BY MARSHALL FINE Gannett News Service
Memory fails to summon the name of a movie as ludicrous and unintentionally funny as Battlefield Earth, John Travolta's act of career hubris in service to the late Scientology crackpot, L. Ron Hubbard.
This film, directed by Roger Christian, (who should be ducking for cover about now) is a big-budget sci-fi bomb of surpassing mega-tonnage. With its post-apocalyptic look and howlingly bad dialogue you expect that, any minute, Kevin Costner will make his entrance.
Adapted from Mr. Hubbard's unreadable sludge pile of a novel, the film is set on Earth in the year 3000, where the Y3K problem obviously has gotten way out of hand. Our first encounters with the surviving humans make it clear that, in the future, there is no shampoo.
The most heroic human is Johnny Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper), who might also be known as Dances With Greasy Hair Extensions. Tired of listening to his elders speak of the demons who control the Earth, he goes in search of a better life Ñ and runs smack into the demons who control the Earth, known as Psychlos.
Psychlos look like a cross between Klingons and Rastafarians. They dress as though their fashion adviser outfitted the last Kiss tour. And the head Psychlo is Terl, a role that John Travolta sinks his teeth into like a dog biting a squirrel. It's not pretty.
Every day is a bad hair day, for aliens and earthlings alike, which might account for the crankiness that runs rampant. The Psychlos, who base themselves in Denver (What? Not Aspen?), have reduced Earth to a mining colony, using humans (or "man-animals") as slave labor. There's a certain Planet of the Apes quality to the slave-master relationship, enhanced by the fact that the humans hoot and grunt when they're excited.
Slavery appears to be Johnny's fate (which is preferable to acting in this movie). Then Terl decides that, just maybe, these humans are educable.
So he force-feeds Johnny a quick education in the Psychlo language and culture. Johnny then outsmarts the duplicitous Terl by playing to his vain sense of superiority (probably not unlike those movie executives who dealt with Mr. Travolta).
Johnny learns Psychlo technology, then turns it against the aliens, educating and inciting the other humans to rebellion. This includes swiping Psychlo flying ships and making surreptitious forays to Fort Hood, Texas, where Johnny finds jets and nuclear bombs in perfect working order (never mind that they're almost 1,000 years old).
There's lots of action, most of it incomprehensible. Mr. Christian sure doesn't know how to stage a fight scene. Before the final battle is over, you may be convinced that the Psychlos are shooting at themselves.
It's hard to imagine anyone of any age being entertained by Battlefield Earth. John Travolta may have earned a place in Scientology heaven Ñ but he did it by digging a grave for himself.