Friday, May 12, 2000 Beware, earthlings! Battlefield laughably bad, although no match for Ed Wood
By STEVE TILLEY, EDMONTON SUN
You have to think that when Ed Wood made Plan 9 From Outer Space - widely considered to be one of the worst movies of all time - he must have had an inkling, at some point, of just how much it was going to suck.
But Ed got lucky. By cobbling together some of the worst dialogue, acting, special effects and editing ever put on film, he ended up with a masterpiece. A film so bad it was brilliant, destined to be remembered forever.
John Travolta is not so lucky. Battlefield Earth, his labour o' love science-fiction epic distilled from a chunk of the gigantic 1982 L. Ron Hubbard novel of the same name, is no Plan 9 From Outer Space.
Oh, it's got bad acting, atrocious dialogue and plot holes you could fly a Harrier jet through (more on that in a minute) - but the result is more exasperating than comical.
Battlefield Earth, opening in theatres today, is set in the year 3000, a millennium after a race of marauding nine-foot-tall aliens called Psychlos have taken over Earth.
The Psychlos, who look like the offspring of Rastafarian Klingons and members of the band KISS, have killed or enslaved most of humanity while turning the planet into a giant mining camp. What stragglers remain live in caveman-like conditions in the mountains around Denver, Colorado. (What became of the human population on the rest of the planet is one of the many things in this film that is never explained.)
One of these humans, Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper) decides one day that he's had enough. All buckskin and flowing blond hair, Jonnie rides off into the wilderness to seek a better life for his people.
In short order, he gets captured and is brought to Terl (John Travolta), the Psychlo head of security. A hate-hate relationship develops between Terl and this barbaric "man-animal," and Jonnie gets so ticked off he decides to free his people, kill all the Psychlos and blow up their home planet. The end.
Oh, there's some mucking about in between, but it's all so silly that it's barely worth going into in detail. Seeing how smart and defiant Jonnie is, Terl naturally decides to teach him the Psychlo language, the use of machinery, how to fly Psychlo aircraft and so on. Makes perfect sense - give your worst enemy all the tools he needs to kick your butt.
The wily humans eventually devise a plan to blow up a dome over the Psychlo headquarters (they can't breathe Earth air, and thus have to wear these funny strings in their noses when they go outside). The flick reaches its height of absurdity when these grubby, ook-ook caveboys teach themselves how to fly Harrier jets in a week's time. Harrier jets, we might add, that are perfectly serviceable even though they've been sitting in storage for 1,000 years.
There's a big, final battle between the humans and the Psychlos, which is shot entirely in Murk-O-Vision so that it's hard to tell who's blowing up whom. Not that you'll really care that much.
Travolta is fun to watch, just because he's so laughably over the top as Terl in this big, silly Psychlo circus getup with his maniacal supervillain laugh. Good lord. And somebody please find out what Forest Whitaker was thinking when he signed on to play Terl's sidekick, Ker.
For those who want only to massage their eyeballs, Battlefield Earth has some decent special effects scattered here and there, but these are offset by director Roger Christian's decision to film much of the movie with the camera tilted at a near 45-degree angle. Feel free to sue Travolta (who co-produced the film) for your chiropractor bill after you develop a neck crick.
Much has been made of the fact that Travolta, a devoted Scientologist, has toiled long to bring this work of Scientology founder Hubbard to the screen. Fortunately - or not - if there are any Scientologist themes or messages buried in this film, they're obscured by the silly story, B-movie acting and murky sets.
Battlefield Earth is just bad enough to be bad, without being bad enough to be good. Fans of Ed Wood have nothing to worry about.
BATTLEFIELD EARTH - 1 1/2 SUNS (out of 5)