Big, bad John Travolta a great villain in Battlefield Earth By BOB THOMPSON Toronto Sun
John Travolta's been discoed in Saturday Night Fever. And he's been Grease-ed, Pulp Fiction-ed and even Face/Off-ed.
Now he's Psychlo-ed in L. Ron Hubbard's sci-fi adventure Battlefield Earth.
That means Travolta, as a Psychlo alien, has piled-high dreadlocks to go with his big forehead and a goth-metal fashion sense.
He looks like either a tall bass player for Rob Zombie or a distant cousin of Worf the Klingon.
Travolta's neither. He's Terl, head of security on the planet earth, now a big wasteland dirt ball in the year 3000.
It's being mined into extinction by the dominant ruling Psychlos race, who have forced the human animals into slavery or to the far reaches of the continental U.S. (played by Montreal last summer).
One of these tribal-like primitive and secluded humans (Barry Pepper) ventures to the forbidden Psychlos earthly empire to find out about truth, justice, and the greedy Psychlos way.
Jonnie, the human, is captured, naturally. But he turns the negative into a positive, and ultimately leads the salt of the earth rank and file humanoids against the arrogant corporate-minded, environment-ravaging Psychlos.
That telescoped Hubbard conflict counts as symbolism direct from the Scientology school of proper thinking, which makes sense since Hubbard was the fearless Scientology founder and leader before he died in the mid-'80s.
Travolta, being a Scientology loyalist, is clearly and completely in the control of this $80-million-plus production's message formulated through Corey Mandell's script, which concentrates on the first half of the novel.
So producer Travolta and director Roger Christian don't let the digital effects and the slam-bam action bits out shine the single-minded concerns.
Unfortunately, the overall sci-fi effect is quaint, now and again sloppy.
Despite that and the Psychlos hairdo and duds, Travolta is charmingly villainous, a ghoulish variation of his power-and-money-mad role as the pilot in Broken Arrow. Forest Whitaker, too, seems to be having fun hiding behind his Psychlos getup as Terl's dim assistant.
Vancouverite Pepper, hard body and all, overcomes his mirth-making Mohican warrior ensemble replete with long braided hair to deliver a solid depiction of the heroic Jonnie, the role Travolta coveted when he decided to make the feature 17 years ago. Kim Coates, a former Stratford star, gets the job done as Jonnie's sidekick.
Travolta does too, really. And now with his Battlefield Earth mission accomplished, he can move on to other things.
Too bad his labour of love turned out to be so laboured.
(This film is rated PG)