Battlefield Earth

on May 12, 2000 by Wade Major
All the fuss about John Travolta and Scientology notwithstanding, the most deplorable thing about "Battlefield Earth" is that it's a simply horrible movie. Based on the popular science fiction novel by late Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, the post-apocalyptic science fiction epic is the kind of catastrophically misguided vanity project that often derails careers, if not entire studios. In this case, the fallout should be more than enough to go around.

The time is 3000 A.D., many generations after a cone-headed, dreadlocked alien race known as the Psychlos attacked and reduced the earth's population to cave-dwelling, superstitious primitives, the so-called 'man animal' whom they exploit for slave labor and to help mine precious metals. Ruthlessly lording over the humans is Psychlos security chief Terl (Travolta), a sadistic megalomaniac who seems to relish humiliating his doddering second-in-command Ker (Forest Whitaker) almost as much as the 'man animals.'

What Terl and the rest of the Psychlos fail to take into account is the indefatigable human resolve that always seems to stir up some trouble-making 'savior' figure like Johnny Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper), a restless, freedom-loving youth who cons Terl into hooking him up to a 'learning machine' that miraculously fills his head with the sum total of all lost human knowledge. Armed with understanding, Tyler rallies a scrappy army of conscripts, shuttling them around the ruins of North America where they receive a crash course in human history that includes paramilitary training in the operation of ancient 20th Century fighter jets (which for some strange reason are fully tanked up and still operational). Unfortunately, by the time the final 'battle' rolls around, what should have been a gleeful exercise in camp stupidity seems tedious and anti-climactic, the final insult in a movie so wantonly moronic that it defies description. Indeed, despite the Joseph Campbell-esque aspirations, the film bears oly the most superficial resemblance to the films it most wishes to emulate: "Planet of the Apes," "Independence Day," "The Road Warrior," "Star Wars" and "The Matrix."

Surprisingly, the film's greatest undoing may be the fact that it does not confirm the confessed fears of many that Travolta, a devout Scientologist, would use the film to promote Scientological doctrines. It is, in fact, utterly inane and innocuous in the most harmless, uninteresting way--the fruit of an overrated star's overblown ego, recklessly indulged by studio excess. Starring John Travolta, Barry Pepper, Forest Whitaker, Richard Tyson, Sabine Karsenti and Kim Coates. Directed by Roger Christian. Written by Corey Mandell. Produced by Elie Samaha, Jonathan D. Krane and John Travolta. A Warner Bros. release. Science Fiction. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence. Running Time: 117 min.

Tags: Starring John Travolta, Barry Pepper, Forest Whitaker, Richard Tyson, Sabine Karsenti, Kim Coates, Directed by Roger Christian. Written by Corey Mandell, Produced by Elie Samaha, Jonathan D. Krane, John Travolta, Warner Bros, Science Fiction

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