Badi: the Turkish E.T.

The original E.T. said it best: "Ouuuuch!"

I knew this was going to be a chore to sit through even before I turned it on. Not only was it a low-budget Turkish rip-off of a major Hollywood blockbuster, from the heydey of Turkish copyright violations... it was also a low-resolution video CD copy of a television broadcast, complete with commercials; and worst of all, without subtitles. Those of you who've been following my other attempts at reviewing unsubtitled genre films know how I usually do things: if I find a film that looks like it will reward a closer look, I watch it a few times to get a basic understanding; then I either get a book or consult an online dictionary to try and figure out a little of the language. Then I spend a month or so watching and rewatching the film until I have a better idea of what's going on. I knew from the outset there was no way I was going to spend that much time and effort on Badi... partly because of the headache-inducing video quality, and partly because Turkish is one of those frightening agglutinative languages with vowel-harmony. I figured I'd just get a general sense of the movie and write a capsule review.

And then I actually started watching the damned thing. Watch it again? Hell: I wondered if I was even going to make it through the first time.

My memories of the original E.T. have faded a bit over time. I was 15 when Spielberg's film came out, and like many adolescents (of all ages) I was crazy about it: I must have seen it 10 times over the summer of 1982. That was enough: I haven't seen it at all since then. I have very little interest in seeing it again, especially since I've heard that for the 20th Anniversary edition Steven Spielberg digitally removed the guns from a crucial scene. But I remember the movie well enough to know that most of the key moments in the original have been duplicated in the Turkish version — but duplicated in the most perfunctory way imaginable.

For instance: if you've seen Spielberg's film, you'll remember how E.T. got separated from his people: he and his alien colleagues had been out collecting specimens of plants, and rocks, and all sorts of other things they could shove up the rectums of terrified midwestern abductees. Then, human beings had shown up with dogs, forcing the aliens to get back on their ship and take off, leaving ome of their number behind. This was the very first sequence of the film, and in typical Spielberg style it's filmed for maximum emotional impact: from the wonder of the aliens at the beauty and variety of Earth's biosphere, to their terror at the approaching Earthlings, to the sense of bewilderment and loss that the stranded E.T. feels as he sees his ship take off without him... these things make a tremendous effect on the viewer, and put us on the side of the child-like E.T. before we've even seen the face of a single human character.

Yeah. Well. In Badi, the extraterrestrial walks off his ship. That's it. There's no explanation of why he's unable to get back to his people, and very little indication (as far as I can tell) of what he was doing getting off the ship in the first place. But hey — he has to get off the ship in order to be lost, and he has to be lost if there's going to be a heartwarming reunion at the end, right? So let's just touch the main points and leave the rest to the audience's memory of the original, 'kay?

There are some differences between the two versions, as you might expect. The Elliott character is actually two characters in Badi: the first one we meet is a little boy named Bülent, who lives with his three siblings, his mother and his "comically" [sic] abusive father. Bülent is a budding science whiz, although his home experiments still have a tendency to blow up unexpectedly. He's an outgoing kid who loves to tell stories; the other kids in his neighborhood seem to look to him as a sort of natural ringleader. Bülent's friend Ali, on the other hand, is quite different: while Bülent is fair-skinned, blond and energetic, Ali is olive-skinned, dark-haired and shy. While Büent is always surrounded by his friends and family, Ali is an only child who lives alone with his mother. Ali feels closer to animals than to his human friends, and when we first meet him he is making friends with a stray puppy outside his school.

Ali tries to take the dog into school with him, but the custodian won't let him. This is (I think) remarked on with amusement by two grownups, a young man who runs and electronics store (aspiring scientist Bülent is one of his best customers) and the pretty young woman who's just come in for some parts. And here's the next big difference between the Turkish and American films: in Badi the adults, cartoons though they are, have a bigger role in the goings-on than the adults in E.T.. There's even a hint of a budding romnce between the young woman and the storekeeper, something that would have been completely extraneous to a movie like E.T.

But then, just as we're starting to get used to the idea that we're watching E.T. merged with a generic bad comedy, a policeman shoots the little dog.

The scene had just begun to register in my mind — I had just begun to think about writing a note to myself about the differences in cultures that would make this terrible, heartbreaking gesture acceptable in a children's film — when the larger impact of the scene broke through to me. They actually killed the dog. There's no doubt about it: they killed the sweet, mangy little mutt that was wagging its tail so trustingly only a scene or two before. There is absolutely no excuse for having done this. Was the dog a genuine stray that had to be put down for reasons of health? First of all, I don't believe that for a moment; but even if that was the case, it's awful to exploit the dog's death for entertainment — children's entertainment, no less. I'd heard that Spielberg shot his movie in story-order, so the emotions of the children would be fresh and natural... and I'd heard that the kid who played Elliott channeled the emotions of his own dog's death for his audition... but to actually kill the dog so the kid playing Ali would be genuinely upset? That's monstrous.

