SyFy Channel has, thankfully, stopped making quite so many original movies (I think they were up to one a fortnight in 2014), so I’ve got half a chance to catch up, thus completing one of the ISCFC’s grand projects. To that end, I suggested a SyFy review to my wife, and she said “can you make it a funny one?” This, dear reader, represents my best shot, with a main actor who’s famous for one of the most beloved comedies of all time, and…well, no-one else you’ve ever heard of. But that’s par for this course!
That comedy actor is Zack Ward, a name you might not recognise but a face you definitely do. “A Christmas Story”, hugely beloved in the USA, features him as a young kid, playing the neighbourhood villain and doing such a great job that he gets recognised by kids who are upset with him to this day. He also starred in Uwe Boll’s “Postal”, which he had a hilarious story about – after watching the first cut of the movie, he spent an entire weekend going over it, offering suggestions of edits and alternate takes they could use, and…Boll just released that first cut, entirely unaltered. In this movie, he’s Jordan Strider, one of the heroes of the New World Alliance, a multi-species grouping that’s been at war with the Aquarians, a sea-going species (they have suits full of water for the fight scenes) for some time. He completes a tricky mission and during his commendation by the rulers of the Alliance, is given an even trickier one, to go to Terra 219 and arrest some traitors who are passing on Alliance secrets. Because they’re not sure about the atmosphere, they give him a powered suit which completely encloses him and provides for all his needs.
But there’s a problem, in that he’s not really there to “do” anything. He’s a military experiment, to see how long a soldier can survive in the suit, entirely separated from the environment, and to take all sorts of readings from him in order to create the perfect future-soldier. The ticket is one-way, and he could theoretically die of old age inside it. He doesn’t learn this til quite a way into things, of course.
His only companion is the suit’s computer, which has a bit of an Iron Man vibe to it, who he picks a nice friendly female voice for. She injects him with adrenaline when he’s tired and provides food when he’s hungry, although I’m not entirely sure where it stores a lifetime’s supply of these things. Then he encounters the alien warrior Jun’Hee (Monica May), who befriends him but she’s considered an enemy of the Alliance, so they decide to send some troops down to kill them both. I didn’t really understand this, either, as she vanished from the radar some years ago…bit of a coincidence that the planet they picked for this experiment had public enemy no.1 on it.
The extremely low budget of “Battle Planet” manifests itself in a number of ways. The makeup on Jun’Hee and her people is pretty good, but everything else isn’t, including military outfits, weapons (look like spraypainted toys), and sets – if you’ve seen one movie where they just walk through the wilderness and pretend it’s an alien planet, you’ve seen em all.
And the acting! Ward is fine, but everyone else is miserable, like they’ve barely ever acted before. Ward’s friend at the beginning, who might as well have “obvious villain” painted on his forehead, is just shockingly bad, the worst of the bunch, but it’s not like he’s got anything to play against. And the people you think might be good, like the voice of the suit (LA improv comedian / puppeteer Colleen Smith) are terribly badly served by the script.
Why make up an elaborate plan to get rid of their best soldier? What does, say, 50 years of data give you that a month wouldn’t? What sort of war requires soldiers to stay inside completely sealed suits for the entirety of their natural lives? It’s quite an art-house concept for a sci-fi movie (even more so for a SyFy movie) but it feels like they dreamed it up but couldn’t think of a good reason why a guy would be required to spend his entire life trapped in a suit. Or perhaps they were going to do a version of the Iain M Banks short story “Descendant”, which also features a man trapped in a suit on an alien world, but they were refused permission and had to jury-rig what they could. Or maybe they were going to make a TV-movie sequel to “Enemy Mine” but didn’t get the rights to that either. Ah, who knows?
The tone doesn’t help proceedings, flipping from fairly broad comedy to hard sci-fi to a sort of Shakespearean tragedy by the end. The ending could have been beautiful, too, but it didn’t feel earned. None of it did. I kept wondering if I was watching a particularly confusing edit, or the second half of a mini-series, but apparently not. A bunch of interesting ideas desperately looking for a coherent narrative to put themselves in.
Rating: thumbs down