Tue. Oct 27th, 2020

Worst Picture/Best Picture: Battlefield Earth and Gladiator (2000)

“After returning the video I honestly asked the clerk that even when I’m very drunk to stop me from renting this movie ever again. Hopefully he’ll remember that” – arie_el_kanarie, IMdb.com

“What matters for today’s hero is the good fight, and Gladiator KOs us with a doozy.” – Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly

Two Thousand Years in the Past and One Billion Years of Devotion

Finally I’m done talking about that failed action movie taking place west of the Mississippi starring a Scientologist and trying to make sense of that preposterous plot that included some random robotic death machine and pointless bracelets that cut off people’s heads. So, what are we talking about this time around? *sigh* Well dammit. Okay, we all knew this film was coming eventually. This is the film that received the largest percentage of votes for Worst Film at the Razzies. It won the special Worst Drama Film for the first 25 years of the Razzies, and in 2010 it won the Razzie for Worst Film of the previous decade. It’s a classic tale, the story of a caveman who became a slave, a slave who became a miner, a miner who defied a Psychlo. And we’ll be talking about Gladiator, too.

The film Battlefield Earth is based on the novel of the same name written by L Ron Hubbard, sci-fi author and founder of the beloved religion Scientology. The film opens with a text explaining the current situation. It is the year 3000 AD and an evil race of aliens from the planet Psychlo have taken over, searching for gold to take back to their world. The human race is an endangered species and those who remain have become cavemen-like with excellent hygiene. Barry Pepper, having just lost that shoo-in for Best Picture with Saving Private Ryan, decided to try starring in the shoo-in for Worst Picture, as Jonnie Goodboy Tyler. Jonnie is the outcast of the group of surviving humans hiding out in the caves in the exotic land of Colorado. Unlike the rest of his clan who are afraid to stray from their home because of rumors of beasts in the area, Jonnie is a “Greener”, he believes that there is a better world out there. So, saying goodbye to his beloved Chrissy, who appears to be the only female left on earth, so lucky Jonnie, he decides to start the journey. As he makes his leave, the tribal music plays and a foreign song plays. The song is performed by Iranian artist Azam Ali, not to be confused with Adele Dazeem. And thankfully for Jonnie, the journey doesn’t take too long, because there are about a dozen wipes in the first five minutes of the film to shorten the voyage.

Like Battlefield Earth, our other action epic Gladiator begins with some text explaining what’s been going on. It is 180 AD and the Roman Empire is the center of world. The current emperor Marcus Aurelius has been waging a war in Germania against a tribe of barbarians, and war is nearly at an end. Russell Crowe, who just lost a few Best Picture wins with LA Confidential and The Insider, decided he might have a better shot if he was the only lead in his film. Crowe plays General Maximus, who is also apparently Spanish, and he is leading the final battle against the barbarians as the Roman Emperor Marcus (Richard Harris) watches. And thanks to his lucky trick of washing his hands with dirt, Maximus and his men were victorious.

While Maximus is fighting barbarians, Jonnie has Barbarinos to worry about. Back in Colorado, Jonnie made his way past the supposed beasts, which were actually just giant pieces from an abandoned miniature golf course. He stumbles upon two nomads, including Carlo played by Kim Coates, who had such success with Waterworld that he decided to give it another go. Carlo and his pal take Jonnie to an abandoned mall and educate him about the past. How humans used to ride chariots and go to golden arches to get food that would magically appear. And of course, all of the statues are in fact frozen humans who displeased the gods. I wonder what The Postman did to piss off the gods. Unfortunately, while the trio are reminiscing by the fire and feasting on squirrel, suddenly out of the darkness a Psychlo appears and captures them, taking them to their headquarters in Denver. The scene is very exciting with the slow motion running and the frequent Dutch angles. Okay, by frequent Dutch angles, I mean every shot in this film is a Dutch angle which made it eligible for foreign film at the Oscars. However, it’s not the Director of Photography’s fault, one of the legs on his tripod was broken so he just had to make due.