Some of you are probably wondering why I even continued watching at this point. I wonder, too. I guess since the worst is already over, I had to go on and see the final product for which the dog had been sacrificed. Certainly I will never watch it again, and I hope this review will satisfy my readers' curiosity so that they won't ever have to watch it, either.

As you'll have guessed, the death of the dog is supposed to prepare young Ali psychologically for the arrival of his new friend from space. Thank you, but I could do without this kind of character development. In spite of Bülent's attempts to get Ali to join the gang in their usual routine, Ali decides he'd rather stay home and talk to his pet sparrow. Oh, and by the way, Ali's ability to communicate with his sparrow isn't just an endearing quirk... he can actually talk to his bird and apparently understand what the bird says back to him. i would call this more of a superpower than a character trait, but by this point I'm merely rolling with the punches.

In the meantime, the woman from the electronics store has gone back to her apartment-cum-laboratory, with her... her... umm... my inability to speak Turkish is preventing me from figuring out exactly who it is she lives and/or works with: there's an old guy who could be her father, but is more likely to be her professor; and there's a smarmy young man about her age who is either her brother or her colleague-who-is-just-a-friend. I thought at first he was her husband, but of course that would bring a whole different meaning to her flirtation with the shopkeeper. He seems to be the kind of character who's sweet on the ingenue, but is too uptight and selfish to actually Get the Girl. Where was I? Oh, yeah; these three are apparently conducting some sort of SETI-type experiments, trying to get in touch with intelligence from outer space long before affordable home computers made SETI-at-home so popular. The girl takes a moment to tell the others (I think) about little Ali and the dog, thereby setting up future plot points.

I suppose it's because these three people are trying to contact life from other worlds that life from other worlds suddenly decides to visit them. Eerie red lights begin to flash outside the window, and something that makes a sound like Godzilla flies by overhead. Also, in the weirdest moment in a truly weird movie, as the UFO passes by we have a split-second cutaway to a sleeping cat:

Uhhh... postmodern Disney reference?

(I know what you're thinking, but trust me: the cat is only sleeping. At least that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.)

This is the point at which our extraterrestrial simply steps off his spaceship and sets the main part of the story in motion. You know what that means: it's time to get a good look at the wacky, waddling thing that passes for an E.T. suit.

Good grief! "Badi" looks like something the real E.T. might have left on his dashboard when he passed a little too close to the sun. Imagine the title of an early Butthole Surfers album come to life: Rembrandt Pussyhorse, for instance; or Locust Abortion Technician... that should give you some idea. I've scraped better-looking things out of a litter box — things that help their shape better, too, now that I think of it. You know the combination Alien/Predator that popped out in Alien vs. Predator: Requiem? A critter that was part Giger Alien and part Predator? Well, imagine in an Alien were to incubate inside one of Spielberg's utterly benign E.T.s, and were then to spontaneously abort out of sheer shame... the result would look something like this. My God; this movie just got me to reference Alien vs. Predator: Requiem; is there no end to the iniquity?

Something tells me that I'm still not conveying the sheer awfulness of the "Badi" costume, so I guess I might as well risk traumatizing you and show you an actual picture:

Ladies and gentlemen, the Turkish E.T.

I don't know about you, but if I saw something like that wobbling toward me, my first impulse would be to grab a paper towel and clean it up.

The sudden arrival of a glowing, bleeping UFO attracts the attention not only of our 3 researchers, but also the whole town. There's the sort-of Peter Coyote character, a police inspector who's hot on the trail of the spacecraft, played by a guy who looks like a runner-up in the Saddam Hussein look-alike contest. And there's a whole crowd of what I can only describe as torch-bearing villagers without the torches. But naturally, the only one to find the stranded spaceman is Ali, who has heard the UFO's descent and gone out into the woods to see what it is.

The scene in Spielberg's original in which Elliott first encountered E.T. was shot with the same sort of careful escalation that Spielberg used in Jaws; the moments leading up to the big reveal of E.T. feel like they're part of a particularly well-executed monster movie. Of course, the payoff switches in a split-second from horror to comedy, as we see that the "monster" in the night is every bit as terrified as the boy. By contrast, here is what happens in Badi: Ali catches sight of the alien. The alien catches sight of Ali. They both run away. Ali trips and falls and (we find out later) bruises his face and ankle. End of scene.

