A Planetary Disaster
John Travolta's Battlefield Earth is a helpless cause
BY RICHARD SCHICKEL
A thousand years hence, Earth has succumbed to alien invaders called Psychlos. They are mining the planet's mineral wealth while reducing what's left of its population to slavery. The oppressors are personified by Terl (John Travolta), a security officer who in some shots looks like a demented Dennis Miller, and his hulking assistant Ker (Forest Whitaker). The "man-animals" are greatly in need of a heroic rebel, who appears as a guy actually named Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper).
Up to this point, Battlefield Earth is a coherent if banal narrative with Earth envisioned in standard dystopian style--muddy, rusty, all its famous buildings in ruins. It doesn't take it long, however, to go from bad to worst, as in the worst movie in living memory. It isn't just that the dialogic cliches set the audience to hooting, hollering and offering satiric applause. Or that you start sensing the conclusion of every scene as it opens. Its fatal flaw is its failure to abide by the elementary rules of movie geography.
The actors just seem to turn up when they're needed for a scene, then equally illogically disappear until they're required again. More improbable still, they find military equipment from our own era that is entirely functional after a millennium of neglect. Not since the inglorious days of the old Hollywood's B pictures has one seen such totally grab-ass writing and direction. Maybe this is inherent in the underlying material, a novel by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, which Travolta, a sect adherent, insists carries no religious message. Sounds right. If Scientology were this stupidly organized it would have no members. END