Travolta squeezes a few good moments out of an otherwise dismal sci-fi.
by Lisa Miller
BATTLEFIELD EARTH Directed by Roger Christian. Screenplay by Corey Mandell and JD Shapiro. Based on the novel by L. Ron Hubbard. Produced by Elie Samaha, Jonathan D. Krane, John Travolta. Executive Producers, Andrew Stevens, Ashok Amritraj, Don Carmody. Director of Photography, Giles Nuttgens. Production and Costume Design, Patrick Tatopoulos. Edited by Robin Russell. Music by Elia Cmiral. Visual Effects Supervisor, Erik Henry. Co-Producers, Tracee Stanely, James Holt. Casting by Lynn Stalmaster. Starring John Travolta, Barry Pepper, Forest Whitaker, Kim Coates, Richard Tyson and Sabine Karsenti. Miramax, 2000. PG-13. 117 minutes.
Tracing the disastrous path that brought this sci-fi fantasy to the screen isn't rocket science. Years ago, long-time Scientologist John Travolta optioned this novel by L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology's founder. With minor changes it might have become a camp, cult-classic comicbook, but it's beyond me to imagine the brain trust that green-lighted Battlefield Earth as a serious sci-fi offering.
Travolta's best moments are as he yuks it up in the role of Terl, the Psychlo alien's chief security officer for earth's gold mining project. Living up to the most obvious expectations of the alien species' name, he confronts every crisis with his best, over-the-top hyena cackle. The aliens' appearance also fits their name.
Parents may point to the Psychlo's blackened teeth as yet another reason to brush, while their "Andre the Giant" foot size and 18" calf extensions recall R. Crumb's cartoon characters, except these aliens, toddle uncertainly on stilts rather than with Crumb's assured "Keep On Trucking" gait. Completing this sartorial calamity are Jamaican dreadlocks festooning suits of heavy metal rocker black leather.
A thousand years of enslavement have rendered man a primitive lot, many of whom think the Psychlos are gods. Enter Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper), a young scrapper bent on overthrowing the alien vermin. His opportunity comes when Terl carelessly allows "man-animals" to be trained in gold mining, an activity providing tools and aircraft to the humans in an unsupervised setting.
Numerous human vs. alien confrontations present an opportunity to gaze nostalgically into matte paintings of ruined cities which could be recycled from 30-year-old Planet of the Apes. I felt mildly sympathetic during a rare, insightful moment when a Psychlo observed they might have been better off training the superior and more cooperative "dog-animals."
Am I the only sci-fi fan bruised by the dismal gray, black and blue palate now serving as standard coloring for alien-schlock flicks? With his round face made-up to a ghostly blue white pallor, Travolta looks like the "man in the moon," the same entity he appears to be consulting on his career moves, having already promised to star in the sequel.