Battlefield Earth (2000)

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Released 11-Oct-2001

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Science Fiction Main Menu Introduction
Menu Audio
Dolby Digital Trailer-Train
Audio Commentary-Roger Christian (Director) & Production Designer
Featurette-Evolution And Creation
Featurette-Storyboard Montage
Featurette-John Travolta Make-Up Test
Featurette-Creative Visual Effects
Teaser Trailer
Theatrical Trailer-2
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Easter Egg
Easter Egg
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2000
Running Time 113:51
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (69:26) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Roger Christian
Studio
Distributor

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring John Travolta
Barry Pepper
Forest Whitaker
Kim Coates
Richard Tyson
Sabine Karsenti
Case Village Roadshow New Style
RPI $29.95 Music Elia Cmiral


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement Yes
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Filmed on a hundred-million-dollar budget, and barely grossing that much in the English-speaking world, Battlefield Earth is one of the few films that has been rated as even worse than Ed Wood's celebrated stinker, Plan 9 From Outer Space. The Internet Movie Database once had it ranked at number eighty on the celebrated hundred worst films of all time, with a decidedly unencouraging rating of 2.3 out of ten from no less than 5,700 users. The critics on the SBS movie channel gave it a combined rating of exactly one half-star, which is a selling point that convinced my father, a fellow connoisseur of rotten films, that we just had to see it.

    Now that I have gotten that out of the way, I have to tell you exactly what I thought once I finished viewing Battlefield Earth at the cinema in Parramatta's Westfield shopping complex: it is so bad that it is actually good. The film is set in the year 3000, and humanity as a species has been reduced to a feral state after the Psychlos, a capitalistic race of seven foot tall aliens, conquered the Earth. Never mind the fact that they walk so slowly that snipers would have time to put a bullet into each of their major organs in reverse alphabetical order before they could shoot back, we can let that one slide since their technology would have allowed them to do this without the use of infantry. In any case, our hero, Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper), is exploring the ruins of a shopping mall with two friends when they are hunted down and stunned by one of the Psychlos. While he is being processed into one of the mines that the Psychlos have set up all over the planet to mine it for gold, we are introduced to the Psychlo Chief of Security for the area, Terl (John Travolta). Yes, you read that name right, and I'm not making it up when I say that his boot-licking sidekick goes by the name of Ker (Forest Whitaker), or that Terl notes a crude kind of intelligence in Jonnie and puts him aside for special training. By special training, I mean that he sticks Jonnie in a machine that tells him everything he needs to know about Psychlo history, physiology, and mentality.

    Adding to the fun is a scene when Chrissy (Sabine Karsenti) is captured by Terl, and she draws a picture of Jonnie on a scrap of what looks like leather in her cell. Somehow, Terl manages to deduce that these two know each other when the drawing is detailed enough to resemble something that I threw up after too many turns on a Ferris wheel. Then there's the whole idea of Jonnie not only finding working AV-8B fighter aircraft after a thousand years with no maintenance, but also teaching his fellow cavemen how to fly them over a period of seven days. It is also impossible to dismantle a nuclear missile and use it in the manner shown in this film, and Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles are manufactured in such a manner as to prevent exactly this kind of abuse. However, the funniest blunder is when we hear a caveman warning Jonnie that the battle has alerted the Psychlos, and that there are five guards from the cell moving "fast" towards him. If that's their idea of moving fast, then I really have to wonder what these cavemen were really growing out on their little plantations. I'm sure you can guess how the rest of the film goes, complete with attempts to "borrow" from Braveheart and Star Wars, as well as some of the most impossibly ham-fisted acting from John Travolta in a long career of ham-fisted acting.

    No matter what way you add it up, this film stinks in a funny, lovable way that few others can dream about, and that's all part of its charm. If you already own any edition of Plan 9 From Outer Space, even the ordinary transfer from Avenue One that is being sold locally, then this will make the perfect companion piece. Sit down, have a beer or a cigar, try to imagine the biggest stupidity you could imagine a ten-year-old boy writing into a science-fiction action adventure, then laugh at your most outrageous expectations being exceeded. Oh, and watch out for the cameo by Kelly Preston, John Travolta's wife, in a role that makes one wonder if her tongue really is that long (well, at least the men in the audience will).

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Given that this is arguably one of the worst films ever to be produced in the last hundred years, it stands to reason that it should get a reference-quality transfer. The big surprise, however, is that this transfer falls short of the reference-quality mark by a noticeable margin.

    The video transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is 16x9 Enhanced.

    The sharpness of the transfer is impeccable, and this is truly a display of MPEG encoding at its most transparent, with no discernable losses in sharpness that can be directly blamed upon the transfer. The camerawork, on the other hand, is another matter entirely, with the constant tilting of the camera to absurd angles making for a very tiring viewing experience. The shadow detail is excellent, with such scenes as the moment we first see a Psychlo having such excellent gradations between light and dark that one could use this disc to adjust their brightness and contrast controls. There is no low-level noise.

