Another summer, another dumb would-be sci-fi blockbuster. It's rumoured that
no one ever aspires to make a bad film, but why then start with one of the
worst books ever written? Battlefield Earth has proved perhaps the
most derided big budget film since Inchon (1982), a war epic vanity
project financed by the Moonies. Battlefield Earth is Scientologist
John Travolta's long cherished war epic of Scientology founder Ron L. Hubbard's
SF novel. It wants to be this year's Independence Day (1996). It is
this year's Plan 9 From Outer Space (1958). Unsurprisingly the usual
suspects for scoring such a project proved otherwise engaged when their agents
received the call, so the task of providing a musical accompaniment fell
to the up-and-coming Elia Cmiral.
Cmiral is a Czech composer who has been scoring films for a decade, and writing
for the theatre since he was 18, debuting with stage production of Cyrano
de Bergerac. Most film music fans probably didn't notice his existence
until John Frankenheimer's Ronin (1998). One could hardly fail to
notice, as much of the film, which astonishingly survived, proved an earthy
battlefield between the director's set-pieces and Cmiral's drum-and-bass
'inspired' score. A contemporary space-opera should have offered the
opportunities for something big, bold and thrilling, and the music here that
has any sense of melody draws a line somewhere between the portentous choirs
of Alan Silvestri's The Abyss and the military might of David Arnold's
Independence Day. However, if you have those, you don't need this
for they do the job far better.
Meanwhile the vast bulk of this very fragmented - 28 tracks in 48 minutes
- everything and the kitchen sink score consists of relentless percussive
assaults, atmospheric synthesiser patches and the occasional 'ethnic' voice.
It's consistently hyperactive, as if a normal action movie score had been
injected with speed then entered into the action movie 100 yard dash. Suffice
to say it goes 'bang, crash, thud' a lot and conclusively proves that more
is less. The whole thing rapidly becomes incredibly tiresome, with only an
attempt at alien pop music 'Psychlo's Top 40' to show how much worse things
could get. Or perhaps, as a cure for not having a headache.
With Independence Day and his James Bond scores David Arnold has shown
how orchestra, intense percussion and electronics can combine in a modern
way and yet remain melodically engaging. Battlefield Earth shows how
the formula can go drastically awry. It may be functional in the film, but
on disc it offers nothing you haven't heard many times before, and usually
in ways which are far better executed.
Gary S. Dalkin