Looking over my top and bottom 10 of the decade, I noticed an interesting trend. The films in my top ten create new, interesting, and believable worlds and successfully immerse the audience in them. As a result, science fiction and fantasy are heavily represented on the list, but even Master and Commander, a realistic historical drama, may be the most immersive film on the list. On the flip-side, the common thread for all the movies on my bottom 10 is they try to create new and immersive worlds, but fail horribly at it. The top and bottom movies on this list turn out to both be perfect examples of this phenomenon.
The Lord of the Rings (2001, 2002, 2003)
There was really no contest for the top spot. These three films succeed on every level and were easily the most anticipated movies of the decade. I love the book and Peter Jackson did a superb job translating it to the screen. He brought Middle Earth to life so believably that it feels like a real place, seamlessly blending sets, models, matte paintings, CGI, and natural location so that it is impossible to tell where one leaves off and another begins. There are both huge battles and wonderful little character moments, all set against my favorite score of all time. It is a story of heroism and sacrifice with great deeds being done by even the most insignificant of people. As an added bonus, the Extended Edition DVDs are the best DVD set ever made. For starters, they look great on a DVD shelf, but inside they are crammed with hours and hours of documentaries that cover all aspects of making the films without endlessly repeating themselves, managing to be both informative and entertaining.
Battlefield Earth (2000)
I had read the book and enjoyed it, so I was eager to see the movie, as were several of my friends (who had also read and enjoyed the book). We all got together to see what was going to be the next science fiction epic on opening weekend. Boy were we disappointed. Instead of an epic, we were treated to a poorly constructed story that constantly forces the characters to do unbelievably stupid things for no apparent reason. The aliens come across looking like bad Star Trek alien-of-the-week rejects and while they are supposed to be evil and domineering, they come across as just silly. And to make matters worse, half the time the camera was tilted at such a drastic angle that I felt like I was going to fall off my chair at any second. And then there is John Travolta’s performance of Terl, the leader of the aliens. He is so over the top that he can never be taken seriously and becomes painful to watch by the story’s end. The human characters don’t come off any better. None of them are interesting in any way and the audience never has any reason to develop an emotional connection with any of them. And then they find centuries old 20th century technology that amazingly still works, and start flying around in jet fighters with no training. This is a movie that manages to fail on every level, making it well worthy of the “honor” of the worst movie of the decade.