'Battlefield Earth' a dull, dreary mess
By Marge Donoghue
Y3K has hit hard in "Battlefield Earth."
Humans are all but extinct in 3000. Just a few remain on our nearly decimated planet, either surviving like cave people in the wilderness or serving as slaves/pets called "man animals" for the Psychlos, a race of seriously ugly, dreadlock-wearing aliens who have taken over the universe.
The hero, Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper of "Saving Private Ryan"), lives in freedom in a small community in the hills, where he’s taught gods used to live on Earth with humans but had to abdicate their reign to demons because the people gradually became greedy and evil. Now, the young man learns, free people like them must stay out of the Psychlos’ way to please the gods so they’ll come back and restore order and peace.
Nevertheless, Jonnie Goodboy bids farewell to his girlfriend, Chrissie (Sabine Karsenti), and ventures from his safe haven to find food, which he hears is more abundant in the lowlands. During the journey, he’s confronted by a couple of Psychlos who quiz him about his beliefs about gods and demons.
Apparently not bothered by Jonnie Goodboy’s declaration that he doesn’t believe in anything he can’t see, the Psychlos take him to their compound in what used to be Denver, where he’s caged with other man animals relegated to doing their masters’ bidding.
But Jonnie’s a bit more of a visionary than his cell mates. Instead of adopting their ho-hum attitude toward imprisonment, he directly challenges his captors, namely their leader, Terl (John Travolta).
What ensues is two hours of poorly explained mental and physical battles. As Jonnie’s revolution takes shape, not only are Terl and his forces called to battle with weapons and military tactics, but they try to outwit their bucolic young foe. And Jonnie must rally his band of rebels to follow a strategy of their own.
A subplot has Terl and his assistant, Ker (Forest Whitaker), matching what wits they have against each other in an understated struggle to gain and maintain control of the alien operation.
The fact that "Battlefield Earth" is based on a 1982 science-fiction book by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard suggests it might be more centered on spiritual themes, but the only talk of gods, demons or the like occurs in the film’s first 20 minutes.
The special effects also are flat. The aliens are just plain ugly rather than frightening or disturbing, and we’re shown the same couple of explosions over and over in the battle sequences.
And none of the characters works.
Instead of coming across as menacing or authoritative, Travolta’s Terl, like his fellow aliens, looks like he’s drowning in a ridiculous costume that’s 10 sizes too big, and his manner isn’t much better. He speaks in a wimpy, high-pitched voice that grates on the nerves during the film’s first 10 minutes, and he spends the entire film trading what are supposed to be witty one-liners with Whitaker, who returns them in an equally unimpressive fashion.
Pepper’s Jonnie hardly is worth rooting for, mainly because it’s difficult to follow what exactly he’s fighting for. The battles are not explained well, and Jonnie seems to shift between fighting for his people’s freedom, and for control of the gold and empire Terl has him working for.
Other elements are equally unexplained. The Psychlos, for example, apparently live in a dome filled with their planet’s atmosphere, but the man animals are able to survive invading it, so it couldn’t have been all that detrimental to the human race. And while the aliens have destroyed most of what used to be civilization, for some reason they saved a library, which Jonnie is sarcastically invited to peruse at one point.
In the end, "Battlefield Earth" doesn’t put up much of a fight. The skeleton of a plot it uses--bad guys oppress good guys, good guys revolt, good guys win big shoot ‘em up and chief good guy also wins the girl--is about as provocative as the name Jonnie Goodboy, and there’s not much dressing up that skeleton. Rating: 0 stars
You can contact Marge Donoghue at firstname.lastname@example.org