By Derrick Bang/Enterprise entertainment editor
One star. Ooooo ... what a stinker.
Just as "Battlefield Earth" is an unreadable book, this lumbering, laughable adaptation is an unwatchable film; both represent the absolute nadir of schlock science fiction. It's the sort of dopey, clumsy crap that ghettoized the entire genre in the 1930s and '40s, conveying the notion that all sf was little more than slavering bug-eyed-monsters voyaging to Earth to have sex with our underdressed and inevitably shrieking women.
The monsters in this case are dubbed (sigh) Psychlos. The year is 3000, and Earth has been turned into a wasteland.
Actually, what we see is that Nature has re-established herself very nicely, with sweeping mountain vistas and agreeably green forests. Yes, our once-impressive cities have fallen into ruin, their mighty steel, brick and mortar overgrown by ivy and whatnot ... but this scarcely qualifies as desolation. Yet the press notes insist otherwise: "Earth is a wasteland." So there you have it.
Anyway, a millennium ago, the vicious Psychlos dropped out of the sky and wiped out our planet's entire defense force in nine minutes. The altercation reduced the human race to a scant handful of survivors -- we're not told how or why -- all of them apparently culled from the worst actors dumped during the first round of cattle-call Hollywood auditions.
(It would seem that star John Travolta wanted to ensure that nobody in this project could possibly upstage him. There's little chance of that, since he shamelessly chews up the scenery with a relish not seen since William Shatner hammed his way through the original "Star Trek.")
Funny thing, by the way: These survivors are all Americans, mostly Caucasian. Some have become slaves, mining our mineral resources for use back on the Psychlo homeworld; the rest, reduced to superstitious primitives who whisper portentously about the "demons" who destroyed our planet, hide out in remote villages.
When one of the latter, Johnny Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper), is captured and turned into a slave, he proves to be the rallying force behind which the remnants of humanity will rise up, in one last effort to overthrow these pernicious invaders.
Mind you, a compelling story exists in that concept, and L. Ron Hubbard -- over the course of his 1,000-page saga -- certainly had the space with which to address such apocalyptic events, however maladroitly he may have done so. But Corey Mandell's script is a joke: a rambling, near incoherent assortment of bits and pieces from the sprawling original that condenses events to the point of absurdity.
One scarcely knows where to begin, although we could address the Psychlo physiognomy. As brought to life by production, costume and creature designer Patrick Tatopoulos, these massive villains stand seven to 10 feet tall and appear to suffer from the worst possible bad hair day. In most respects, including their uniforms and snarly attitudes, they resemble the reconstructed Klingons of "Star Trek" fame ... by no means the only bald-faced theft of material, concepts and images from other, better properties.
But take particular note of the Psychlo hands, with their extended and sharpened nails that turn fingers into talons ... and ask yourself how such hands ever could manipulate the awesome technology that conquered our planet.
More critically, however, Mandell and director Roger Christian have turned the Psychlos into stupid, sniping, greedy idiots. The notion that such a squabbling race could conquer our planet so quickly becomes preposterous after we've spent 10 minutes with Psychlo Chief of Security Terl (Travolta) and his abused lackey, Ker (Forrest Whitaker); having to believe that such cretins kept our planet for 1,000 years is ... well, more than anybody could swallow.
Nor did anybody swallow it. Wednesday's preview audience hooted this turkey off the screen, and no doubt critics across the country are sharpening their own talons as these words are being typed.
Consider: The Psychlos defeated our best and brightest 21st century soldiers and tacticians, who apparently got nowhere with nuclear missiles, chemical warfare, computer "Love Bug" viruses and God knows what else. A millennium later, as events in this film progress, the unschooled and near-barbaric remnants of humanity miraculously teach themselves (in seven days) to use 1,000-year-old explosives and fly 1,000-year-old fighter jets -- the exact same stuff, mind you, that didn't save us the first time around -- and carry the day.
The last time my family took an extended vacation, we very nearly weren't able to get the car started after its 30-day siesta; I suspect that something as finely tuned as an Air Force jet might be a bit persnickety after, oh, the first couple hundred years ... and yet these babies fire right up.
Then there's the little matter of that vaunted Psychlo technology, which boasts teleportation devices and scanning mechanisms able to detect the faintest splash of gold on a distant mountainside ... yet those same scanners apparently overlooked the bullion deposits in Fort Knox, the existence of which allows our rag-tag human renegades some "leverage."
It's also interesting, just in passing, that the Psychlos would regard Earth gold with an avarice identical to our own. Needless to say, Mandell's script doesn't shed the faintest hint as to why these massive aliens would find this yellow stuff so appealing.
I could go on, but space precludes it; room must be saved for the film's technical transgressions.
Let's start with Christian's ham-handed direction, which makes even more of a mess of Mandell's misbegotten script. Christian's handling of time is impressively awkward; you'll have considerable trouble tracking the passage of days in some scenes, minutes in others. The Psychlos, unable to breathe our air, have erected a massive enclosure filled with their own atmosphere, which is toxic to human beings. Early on, Jonnie Goodboy Tyler is released into this noxious brew for sport, to see how long he can survive before his lungs burst.
Goodness, but our hero covers a lot of ground -- running full-tilt, all the way -- while holding his breath!
Christian couldn't elicit a credible performance from any of the cast's no-name supporting players if his life depended on it; the first words out of Sabien Karsenti's mouth -- she decoratively plays Jonnie's paramour, and does little beyond get captured and whimper -- are delivered with a flat, wooden lack of emotion that brings the picture to a grinding halt ... scarcely before the lights have finished dimming. (Which was the point that my Constant Companion leaned over and whispered, sotto voce, "We're in trouble." Truer words were never spoken.)
By far Christian's worst transgression, however, is the way his film shamelessly steals from other pictures. When Jonnie is captured by Psychlo hunters -- after trying to evade them in a long-deserted mall -- he crashes through a series of plate-glass display windows, just like Joanna Cassidy did when she was killed in "Blade Runner." The images of the ruined and deserted Earth are lifted directly from pictures such as "Logan's Run" and "12 Monkeys"; the manner in which Terl underestimates his caged "man-animal" captives smacks of the arrogant orangutan rulers in "Planet of the Apes."
Travolta, aside from starring, also produced this film; knowing of his affiliation with Scientology, one assumes he intended this pet project to properly honor L. Ron Hubbard.
Newsflash, John: Ill-advised decisions like this tanked your career the first time around. I once thought "Moment by Moment" and "Two of a Kind" were the worst films you'd ever make.
"Battlefield Earth" is needlessly rated PG-13 for mostly off-camera violence.