Travolta's Star Dreck
Scientology sure doesn't shine in 'Battlefield Earth'
BATTLEFIELD EARTH. With John Travolta, Barry Pepper, Forest Whitaker. Directed by Roger Christian. Running time: 117 minutes. Area theaters.
Rated PG-13: Violence.
John Travolta, a mega-star in the constellations over both Hollywood and Scientology, has acknowledged using the might of his box-office appeal to get financing for the $80 million adaptation of late Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard's 1982 novel "Battlefield Earth."
At the same time, Travolta insists there is zero connection between "Battlefield Earth" and Hubbard's philosophy, saying he simply likes the novel because "it's a great piece of science fiction."
As a movie, it's a great piece of something else.
(The planet --- like the audience --- is under siege in 'Battlefield Earth.' )
"Battlefield Earth" is one of the darkest, ugliest, most uninvolving and incomprehensible major-studio fantasies I've ever seen. In it, Travolta --- as a sadistic, 9-foot-tall extraterrestrial villain --- delivers a stupefyingly bad performance.
The premises of both the movie and the Church of Scientology pit human beings against alien overlords, in a death struggle to save our species.
The movie, directed by non-Scientologist Roger Christian ("Nostradamus"), is set in the year 3,000, long after aliens have overtaken Earth and turned it into a mining outpost. The relatively few remaining humans are either living in tribal isolation or working as slaves in the domed ruins of such former metropolises as New York and Denver.
(John Travolta may have trouble 'Staying Alive' in the business after this performance. )
The story of "Battlefield Earth" turns on a slave rebellion led by diehard freedom-fighter Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper), after he is captured and put to the slave's yoke.
Although the film climaxes in a "Star Wars"-inspired aerial battle, its central conflicts are tightly focused on Jonnie and his aroused slaves, pitted against an opposition led by the dreadlocked, amber-eyed Terl (Travolta), head of Earth security, and his sidekick Ker (Forest Whitaker), who looks to be a blackface version of the Cowardly Lion from "The Wizard of Oz."
Much of this is intended as high camp, signaled with the kind of vertical dissolves used for old matinee serials. Travolta and Whitaker are certainly in high-camp mode, overacting to a degree that makes you wonder if they didn't have a side bet on who could produce the most ham.
Unfortunately, Pepper (the sharpshooting G.I. in "Saving Private Ryan") plays Jonnie straight-up, delivering deadly "Ben-Hur" lines with a sincerity that is instantly laughable.
Some ex-Scientologists think Jonnie was written as Hubbard's alter ego. It's a theory we won't try to argue. Hubbard, who had demonstrated a fecund imagination during his early career as a pulp novelist, proclaimed that the souls of humans were burdened with "implants" sown by extraterrestrials 75 million years ago, and that only through the purifying process of Scientology could the souls be renewed.
In the end, the fears expressed by anti-Scientologists that "Battlefield Earth" would be a church-recruitment film are wildly unfounded. There isn't anything in this overbudgeted mess to inspire a moment of traditional moviegoing awe, let alone a religious conversion.