The next morning (much to Bülent's disgust), Ali is too badly bruised and shaken up to go to school (Elliott had played hooky as well, but by that time he'd already found out about E.T.; he was faking his illness to stay home with his new friend). His mother goes off to work, leaving the boy alone in the house; but no sooner has she left when Ali hears something prowling around the house. When he gets up to investigate, he comes face to face with the alien once again.

You'd think it would be difficult to make the little Badi critter any less appealing than he already is, but believe it or not, the film-makers have found a way to do just that. Whenever he's surprised, he farts white smoke. Well, either it's that, or he's smuggling fire extinguishers up his bum, and they go off at inconvenient times. For some reason, instead of running off screaming, Ali decides to try and communicate with the little beast.

Naturally, Reese's wasn't paying the Turks for product placement, so in Badi the alien and the little boy bond over some sort of local candy. It looks terrible. It's grey on the outside, and it seems to be grainy and brownish on the inside — we get a good look, because Ali chews with his mouth open. Euurrghh. I have no idea what this loathesome-looking stuff might be, but I have to agree with this reviewer: for a moment, I thought I knew what happened to that poor little dog.

Bülent Grey is puppy!

Like his Hollywood counterpart, Badi has certain almost-magical powers. For one thing, he can move things with his mind, a trick he demonstrates on a pair of apples (Psychic... Powerless... Another Man's Sac). He also has some kind of Make-Everything-Better ray in his fingers, an ability that seems to work no matter what the biology of the thing it's used on. Badi uses this power on Ali's bruises. Shortly afterwards, Ali's mother comes home, and we go through the classic hiding-from-Mom-by-standing-right-behind-her gag.

In the meantime nearby, the researchers have been looking for evidence of the UFO. Bülent and his brother and sisters watch them as they go about their work; and Bülent eventually follows them back to the electronics store, where he observes them building some sort of E.T.-detector. This inspires Bülent to go home and start building a device of his own: some sort of contraption made out of a home chemistry set, a phonograph and a circular saw blade.

While he's busy with his invention, Ali shows up outside his window and whistles for his attention. The two kids go off into the forest, and Ali introduces Bülent to his new friend. The two boys then get the brilliant idea to move Badi out of Ali's nearly-empty house, and into Bülent's — with three other kids and two unsympathetic adults. Bülent lets his siblings in on the secret — the classic introduce-the-little-sister-to-the-alien scene extended by two more kids. Bülent's little brother shows the most sensible reaction of anyone so far by screaming and crying.

Ali leaves Badi at Bülent's house, where he begins to use the other boy's home science kits to build his "home-phoning" device. He also finds 10-year-old Bülent's stash of skin magazines, which he leafs through appreciatively. You don't normally see naked boobies in a kids' movie (let alone a kids' movie from a nominally-Islamic country). Then again, William Kotzwinkle's novelization of Spielberg's film had E.T. drooling over Elliott's mom — I can just hear that funny voice saying, "MMMMMILLLFFF!", and oh god I hope that's just his finger that's glowing — so I guess there's some kind of precedent.

Once he gets home, Ali goes into a very strange dream sequence: he dreams that he's in his classroom, and Badi has been showing all his friends and his teacher how to speak bird-language. The all start singing and dancing the mind-numbingly repetitive song "Pi-pi-pi, pa-pa-pa", while flapping their arms like birds. Nothing I can say can do justice to the horror of it all. Anyway, the dream suddenly goes sour when the sound of police sirens fills the air: the kids all run to surround Badi and hide him. Ali wakes up in a sweat; when his mother comes in to see if he's all right, he seems only able to respond in bird-language.

While all this is going on, the investigators and the electronics shop guy have been on the alien's trail. One of the many enduring images of the Hollywood film was that of flashlights cutting through the fog, as E.T.'s faceless pursuers came closer... so it's hardly surprising that in some of the scenes with the investigators, the flashlights do all the acting.

Because the "scientists" are completely inept, they are unable to trace the extraterrestrial. Unfortunately for little Badi, he's as dumb as they are. Growing bored at home, I suppose, he decides to take a little walk... in broad daylight... to go and visit Ali in school. It's only by the merest chance that he avoids being seen by Bülent's and Ali's mothers (Ali's mom having dropped by to visit). But he makes no effort to hide from the school custodian, who is busy sweeping the stairs. When the custodian sees what's brushing past him on its way up, he faints — smacking his head on the stairs and very possibly giving himself a concussion.

Next Badi blithely walks into Ali's class. Once again we have an attempt at "comedy", as the teacher keeps looking in just the wrong places to see the creature. When he finally does get a look at him, more "comedy" ensues: much to the amusement of the kids, he apparently drops dead of shock. You'd think all this would draw a lot of attention, but somehow the kids are able to smuggle Badi back to Bülent's house without problems.