Meanwhile, the Romans are having a celebration party conquering the Germanians. With Maximus covered in blood and dead tired, the Caesar’s son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix, star of such films as Russkies and Inventing the Abbots) conveniently shows up just after all the work has been done. Commodus is a spoiled son, his father is extremely powerful and thus he believes he will inherit all of the power without doing any work. Thankfully, this film takes place in ancient Roman and we don’t have anyone like that today. He arrives with his sister Lucilla (Connie Nielsen) who he loves very much, maybe a little too much. While Commodus awaits for his father to announce him as his successor, unfortunately, Papa Aurelius is already having a little talk with Maximus. Apparently, the dying Marcus isn’t pleased with how Rome has turned out, it’s become too corrupt and he wants to turn it back into a Republic, and he believes Maximus is the one to do so. The emperor is worried about how he’ll be remember and doesn’t want to be known as tyrant, so he’s considering giving up the job and going out west to start a school for witchcraft and wizardry. Of course, Maximus is surprised by the offer to be the new emperor, and a little upset too, because he wanted to go back to his Spanish villa and be with his wife and kid. But since it’s ancient Rome and there are no hotel phones nearby to throw in rage, Maximus had to suck it up and accept the proposal.

Back to the future, Jonnie is in trouble. He and Carlo and a bunch of other stray humans have been captured by the Psychlos. The Psychlos are large beasts with huge hairy hands and heads the shape of giant footballs, donned with space dreadlocks. Because the air is toxic to them, the Psychlos must wear an advanced gasmask device they attach to their nose. Even Psychlos know it’s important to always wear masks. Locked in cages inside a spaceship, the humans are transported to the Psychlo headquarters on Earth: Denver. The headquarters is inside a dome in the city where the Psychlos have made the atmosphere breathable for themselves, thus it is toxic for the humans there, and so Jonnie and his pals must wear the masks too. Even cavemen know it’s important to always wear masks.

After Marcus had his little talk with Maximus, he asked to see his son to tell him the bad news. Understandably, Commodus didn’t take it too well. After a little bit of whining and a little bit of crying, Commodus hugged his dad just a little too tightly and smothered him to death. Of course, since Marcus never made any official announcement of his plans to have Maximus as his replacement, Commodus took the title of new emperor without any complaints. Well, maybe one complaint from a certain General, but the new emperor knew how to handle that. Maximus refused the new Caesar’s loyalty, so Commodus had him arrested and sentenced to death, along with his wife and kid. Luckily, right before he’s about to die, Maximus manages to stop his executors and killed them. He raced to return to his home before his family is killed, but unfortunately, he was too late. Arriving at his villa, he sees his wife and son crucified in front of the house, so he gives her an extremely sloppy kiss on the foot and soon he passes out from exhaustion as well as from a battle wound. Luckily, he’s rescued from death, even though it’s to become a slave. Though not as quick and convenient as a spaceship, like Jonnie, Maximus was sent to a slave camp as well and locked up in a cage.

Back at the other slave camp, Psychlo security chief Terl (John Travolta) and his Deputy, Ker (Forest Whitaker) run the show. While it seems like all the Psychlos have odd names, they were in fact normal names in the original draft, but this is how Travolta pronounced them. But hey, at least Travolta had the decency to do an impeccable Psychlo accent, compared to Crowe who is a Spaniard from the land down under. Terl is tired of being at this boring camp in Colorado and wants to go back to Psychlo, but because he had a fling with the Psychlo senator’s daughter, he’s being punished and forced to stay there for a hell of a lot longer than he intended to. This of course pisses him off beyond belief, so he decides to come up with a scheme to bribe his way back to his planet. Looking over the new prisoners, he notices that Jonnie seems smarter than the average human, probably because he knows how to braid his hair so well, so he’s the one that he wants (ooh, ooh, ooh). After taking a break from teaching Neo different types of martial arts, Tank hooks up Jonnie to the neural interactive software and soon Jonnie knows the Psychlo language, and look who’s talking now. Along with their langue, he has also learned all sorts of information including mathematics and history. But I don’t think he knows kung-fu.

Unfortunately, the guy who shows up to Maximus’s slave camp isn’t as exciting as a Rastafarian monster, it’s just an old Oliver Reed who stayed in the oven a little too long. The leathery Reed plays Proximo, a gladiator trainer and former gladiator himself, who buys Maximus and a few other potential stars, hoping they’ll help him return to the Roman Colosseum and help him make some cash along the way. After all, now that Emperor Commodus has returned to Rome, his first declaration is to have 150 days of games. Granted, the senate is trying to convince the Caesar that there are important matters to deal with, including a plague that’s breaking out in Greece, but Commodus is tired of all the talking and just wants to go have fun. How horrible it must have been back in the ancient days to have a leader who hates the senate and ignores a pandemic.

