ĎBattlefield Earthí loses the battle and the war and reviewerís attention
By MICHAEL A. LIEBEL
The adaptation of an L. Ron Hubbard novel onto the silver screen is reason enough to raise a few eyebrows. As the founder of the controversial religion Scientology, Hubbard was equally praised and reviled during his lifetime. The fact that Hubbardís 1980 novel "Battlefield Earth" is the latest screen project of Scientology member John Travolta should raise even more eyebrows.
Those truly worried about the connection between scientology and "Battlefield Earth" should be pleased to know that the connection is tenuous at best. The film isnít controversial in the slightest, so the scientology connection isnít a good enough reason to dislike it. The film itself provides all the reasons for that.
In short, "Battlefield Earth" is a big, moronic, lumbering dud that is so absolutely dreadful to watch that it winds up inciting more laughs than it should. Much like "Showgirls" and "Ishtar" found a niche market for their absurdities, "Battlefield Earth" will be requested at the video store in voices barely above a whisper. Put the film in a section called "Cult Crap" with films like "Waterworld" and "Crash" to save people the trouble of asking and it will be checked out with great frequency.
The film takes place in the year 3000, about a 1000 years after aliens from the planet Psyclos invaded Earth and killed most its inhabitants. A few humans survived the invasion by hiding in radiation-infested areas of (where else?) the United States. Radiation has an adverse affect on the Psyclos, you see, so humans who hide near nuclear testing areas will be safe as long as they watch the skies and stay low.
The remaining humans have reverted to a primitive way of existence (hopefully a reaction to radiation poisoning and not an indication of life after "Must-See TV" and "Jeopardy!"). One of these humans doesnít believe the myths about gods striking those down who leave the mountains (which apparently became the explanation of why they all wore drably stained animal skins), however. Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper), in a fit of teenage angst, leaves the mountains in search of a better life (and maybe even a better name). Heís captured by the Psyclos about five minutes later.
Tyler is a rebel so, naturally, he catches the eye of the star of the film, Mr. Travolta. Travolta gets to play dress-up as the Psyclo security chief, Terl. Terl is a genius, we learn, which is why he proceeds to do just about every dumb thing imaginable over the course of two hours. Underestimate the humans? Sure. Barely question why the gold ore he ordered unearthed by said humans is in smelted brick form when itís delivered to him? Why not?
It appears that there is just no accounting for logic in this film. That seems to be the biggest problem plaguing "Battlefield Earth." Plot details just donít hold up under scrutiny. One could accuse just about any science fiction film of having a flimsy plot, but at least the great special effects in those films made the suspension of disbelief a little easier on the audience. The effects donít help "Battlefield Earth" achieve any sense of believability. The effects here are grainy, like the effects guys donít want you to see how cheaply they were made. Remember the amazing effect in "The Matrix" where Morpheus shows Neo what the real world looks like? Take that and spray thin coats of black spray paint over it and youíve got the effects in "Battlefield Earth."
Holding a magnifying glass up to "Battlefield Earth" wonít do anyone any good, really. This is, hands down, one of the worst science fiction films ever made and thatís saying a lot. Having said that, it can also be admitted that "Battlefield Earth" is one of the campiest films ever made. Itís just one of those films so bad that you have to watch it again and again to make sure it was as bad as you thought it was. Funny, and unintentionally so.