    Like a lot of recent films, Battlefield Earth uses some unusual colour effects in places, most notably when we see the Psychlo's home planet, or during such sequences as in the bar on their Earth station. The colours are rendered in more-or-less exact accordance with how they were presented in the theatres, with no composite artefacts or smearing, which is all one can ask for.

    MPEG artefacts were not a problem in this transfer, and those effects that look like MPEG artefacts, usually occurring when the teleportation device is used, are deliberate. Film-to-video artefacts consisted of a few instances of mild aliasing on the edges of wings, support beams, and gold, with all of these artefacts being within acceptable levels for distraction. There were a few too many for my liking, but I can live with that since I had to really look for them. Film artefacts were occasionally present in the form of nicks and scratches on the negative, with the worst ones coming at 72:19, where black marks literally pepper the top left corner of the picture.

    In keeping with the style of subtitling used on more recent Roadshow DVDs, the Hearing Impaired subtitles on this disc are presented with the text imposed over whichever character is speaking, or pretty close thereto. The original subtitles that denote locations or occasional bits of Psychlo speech that cannot be made out by context, however, remain intact. Both of these features make this disc much more useful to those with hearing impairments, and purists, alike.

    This disc is presented in the RSDL format, with the layer change taking place at 69:26. This is a poorly placed layer change that takes too long to navigate and sticks out like a bad make-up effect.



Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The transfer consists of two soundtracks, none of which are foreign-language dubs, so if English is not your primary language, consider yourself advised. The first soundtrack is the original English dialogue in Dolby Digital 5.1 with a bitrate of 448 kilobits per second, and the second is an English Audio Commentary in Dolby Digital 2.0 with a bitrate of 224 kilobits per second. I listened to both of these soundtracks in their entirety, because both of them are so utterly hilarious by pure accident that it makes me laugh and cry at the same time.

    You should be warned that the original English soundtrack is loud, very loud. So much so that not only did I have to reduce the volume a few decibels to find a comfortable listening position, but I felt like the sound effects were assaulting me for the first forty-five minutes of the film. It didn't help much that there are a lot of peaks and valleys volume-wise, with any scene that puts the surround channels to serious use sounding like a shotgun blast from six feet away compared to the quiet dialogue sequences. There were no subjectively discernable problems with audio sync, but one piece of dialogue from Forest Whitaker at 68:55 is impossible to hear over the rest of the soundtrack. Additionally, a dropout was heard in the output from the rear channels at 8:20.

    The score music in this film is credited to Elia Cmiral, and it is hard to believe that the same man who composed for Ronin would stoop to being involved with such a turkey. The score music is definitely better than what the script or acting deserves, with plenty of strident, moving cues that match the on-screen action like a Psychlo matches a bad kindergarten teacher. I almost wanted to buy the score music on CD, it lifted the whole standard of the film that much.

    The surround channels are aggressively used during ninety percent of the film to support such things as passing aircraft, disembodied voices, gunshots, and the music. The bad thing about this is that, combined with the awfully loud level of the overall soundtrack, this increases the feeling of being under sonic attack quite substantially. The good thing is that there are excellent moments such as at 5:57, when one of the cavemen is blowing a horn, or at 47:44, when disembodied voices are heard while Barry Pepper is having psychedelic lights shot into his eyes. There are numerous other instances of excellent surround usage, so many in fact that I can't list them all for fear that this page will turn into a listing of time figures.

    The subwoofer was also aggressively utilised in order to support the music, gunshots, passing aircraft, and other such bass-heavy sounds. When the volume was set to my usual level, it produced a distracting rumble that was very hard to take for long periods of time. When I adjusted the volume a couple of notches, on the other hand, the subwoofer became more supportive of the soundtrack, and didn't call too much attention to itself.



Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    Well, it is a very comprehensive collection of extras, but some features that would have really made my day, such as a film-to-novel comparison or a separate commentary from prominent science fiction authors were not on offer. Still, I can't complain at all about what we do get.

Menu

    The menu features a brief animated introduction, a still image of John Travolta in costume, Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, and a very easy interface to navigate.

Dolby Digital Trailer - Train

   A pox on the damned things, but at least Roadshow vary theirs and make them skippable.

Audio Commentary - Roger Christian (Director), Patrick Tatopoulos (Production Designer, Costume Designer, Creature Designer)

    I can just imagine what Patrick Tatopoulos would have had to say about his part in the bizarre prosthetic and prop designs, probably something along the lines of smoking two joints before smoking two joints, and then smoking two more. Both he and Roger Christian talk endlessly, almost maniacally, about various aspects of the casting, production, and artistic intentions. Their talk about how if you don't approach the film as a comic book story it doesn't work is a little tiring, however, because any human being who has read the Alien vs Predator comics will know that bad photography and inept writing do not equal comic book styling. Nonetheless, this commentary provides a lot of insight into the trials and tribulations of producing the film, in spite of the comments that try to downplay the serious shortcomings of the story they are trying to tell or the telling itself.