Back in Denver, Terl has a feeling everything is going his way, all things considered. Now that he smartened up that rat-brained man-animal Jonnie, he figured he could transfer a group of the prisoners outside of their confines where the air is toxic to illegally mine for gold. Because yes, even alien invaders have rules and perimeters. And after they get all that extra gold, Terl plans to bribe his way back to Psychlo. Of course, in case he gets found out, Terl also managed to get his pal Ker on tape admitting it was he who came up the plan. Because the Psychlos can’t travel to those outskirts of Colorado where the air is contaminated, to prevent them from escaping, Terl managed to find Chrissy, the only woman-animal left on Earth, and has attached an explosive collar on her as well as some other prisoners. If Jonnie disobeys them, he will detonate the device and they will die. Killer metal collars? That’s just wild.

Maximus is doing a little better as a slave than Jonnie. With the help of his new buddy Juba (Djimon Hounsou) in the ring, Maximus has become a pretty popular gladiator, and he’s also become pretty successful too because he hasn’t been killed yet. Seeing that’s he’s made a pretty good purchase, Oliver and his company head to Rome. The Colosseum is a giant spectacle filled with tons of frozen people who upset the gods scattered throughout. Excited to be back where he had his glory days, Proximo gives a sloberless kiss to the foot of one of the statues: take notes, Maximus. While Maximus isn’t terribly interested in being a gladiator, he gets a little pumped up when he has his first fight in the Colosseum when he sees Commodus, because at least he’s closer to achieving his revenge. The first big fight is pretty exciting, especially due to the commentator Cassius riling up the crowd. Cassius is played by David Hemmings with his deadly eyebrows. Put some dreadlocks on him and he’d fit right in with the rest of the Psychlos.

Speaking of Psychlos, now that Terl has his plans set in motion, he decides to take a little break and go have some drinks at the Psyclub. Still upset about being stuck in Denver (because who wouldn’t be?), Terl lets out his frustrations to anyone who will listen, including a fellow patron with so many rolls under his chin you’d think he was the Psychlo senate majority leader. He also introduces Ker to his belle Chirk (the late Kelly Preston) who has quite the talented tongue. Like Jonnie, Terl is quite the lucky one because it appears Chirk is the only female in all of Psychlo. Of course, while Terl is going gaga over Chirk’s agile appendage, those pesky rat brains are up to no good in those Rocky Mountains.

Enjoying the fight, Commodus watches in amusement, flailing about and wagging his tongue, though not nearly as impressive as Chirk, I guess he should have stayed at Space Camp just a little bit longer. Impressed by the victorious head gladiator, the Emperor wishes to meet the champion, not knowing it’s his old pissed off pal Maximus. While he initially went to congratulate the triumphant gladiator, when Maximus takes off his helmet to reveal himself as the betrayed general, Commodus is understandably scared shitless. And when Lucilla looks on from her VIP section, she’s surprised as well, but also a bit relieved, because now she can hopefully hook up with him again instead of her brother.

Back in the Wipe Wipe West, Jonnie and the rest of buddies have concocted a scheme to defeat the Psychlos. With all the knowledge Jonnie has acquired, he found out that there’s a place called Fort Knox that has tons of gold just gathering dust. If they can figure out a way to get there, they can keep the Psychlos pleased with all the gold, and in the meantime they can go find some weapons and start an uprising. In their quest for firearms, they happen to discover an underground military base filled with all sorts of goodies, including fighter jets, machine guns, and nuclear bombs. With a thousand year old operational flight simulator conveniently nearby, the Cro-Magnons are now Top Gun material. His braided hair now made up into a ponytail, Jonnie got his gun and was ready.

Though he wasn’t able to find any nuclear bombs nearby, Maximus was coming up with a plan of his own. After winning a few more matches and killing a tiger or two, Maximus spotted his old servant Cicero in the crowd and had a little talk with him. A meeting was arranged between Maximus and Lucilla, and she brought along a dependable senator with her. Apparently Senator Gracchus (Derek Jacobi) wants what Maximus and Lucilla want, so he can help take down Commodus too. Maximus is convinced that once his loyal fellow soldiers find out he’s alive, they’ll be on their side too and they’ll have an even better shot at defeating the evil Emperor. Unfortunately, Commodus is starting to suspect that something is afoot (thankfully, not covered in Maximus snot).