That night, the kids attempt to get both Badi and the communication equipment out of the house. At the last moment, they're surprised in the hallway by Bülent's bully of a father; mistaking Badi for one of his kids in the shadows, he raises a hand to smack him — still more "comedy"! — but is terrified to discover he's face to face with a smoke-farting alien. At this point, Badi shows us that it's willing to steal from just about anything, including vaudeville. Because what happens when Bülent's dad sees Badi? His eyes bug out, and then he, and his wife, and all the kids, and Badi, all go running in and out of doors! And up the stairs! And down the stais! And in and out of all the other doors! All in fast-motion! All that's missing is the theme from Scooby-Doo.

As if all of this wasn't bad enough, it gets even more painful. Badi panics and runs back to Ali's house. Once again he fails to use any kind of caution, and Ali's mother catches sight of him.... and promptly suffers a heart attack and collapses.

But the kids can't let a little heart attck stand in the way of their plan. They take Badi and the equipment out to an amusement park that's closed for the night. And, of course, Badi and the kids aren't content with "phoning home": Badi uses his psychic abilities to turn on all the rides — way to remain inconspicuous, Badi, as if the trail of carnage wasn't easy enough to follow. Somehow, they've also managed to attract every kid in town. The commotion draws both the police and the investigators to the park, and in the ensuing scramble Ali loses Badi.

The next morning, Bülent and his siblings drag the exhausted Ali back home, where his mother is worried about him (apparently Badi used his Make-It-All-Better ray on her). there's still no sign of Badi; as for the investigators, they're at their wits' end as well, since it appears their alien detector is malfunctioning. It seems to indicate the alien is right near them as they drive all around the town... and clearly that's impossible!

Ali's mom sends Bülent out to find a doctor for Ali, but Bülent for some reason goes to the investigators instead. As they drive up to Ali's house — how I wish I were making this up — Ali's pet bird tells him that Badi is out in the trunk of the investigators' car. He'd jumped in and hidden when they'd been pursued at the amusement park. That's why the alien detector had suddenly gone crazy ( I'd even overlook the bird-talk bit if I could figure out any way the bird would know Badi was in the trunk... let alone how the bird could understand a concept like "trunk of the car")...

Ali is overjoyed, and seems to regain his health and energy immediately. The same can't be said for Badi, who is sick and apparently on the point of death. I imagine anybody would be pretty ill after being locked in the trunk of a mid-eighties Turkish car all night. As you can imagine, this leads to the tearful "please don't die" sequence, as everyone gathers around Badi's bedside.

This is the point at which the Authorities show up, in the form of the Peter Coyote-surrogate policeman and the torchless torch-bearing villagers. I can just imagine the villagers have been wandering around, disgruntled, clutching their garden tools for the last several days. And how did they find out where the alien was hiding? Why, from Mr. Not-Quite-Good-Enough-for-the-Ingenue — how else?

But Bülent isn't going to allow the adults to get their hands on Badi. Summoning all the kids in town, who show up wearing party hats and Hallowe'en-style monster masks, he creates an army of mini-terrorists. While the adults go after them with gas bombs and fire hoses, the kids strike back by scattering marbles in the street, pointing toy guns at the grown-ups and going "Blam! Blam!", and pushing wheelie carts in their way. You'd think this sort of behavior would get them all killed, but surprisingly — or, I suppose, not surprisingly in the context of this film — it seems to work. In the confusion, Ali is able to sneak Badi out of the house wrapped in a blanket.

You know what's coming next, don't you?

Oh, come on. It's the most famous image in a movie full of widely-quoted images. And it just cries out to be done badly by a cheap Turkish rip-off. The kids steal a scrap cart from an elderly man. They put Badi on it, along with a bunch of helium balloons (I guess they don't trust Badi's psychic powers to do the job alone), and jump in... and then, in a cloud of white Badi-farts, they take off and go flying through the air!

Never for a moment will you believe a boy can fly.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Tearful departure, etc. And in spite of all the chaos they caused, the kids all live happily ever after... as for the adults, it's anybody's guess, since their subplots are simply dropped and never resolved.

And that's it for me. I'm finished forever with the Turkish E.T. Back to the shadows it goes, to sit next to Mac and Me and Nukie in the dusty remainder bin of my memory. I wouldn't even have gone this far, were it not for the fact that the director of my main Turkish Roundtable film Büuü (2004) was the cinematographer for Badi. And now, I'm going to go apologize to my own dogs for watching this travesty in the first place. There are plenty of interesting movies in the Turksploitation canon, and thanks to folks like Pete Tombs of Mondo Macabro fame, and the mad genius behind Onar Films in Greece, many of these films are reaching a wider international public. But it's worth noting that there are some obscure genre films that deserve their obscurity, and should be left there. Badi is one of them.

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