Home > Reviews > BATTLEFIELD EARTH – Elia Cmiral


battlefieldearthOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

The definition of a “turkey” in cinematic terms is, in my own words, a film which fails to impress on ever conceivable level, from acting to direction to writing, up to and including any and all of the technical departments. Battlefield Earth, a big-budget science fiction epic wannabe adapted from the best-selling pulp novel by L. Ron Hubbard, is a turkey. A great, big, bloated, clucking turkey complete with giblets a wattle and a parson’s nose and everything. It’s a rare occurrence for such a high-profile movie to be this bad – there are normally at least one or two redeeming features, even it’s only a high quotient of campness a la Showgirls – but Battlefield Earth fails on every conceivable level, with the possible exception of its music.

The plot of the movie (or at least what I could make out) is to do with a race of vicious alien beings known as Psychlos, who supposedly conquer Earth at some point in the future and enslave mankind. A thousand years later and the majority of the surviving humans are mere beasts of burden, toiling daily for the Psychlos as they strip the planet of its natural resources for their own gain. However, some free humans remain, living in tiny, isolated mountain colonies away from the grasp of the invaders. It is from one of these colonies that Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper) emerges, an intelligent and confident young man who intends to instigate an uprising against the Psychlos. However, Jonnie soon comes face to face with Terl (John Travolta with dreadlocks) and his nefarious assistant played by Forest Whitaker – the Psychlo security chiefs who have an agenda of their own.

I actually feel quite sorry for Elia Cmiral, and the fact that he became attached to this stinking project after showing a great deal of promise with his two previous scores, Ronin and Stigmata. The Czech/Swedish expatriate responded to the film’s dramatic thrust by composing a big, rousing adventure score for a full orchestra, augmented by a choir and large amounts of electronic effects. Cmiral, quite obviously, tried very hard to make his score succeed, but when heard in the film it’s just another element which doesn’t quite work. It’s grand and dramatic, but doesn’t have the visual splendour to accompany it, and as a result seems too overblown, and the action music, despite being fast paced and intricate, falls foul of some seriously inept editing, ending up a bit of a jumbled mess.

When heard as a standalone entity, the problem with Cmiral’s score is that it has no real sense of itself. After its initial performance in the first cue, ‘Battlefield Earth Theme’, there is virtually no recurring material until the 11th cue, ‘Man Animal Revolt’. Beyond that, every cue is an entity unto itself, and while this is not necessarily a problem in most cases, in this instance it turns the score into a bit of a mess. Motifs come and go, nothing seems to have a structure, and nothing seems to relate to anything else in the score. It’s almost as though Cmiral approached each new scene with a completely blank piece of paper, and never once thought about what he’d written for the ones before and after.

Individually, most of the cues do have a great deal of musical merit, and there are some clever uses of orchestra and percussion (‘Fort Hood’, ‘Options for Renewal’, ‘Web Cracking Stops’) as well as some innovative electronic elements (‘Terl’, ‘Psychlo Wrangler’, ‘Do You Want Lunch?’). In addition to these, cues such as ‘The Dome’, ‘Denver Library’ and ‘We’ve Won’, with their ascending crescendos and sparkling choral elements, are actually quite beautiful, in a pseudo-Independence Day kind of way. Similarly, ‘Jonnie Leaves’, ‘Jonnie’s Enlightenment’, ‘Chrissy’ and ‘Mountain Tribe’ are uniquely exotic, bringing whistling pan flutes and ethnically-tinged vocals into the mix as a haunting leitmotif for the rebellious human characters.

The action music in the second half of the score, notably in cues such as ‘Commence Revolt’, ‘Air Battle’ and ‘Dome Explodes’, does build up a fair head of steam and, when heard apart from the mixed up montages on screen, does generate a fair bit of energy. When Cmiral really goes for broke, works in his theme and lets his orchestra fly, Battlefield Earth really sizzles. Unfortunately, there is very little else that is truly innovative in Battlefield Earth. Putting synthesised creaking and groaning against a sci-fi feature is hardly breaking new ground, and most of the action riffs are variations on the styles of David Arnold, Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner and even Brad Fiedel. In fact by far the most original piece is the totally outrageous ‘Psychlo’s Top 40’, a crazy collection of synthesised loops and textures that is nothing if not creative, but which is impossible to listen to more than once before needing therapy.

I sincerely hope that, in future years, Elia Cmiral does not live to regret writing this score. Certainly, the careers of director Roger Christian, producer/star John Travolta and screenwriter Corey Mandell look sure to be forever tarred by the brush of Battlefield Earth, and it would be a great shame if Cmiral suffered the same fate and had what looked to be a promising halted before it really began. However, having said that, Cmiral still needs to develop a truly original voice of his own if he is to make good from his promise and escape from the quagmire of low budget sci-fi hell.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • Battlefield Earth Theme (0:52)
  • The Dome (3:32)
  • Jonnie Leaves (1:34)
  • Meeting Carlos the Hunter (1:19)
  • Terl (1:39)
  • Jonnie’s Enlightenment (1:56)
  • The Plan/Fort Hood (2:42)
  • Chrissy (1:04)
  • Denver Library (1:19)
  • Chrissy Collected (1:40)
  • Man Animal Revolt (2:53)
  • Mountain Tribe (1:43)
  • Psychlo Wrangler (2:28)
  • Psychlo’s Top 40 (2:07)
  • Commence Revolt (3:10)
  • Do You Want Lunch? (1:34)
  • Options for Renewal (2:00)
  • Hope at Last (0:55)
  • The Cavalry (0:34)
  • Air Battle (1:50)
  • Trench Attack (0:53)
  • Web Cracking Stops (1:47)
  • Dome Explodes (1:55)
  • Gas Drone and Fight (1:43)
  • Mickey the Hero (0:40)
  • We’ve Won (1:12)
  • End Titles (1:33)

Running Time: 48 minutes 54 seconds

Varése Sarabande VSD-6144 (2000)

Music composed by Elia Cmiral. Conducted by Conrad Pope. Orchestrations by Elia Cmiral, Erik Lundborg, David Slonaker and William Motzing. Choir conducted by Thomas Bartke. Special vocal performances by Azam Ali. Recorded and mixed by John Whynot. Edited by Mike Flicker. Mastered by Pat Sullivan. Album produced by Elia Cmiral.

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