Featurette - Evolution And Creation

    Clocking in at sixteen minutes and fifteen seconds, this 1.33:1 featurette with footage from the film in approximately 1.85:1 or 2.00:1 reframings of the original Super 35 negative and Dolby Digital 2.0 sound is not 16x9 Enhanced. It is, however, chaptered, which is something I like to see in every featurette that runs for this length of time. This little featurette talks about the conception of the film, including George Lucas' involvement in Roger Christian's appointment as director, and how various members of the cast and crew contributed to the finished product. Again, there is a very over-inflated idea of the film's, and the novel's, artistic merits on display here, but it is very interesting to see how much work goes on behind-the-scenes of a hundred-million-dollar bomb. It is interesting to see how much of the film was done using models rather than Computer Generated Images, I'll give it that much.

Featurette - Storyboard Montage

   This interesting collection of storyboards is presented in variable aspect ratios, the usual one being approximately 1.85:1, with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. It is not 16x9 Enhanced, but it once again features chaptering so that you can skip to the element of the film that is of most interest to you. It is quite educational to see a comparison between the storyboards and the finished shots, with storyboard sequences titled Human Processing Centre, Clinko Learning Machine, and Humans Fight Back in each of the three chapters.

Featurette - John Travolta Make-Up Test

   Clocking in at two minutes and four seconds, this 1.33:1, Dolby Digital 2.0 featurette begins with John Travolta mistaking what looks like the love child of Gene Simmons and the Predator for the definitive evil character. Aside from that, however, it is interesting to see the make-up being applied to his ugly mug.

Featurette - Creative Visual Effects

   This two-minute and thirty-two second, 1.33:1, Dolby Digital 2.0 featurette repeats a lot of footage from the Evolution And Creation featurette that talks about all the events behind the appointment of the director and special effects team. Some additional footage describes how the model shots were combined with CGI to make them into the finished product you see in the film.

Teaser Trailer

    This fifty-two second teaser trailer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, and it is 16x9 Enhanced.

Theatrical Trailer

    This one minute and forty six second trailer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, and it is also 16x9 Enhanced.

International Trailer

    This one minute and fifty second international trailer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Content-wise, I failed to see any difference between this and the American theatrical trailer.

Cast & Crew Biographies

    Biographies for John Travolta, Barry Pepper, Forest Whitaker, Kim Coates, Richard Tyson, Sabine Karsenti, Kelly Preston, and director Roger Christian are presented under this submenu. The biographies and attached filmographies are very comprehensive and worth reading.

Easter Egg 1

    From the Creative Visual Effects option, press left and a series of the green cells in the background will be highlighted. Press enter, and this forty-second, 1.33:1, Dolby Digital 2.0 featurette will begin. This untitled featurette basically contains unannotated footage of make-up being applied, and stuntmen testing some of their equipment. The reason I specifically described how to access it is simply because it is not worth the bother of hunting around for it in the menus.

Easter Egg 2

    From the Audio Commentary option, press left and a series of the green cells in the background will be highlighted. Press enter, and this forty-second, 1.33:1, Dolby Digital 2.0 featurette will begin. This similarly untitled featurette features stunt equipment and prop weapons being tested, as well as rehearsal footage for part of the climactic battle. The same explanation of my description as to how to access this footage applies.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;

    Reliable and definitive information about this title is very hard to come by, almost as if the reviewing community in the United States is reluctant to give the film itself a serious analysis. Given that this film is distributed in the United States by Warner Brothers, importers of the Region 1 disc have to suffer a snapper case. Widescreen Review have also stated that pixelization is a problem throughout the Region 1 transfer, so it is fairly even as far as video transfers go. There seems to be no compelling reason to favour either version.

Summary

    Battlefield Earth is a film that will either make you laugh until you cry, or cry at the revolting thought that someone thought this script was worth investing about a hundred million dollars on. Its subtitle, which appears in the opening credits, A Saga For The Year 3000, could just as easily have been changed to Plan 9 From Outer Space For The Year 2000.

    The video transfer is excellent, with a few faults.

    The audio transfer is very good, but take care to turn down your volume a couple of decibels before watching.

    The extras are comprehensive, and in spite of displaying over-inflated ideas of the film's artistic value, they are enriching.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Saturday, August 18, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using S-Video output
DisplaySamsung CS-823AMF (80cm). Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL).
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony STR DE-835
SpeakersYamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, DTX 5.6T Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer

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