass on his teachings to his captors and subsequently overcome his oppressors.
“They made you look into a light. It’s a God machine.”
“No, it teaches. It’s a knowledge machine. It sends pictures through your head so fast, they keep spinning in my skull.”
“We have to go”
“No I can’t. I have to stay. I have to learn more about them. This may be, this may be our only way out of here.”
As Robert Mcnamara touches on in the documentary The Fog of War when speaking about America’s failure in the Vietnam War that looking back because the U.S. did not know anything about whom they were fighting they could not have ever won. He said he learned later that Vietnam and China had been at war of and one for so many years that it was just their way. Had he taken the time to learn, to become more aware of the people they were inserting themselves between, they may not have won but they might have been aware enough to leave earlier. So, too does Jonnie realize that the more he learns of the history of the Psychlos the better chance he will have to beat them.
Another interesting statement the film makes quite well is in the set design. The Psychlos are a more advanced race, but in truth they are us in the future. Buildings and lack of green are where we are headed. The Psychlos with their giant metal building that is filled with the polluted air that they have been so used to on their home planet -presumedly because they have destroyed all the natural resources- sits in dirty greys and cold blues amidst the lush forests of the reclaimed earth. When the Psychlos leave the confines of this protected area they must wear masks to breath, much like the humans need fresh oxygen to be inside.
“Does all the Earth look like this?
“Oh, I’m afraid so sir.”
“Pathetic. All the green, and the blue sky. They told me this planet was ugly but this has got to be one of ugliest crap-holes in the entire universe.”
And because this race has lived so long without trees, not only do they not have oxygen on their home world, they also have no paper. All missives and documents are metal tablets- in a world that is so advanced it is ironic that they are working in such a primitive medium.
A victim of its own hype and proof that having celebrity clout can also be a hinderance to a film, Battlefield Earth tries to be more than the broken parts it lays out for the audience. Peeling back the layers of over-the-top acting, and copious dutch tilts is a story about the problems with complacency and ignorance. A story about fear of the unknown, and a statement against ignorance is bliss. We as a race should be looking to the future, but still learning from the mistakes of our less enlightened past.
The purpose of these articles is not to give a thumbs up or thumbs down to a movie, but to only look for the parts they did right. There is so much wrong with this film that it is unfortunate that so many will miss the deeper meaning that was surely present in the novel this was based on. I suppose the ultimate thing to get from the film, above the metaphors on slavery, and education, is that we need to read. Go read the book, and if you don’t want to read that, go read something else. Anything else. Reading is like a muscle, the more you read the more easier it is. If we take the time to pick up that classic novel, or that Oprah’s Book club selection you are not only working out your brain, but also saving us from being taken over by another race of aliens that will enslave us and treat us like cows. Whatever reason the outcome will be the same.
End Episode 04
Stay tuned for next week’s episode of Omega 13 where we dig through mire to find the appreciable inside 2003’s Gigli.