Bargain Basement Film-making Delivers The Apocalypse On A Budget ... And With Little Plot
May 21, 2013
There are good aspects to video production becoming so affordable, and, of course, there are bad aspects. One might say “many bad aspects,” but I’ll just leave it at “bad.” One of the downsides is that any Tom, Dick, or Harry can – with a reasonable commitment of resources – throw together a film, take it on the independent or festival circuit, and secure a distributor. This doesn’t mean that the picture is one that needs to find an audience, however; rather, it means that the people behind it saw enough value to complete the thing AND the company who puts their name on it believes they might profit from the efforts expended. The best of the ‘good aspects’ is that means some creators may inevitably break through that glass ceiling keeping them outside of the film industry; they’ll get invited in, where more willing investors just might help them make their dreams come true.
What we’re left with, though, are the stepping stones to that goal. I suspect BATTLE EARTH is one such stepping stone product. It’s sprinkled with enough good ideas to understand the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of getting made, but that’s about all it’s sprinkled with.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Mankind – yet again – has been dealt a superior blow, and civilization as we know it has been mostly wiped out. There are pockets of resistance – fighters still willing to gear up and head out into the battleground – who seek to retake the Earth from these alien aggressors; and, into this fold, a young Canadian paramedic named Greg Baker (played with curious restraint by Kevin Johnson) gets assigned as a field medic. His team’s mission?
Well, that’s where BATTLE EARTH kinda/sorta starts to fall apart.
Baker and his partners are in a helicopter shot down over enemy territory. They’re ‘escorting’ a package for deliver to high command, but their success relies heavily on getting that ‘curiosity’ to others who can use it against these evil aliens soldiers. What they have is an oddity – a device of decidedly alien technology – that does apparently an awful lot of things. The soldiers refer to it as a psychic database, one that catalogues the offworld race’s technology and tactics, but we’re never shown just how that works. Instead, we’re shown that it causes hallucinations to the Earthlings who possess it, and most of what happens simply revolves around that.
In and off itself, that isn’t a bad premise, per se. In fact, I can think of several possible scenarios where that might come in handy when crafting a dynamic story to tell about this lost squadron of men trying to do right by mankind. Unfortunately, Baker spends the bulk of the film ulcerating over his unfaithful girlfriend – he’s even delivered images of her cheating on him with another man – but he stays true to the mission. And – for the record – having the psychic database look like little more than a football buried under layers of duct tape kinda/sorta derailed my ability to see it as anything other than, well, a football buried under duct tape.
Sadly, the script by relative newcomers Ryan Hatt, Kevin Johnson, and Aaron Kurmey only seems committed to putting this ‘Predator Platoon’ through its paces while reminding the audience of other soldier-centric productions that were far superior to this dreck. Just at a glance, I could draw comparisons to PREDATOR, BATTLE: LOS ANGELES, FULL METAL JACKET, and Oliver Stone’s seminal PLATOON. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but, in the early helicopter sequences, one grunt rides half-inside, half-outside the aircraft while humming the ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ – the classical theme prominently showcase in Francis Ford Coppola’s APOCALYPSE NOW – and this unfortunate sequence imbues the film with a heavily ‘been there, done that’ vibe that never quite goes away.
Also, much of BATTLE EARTH is plagued by – simply put – sequences that last far longer than they need be in order to establish any narrative significance. For example, the motion picture begins with a 7-minute ‘dream sequence’ that seeks to define our protagonist, the young Mr. Baker. (I won’t spoil the hidden agenda of it, but, suffice it to say, there’s a strong thematic reason for it to be there.) Well, at 7 minutes, it goes on probably 6 minutes longer than necessary. Then, there’s a cut to another 5 minute sequence to further establish Baker and his unfaithful, mostly-disinterested girlfriend … and then we cut to ‘six months later.’ (???) Look, there’s no inherently wrong or evil with providing some narrative set-up; next time, I’d encourage the crew to figure out a way to accomplish it in half the time.
Otherwise, the picture certainly sports some modest special effects, all no doubt completed with the best apps money can buy. It’s ripe with the kind of herky-jerky handheld camera movements no amount of Dramamine can fix. And the moral to the story ends up being little more than “never take your psychic database into battle.”
BATTLE EARTH is produced by Rambunxious Entertainment, Multivisionnaire Pictures, and Dead Skuters. DVD distribution is being handled through Inception Media Group, LLC. As for the technical specifications … well, I don’t want to beat a dead horse, so let me say that the feature consistently sports acceptable picture and sound quality though both appeared to have been handled by novices (there are many out-of-focus shots and many poorly miked sequences that hamper the film’s effectiveness but not so bad that it destroys the picture). As is often the case with some of these smaller, low budget productions, there are no special features to speak of.
RECOMMENDED (mildly) for anyone who’s a die-hard enthusiast of even the most borderline sci-fi concepts, themes, and flicks … or anyone who’s just a glutton for punishment. None of this is intended to imply that BATTLE EARTH is entirely forgettable – I’d argue that it’s exactly the kind of lesser feature that prompts so many film enthusiasts to either (A) parody it or (B) watch it, reach the conclusion they can do better, and then go out and do just that. Germs of good ideas are not enough to elevate some films beyond their stated minutiae – they need acceptable production standards and quality performances in order to grow into something special. This battle appeared lost before it ever got started.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Inception Media Group, LLC provided me with an advance DVD copy of BATTLE EARTH for the expressed purposes of completing this review.