Greatness can be aspired to. Its achievement can be the driving goal behind a film. But its realization comes down so often to the kinds of intangibles that frustrate efforts to control or create. And this applies to greatness whether the work is good or not. That’s right, today, we’re musing about greatness in the negative (but therefore curiously positive sense): the films that are so bad they’re great.
I don’t think anything more clearly illustrates the difficulty in reaching this special kind of greatne…s than the case of Uwe Boll. There is no doubt that his films are staggeringly bad. The man’s dogged determination to continue pumping out product and foisting it on a unwilling world is testament to just the kind of boneheaded commitment required of the artiste maudit. He even shows a willingness to experiment (ill-advisedly) with the form, and he inspires the worst in otherwise talented casts and writers. And let us pause for a moment at the recent spectacle of his literal boxing matches with his critics. You have to admire that. There’s even a consistency to his body of work, in that it consists of the demolition of one video game after another: House of the Dead, Alone in the Dark, BloodRayne, the forthcoming Dungeon Siege and Postal.
All the elements are present, it would seem, for Boll’s entry into the Pantheon of Badfilm Greatness. He may yet do so. And yet. And yet. He isn’t quite there. There’s something missing. Bad as his films are, they aren’t enjoyable enough, and funny enough, to make the cut. They certainly have their moments, such as the endless crawl of text that begins Alone in the Dark, but that extra spark of madness is missing from his debacles. I won’t compare Boll to Ed Wood or Doris Wishman, or any other deity of Badness whose standing has been confirmed for decades. It is true that the passage of time is the determining factor for Badfilm immortality, so anything I say about Boll must be taken with that caveat in mind, but even so, a recent example will show, I hope, in what that missing something consists.
I shall argue to my last breath that Battlefield Earth is one of the most wonderfully, lovably, hilariously awful films of the last decade. This picture is gold. It is bonkers from the get-go, and keeps topping itself in the realms of addle-brained spectacle. Never mind the John Travolta vanity-project aspect – that’s just icing on the cake. Consider the lunatic over-use of oblique camera angles (I stopped counting half an hour into the film, when I reached the triple digits), the side-wipes that George Lucas would turn his back on, the aliens in Kiss Army costume, the stone-age humans who learn how to operate 20th-Century fighter jets in a matter of hours, or the fact that the planes are in perfect operational order after a thousand years. This is genius, people. Every Single Scene of the film gives you something else to laugh at. This isn’t just bad. This is disaster on a scale so monumental that one wonders if it wasn’t deliberate. Battlefield Earth will live forever.
Boll’s work is just not that much fun. So much of what he does is boringly bad, lacking (barring a few instances here and there), the consistently inventive catastrophes that mark the likes of Battlefield Earth. But his career shows no signs of going away, so there is time yet. He may still give us his masterpiece, and I will joyfully eat every word I’ve just written.