FOR THE WEEK OF MAY 12 -- MAY 18, 2000
"Battlefield Earth" C+
Starring: John Travolta, Barry Pepper, Forest Whitaker, Kim Coates Director: Roger Christian
Studio: Warner Bros. Films
Rated: (PG-13) For intense science fiction
Bangs and booms
'Battlefield Earth' is big noise, but short-circuits ideas
DAN BENNETT For the North County Times
There are some days we should probably wake up and say to ourselves, "I'm happy that none of the heinous monsters and inconceivable horrors introduced in mid-century science fiction novels, and scheduled for arrival in the year 2000, have turned out to be true."
Go ahead, try saying this tomorrow. It will make you feel better.
A good example would be the scenario fashioned in L. Ron Hubbard's 1982 epic sci-fi novel "Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000." Although the story takes place in 3000, it imagines that Earth has been taken over by the evil Psychlos 1,000 years earlier. That would be about now.
Hubbard wrote the book after a 30-year absence from SF writing, having spent most of the previous years advancing his theories of Scientology, the spiritual avenues and ways of thought involving the reactive mind that have earned legions of followers since inception.
Among the followers have been many Hollywood types, including John Travolta, a devoted Scientologist who decided to use his current muscle in movieland to get this ambitious, expensive, special effects-heavy film made.
"Battlefield Earth," one of the longest science fiction books ever written, is largely regarded as absent of pure Scientology, instead a throwback to early SF as practiced by Hubbard and other masters of the craft in the '20s and '30s.
In the story, Travolta plays Terl, the 10-foot tall Psychlo security chief based on earth, in charge of mining the planet for its natural resources, using man-slaves as labor.
One thousand years earlier, the Psychlos took charge of earth after a cataclysmic nine-minute battle in which most humans were killed. The remaining few huddle in tribes and try to protect themselves from enslavement. The Psychlos are a technologically advanced, brilliant, sadistic race, and enjoy their superiority by humiliating the humans.
They also possess some unsavory human qualities, though, among them greed and jealousy. Terl has a plan to earn great wealth for himself by conspiring against his home planet. To do so, he needs the help of a particularly brave and inventive human named Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper), whose instincts tell him that humans can return to their rightful place if they use the powers of their minds.
After Terl teaches Jonnie how to think like a Psychlo, Jonnie turns on him, inspiring the rebel humans to attempt a bold revolution against a formidable foe.
"Battlefield Earth" is a big, loud, show-biz styled action film, overloaded with computer animation, impressive miniatures, bombastic costumes and freaky make-up. It is an expensive ride, eye-opening in its bluster.
The film is also clever at times, with spirited dialogue and some surprising plot twists, but lacks the sophistication and intellectual undercurrent to make it truly healthy sci-fi. Instead, "Battlefield Earth" is more content with spectacle than spirited mindplay.
Travolta's performance brings things up, the actor playing the villain with a cunning relish that gives the film more humor and greater pain, a lethal combination. Forest Whitaker, as Terl's sidekick, is also charismatic, and the two have a humorous relationship. Problem is, none of the other characters, human or otherwise, are very interesting.
"Battlefield Earth" is directed by Roger Christian, an art and set designer on the "Star Wars" films and "Alien." The film has the bang-bang oomph to make it a box office sizzler among the younger, game-playing crowd, though seems destined to short serious fans of Hubbard's mind-stretching novel. If not a battlefield between ideas, it's at least a playground for the latest toys.