Like Commodus, Terl starts to figure out a couple of the betrayals going about. Along with secretly stashing some guns and bombs, Jonnie was able to get Terl’s blackmail recordings, and he managed to make a trade with Forest WhitaKer: the recording for their release from the cages. Thinking he’s got the upper hairy hand now, Ker tries to do his own blackmailing toward Terl now, telling him he made a copy of the recording and gave it to someone. Assuming Terl will never find out who has the disc, Ker demands that he receive the majority of the gold. Unfortunately for Ker, just like those barbaric Germanians, Terl has beheaded the Psychlo bartender who had the duplicated recording, and Ker gets his hand blown away. Great, now with only one hand he’ll never be able to play the saxophone.

After his little blabbermouth of a nephew Lucius plays with some wooden swords, Commodus confronts his sneaky sis. After some creepy threats, Commodus demands that if she doesn’t reveal what’s going on behind his back, he’ll kill her precious Lucius. Oh, and also says that they must have a child together in order to have a pure heir. How horrible it must have been back in the ancient days to have a leader who had the hots for a member of their own family. But it’s not completely Commodus’s fault, after all, Lucille appears to be the only female in all of Rome, so like Jonnie and Terl, the emperor didn’t have many options.

Jonnie and his pals are having a little more luck than Maximus. After flying to Fort Knox to get the gold, the man-animals have pleased the Psychlos with their new haul, and now they’re scheming to take over. The plan is to blow up the Denver dome so that all the Psychlo friendly air evaporates, and then they plan to use the aliens’ teleportation device to take the nuclear bomb to their planet and blow it up. Thankfully Djimon Hounsou is in Gladiator and not Battlefield Earth, otherwise he’d have caught on to the plan, having experienced it already in Stargate.

Thinking he’s got everything going his way thanks to Lucille and Senator Gracchus, Maximus plans to escape from his captivity and meet up with servant Cicero and his devoted soldiers. Unfortunately, Lucille had to give in and tell her brutal bro what’s been going on, so Maximus was walking into a trap. Cicero was killed, Proximo was killed, Maximus was sent back in shackles, and even Senator Gracchus was arrested. Even in ancient Rome the senators weren’t able to remove their leader from office.

Meanwhile, the rat brains start to take action. Carlo volunteers to be the jet pilot who destroys the glass dome, and some expendable man-animal offers to be the one who sacrifices himself and teleports with the bomb to detonate it on the planet. And Jonnie, well, I’m not quite sure what Jonnie’s part is, other than to confront Terl and piss him off while all the other man-animals do the dangerous and important stuff. Carlo’s missile didn’t quite break the glass dome, so he goes on a Kamicarlo mission and crashes into the dome with his jet, successfully destroying it. With the dome out of the way, the nuclear bomb is teleported to planet Psychlo and is detonated, and the planet it destroyed. And I mean, it’s completely destroyed, with nothing left but shadows and dust. Either that was the most powerful nuclear bomb ever created, or Psychlo is a teensy weensy planet. With that out of the way, Jonnie manages to secretly plant that deadly metal collar on Terl’s arm, and Terl ends up blowing off his own arm. Now he’ll never be able to do his signature disco moves on the dance floor. With one arm missing and locked in a cage, Terl asks Jonnie why he’s staying alive. Jonnie says it’s for leverage, in case more rascally Psychlos decide to invade again. And to keep watch over Terl, Ker pops up, siding with the man-animals, mainly just so he can laugh at him. But Ker isn’t gonna be the only one laughing at Terl, they’re all gonna laugh at him.

Now that Commodus is back on top with no fear of losing his title, he just has to get rid of that pesky Maximus who all the Roman people seem to love. He challenges him to a final showdown in the arena, emperor versus gladiator. Of course, Commodus can’t have his people see him as a loser, so he literally stabs Maximus in the back, just to make things easier during the match. But that didn’t really seem to do the trick, because after a couple minutes of clanking of the swords together, Maximus managed to get a hold of Commodus’s dagger and the emperor was stabbed to death in the throat. However, that back wound was bugging Maximus a little too much, and right as the fallen Emperor’s soldiers came to see the aftermath of the fight, the victor tells them to release senator Gracchus and have him and the rest of the senators take over and make Rome a republic. And then he keels over and dies. Well, you win some and you lose some.

So in the end, how would these two films face off against each other? While both films are action epics about a hero who must rise up and defeat a treacherous villain, it should be obvious which film has more of a lasting impact. One film became a classic immediately when it was released (granted it was a classic bad film), the other was not. One film was made by an Oscar winning director (granted, it was for Art Direction), the other was not. One film was backed by and praised by an entire religion (granted, it was Scientology), the other was not. And one film is still winning awards, years after its release (granted, those are Razzie awards), and the other is not. If it’s not clear yet which film is the best of the two, it’s at least going clear.

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