Monday, 29 March 2010

Forgiven, but not forgotten

Anyone who claims to truly love movies has a special place in their heart for cinema's most egregious errors. We've all laughed at Faye Dunaway's infamous wire coathanger breakdown, or shuddered as Elizabeth Berkely danced like she was having an epileptic seizure in a whorehouse.

But for my money, the hotly contested title of worst movie ever has to go to the spectacularly sucky Battlefield Earth. Bankrolled by John Travolta's scientology pals, the sci-fi epic almost defies categorisation.

P0pvulture was fortunate enough to attend the UK premiere of this remarkable film back in 2000, at a screening introduced by JT and director Roger Christian. Premieres are supposed to be celebratory affairs, but following the film's appalling showing at the US box office, the movie-making pair couldn't have looked more nervous if they'd been named in the Hague Conventions.

As the film wore on, the audience became increasingly restless - even the Hollyoaks cast members in attendance looked as though they had better things to do with their time.

Every frame of the film was shot with a Dutch tilt. This isn't an obscure sex act involving a Grolsch bottle-cap, it refers to setting the camera at an odd angle. Christian's intention was to highlight the 'otherworldliness' of the action. In actuality, it just meant that half the audience needed to see a chiropractor by the time the credits rolled.

During its 118 minutes' running time (shortened to 57 if you ran all the slow-motion scenes at regular speed) the film staged a remarkable assault on logic and the acting profession as a whole. Chief amongst the film's many highlights was a scene where a rag-tag group of post-apocalyptic savages take some flight manuals out of the library and teach themselves to pilot a fleet of still operational (after 1000 years) jump jets.

After a decade of being everyone's punching bag, Battlefield Earth finally won a much-deserved award - worst film of the noughties at this year's Razzies. Now, with the tale of Psychlos and man-rats back in the public's consciousness (like the filmic equivalent of repressed memory syndrome), its writer has issued a public apology for his involvement in the debacle.

Writing in the New York Post, J.D. Shapiro alleges that he originally wrote a screenplay that was "darker, grittier and had a very compelling story with rich characters". He argues that studio interference "changed the entire tone" and ultimately killed the movie. Given that J.D.'s previous career high-point was the 'hilarious' Robin Hood: Men in Tights, I'm not sure that I believe him.

Whether or not Shapiro's original draft could have become the first great sci-fi movie of the century is largely irrelevant. What matters is the fact that he's happy to acknowledge his complicity in making the film happen: "Now, looking back at the movie with fresh eyes, I can't help but be strangely proud of it. Because out of all the sucky movies, mine is the suckiest."

This latest burst of infamy for the film is unlikely to trouble its producer Elie Samaha, who publicly stated that even bad reviews and Razzie awards gave the movie "free publicity". In his mind "the more the critics hit Battlefield Earth, the more DVDs it sells. It is the kind of film that makes a movie legend and we feel we have enough staying power to last long after the critics have quieted down." One day, Earth will be nothing more than the kind of post-apocalyptic wasteland depicted in Battlefield Earth - then, and only then, will this magnificent folly receive the recognition it deserves.

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