Scraping the Barrel: #93, ‘Battlefield Earth’

Thousands and thousands of films are made every year. And while some of them are destined for Oscar glory and widespread Metacritic acclaim, others wind up scraping the barrel on the IMDB Bottom 100. What makes these films so universally despised? Are they all really that bad? And, seriously, what’s the deal with From Justin to Kelly? We’ll answer all these questions (and hopefully more) with “Scraping the Barrel,” in which we review the ENTIRETY of the bottom 100, in order.

In today’s installment, Trace William Cowen takes a closer look (when he’s able to uncover his eyes) at #93, 2000’s Battlefield Earth.

(Editor Note: We realize the Bottom 100 has changed slightly since we began this series. Our master list was frozen on July 17th.)


The Gist: Earth is ruled by dreadlocked aliens called Psychlos, who plan to use human beings as gold miners. A rebellion takes shape. Based on a novel by L. Ron Hubbard, the Scientology guy.

Those Who Shall Be Held Responsible: Written by Corey Mandell, J.D. Shapiro, Directed by Roger Christian

IMDB Stats: #93, 2.4 rating

The Straight Dirt:

When Ryan asked me to do this edition of the column on the universally avoided mega-snafu of Battlefield Earth, I initially promised myself that I would avoid mentioning the ever-crushing shadow of Scientology, et al. Then I got the flu. It goes without saying that the flu is rife with some derailingly verbose fuckery. In fact, said fuckery inspired me to abandon my initial promise of not using Scientology as a “critical crutch” in this piece. In all honesty, I guess all the fevers and sweating and cough medicine painted a clearer depiction of the reality of this film: a reality heavily peppered with the litterings of Scientology.

A few years ago, I spent some time in Los Angeles as a writing and performance student at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. For whatever reason, the Scientology Celebrity Centre is located remarkably close to the theatre on Franklin Avenue. In an admittedly touristy move, I finally caved and took a free tour of the building. That “tour” mostly consisted of sitting alone in a screening room to watch a series of overblown Scientology commercials (one of the seats had an unfortunate ketchup stain on the cushion), browsing an L. Ron Hubbard bookstore, an awkwardly intimate E-meter reading, and — oh! — a free Dianetics DVD and some sample packets of niacin. The key moment of the day, for me, was the series of questions to which I was subjected before the tour even began. “Have you heard much about Tom Cruise?” I lied, saying I was only familiar with his work as an actor and was ignorant of his personal pursuits. Truth be told, I’ve always been a rather consistent Tom Cruise supporter. The level of quality in his work has remained, for the most part, remarkably high. He still possesses that “movie star” magic that eludes any modern equivalents. After side-stepping the tour guide’s Tom Cruise inquiry, I half-expected her next question to be “Okay, what about John Travolta?” Interestingly, that never happened.

That small, possibly unintentional “snub by omission” speaks volumes in regards to Travolta’s uniquely tarnished legacy in cinema. He’s given us remarkable turns in classics like Saturday Night Fever, Grease, and Pulp Fiction. Even not-quite-classics — from Primary Colors to Hairspray — showcased Travolta at his very best. The fact, then, that a film like Battlefield Earth even exists is a testament to the power of full-blown delusion. Honestly, it happens all the time. On a much smaller and far less culturally important scale, one might think of Kirk Cameron’s endless stream of Christian-rapture-themed Left Behind films. Those piles of shit, respectively, were slightly less embarrassing, if for no other reason than they at least made the involved parties some amount of money. We could, perhaps, even bring Mr. Cruise himself into the conversation here. That would be a bit unfair, though, given that – as previously mentioned – Cruise has mostly maintained a high quality output for the duration of his career, avoiding any bloated Scientology-specific vanity projects / proverbial rabbit holes.

Battlefield Earth (based on the first 436 pages of the L. Ron Hubbard novel of the same name), of course, isn’t a film directly about or even indirectly “based on” Scientology. Not in the slightest. Upon the film’s release, many argued that the “film” contained subliminal messages promoting Scientology’s firm stance against many modern mental health practices, but anything truly “subliminal” is difficult to prove. It’s even more difficult, however, to view this film in any other context than that of Scientology’s very grand (and very expensive) perpetuation of cult-like delusion on a small but prominent scale. The “film” isn’t propaganda, by any means, as its story only stems from the mind of Hubbard and not the “pillars” of the religion itself. Yet, for all of Earth‘s glorious failures — from its vomitous color scheme to its gratuitous overuse (possibly every scene) of tilted camera angles to, yes, John Travolta’s Party Store clearance aisle fake dreadlocks — the greatest and most universally offensive crime of this film rests in Travolta’s unearned and downright blasphemous confidence surrounding its decade-plus development process, specifically his oft-discussed insistence that Earth would be “like Star Wars, only better.”

Consensus: If you are in a position to egregiously waste 118 minutes of your existence, then I invite you to view Battlefield Earth with Travolta’s wonderfully stupid statement in mind: “…like Star Wars, only better.”

Should be IMDB Score: 0.0

Random Quotes:

“I am going to make you as happy as a baby Psychlo on a straight diet of kerbango.”

“While you were still learning how to spell your name, I was being trained to conquer galaxies!”

“Hungry, little fella? Want some rat? It’s good!”

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