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Battlefield Earth   F

Warner Bros. Pictures

Year Released: 2000
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Roger Christian
Writers: Corey Mandell, J.D. Shapiro (based on the novel by L. Ron Hubbard)
Cast: John Travolta, Barry Pepper, Forest Whitaker, Kim Coates, Sabine Karsenti, Richard Tyson, Kelly Preston.

Review by Rob Vaux

After a week of listening to the universal drubbing of Battlefield Earth, there's a temptation to go against the grain. Everyone has had a chance to tee off on the film, and the unflinchingly bad reviews have said just about all there is to say. Why not make a stand, then, and present the other point of view? Why not defend a friendless production when all the world is intent on pillorying it? Why not be an iconoclast -- just for the sake of debate -- and say, "No, this film really isn't as bad as all that?"

Because then I would be lying.

Battlefield Earth is the most horrendous, dreadful, corrosive, rank, foul, rotten, noxious, wretched, irredeemably BAD movie to come along in decades. This isn't a movie: it's a crime against celluloid. You don't so much watch it as stare at it in gape-jawed disbelief. Somebody made this. Somebody raised money to put this on-screen. Somebody sat there and watched this happen without once screaming, "You fools! You mad, mad fools!" For that, and for so many other reasons, it deserves every bit of scorn that we can possibly heap upon it.

One look at John Travolta as the evil Psychlo security chief Terl and you know there's big problems. Sporting dreadlocks as worn by the Amish and brandishing weapons that the cast of Star Trek abandoned as too cheesy, Terl looks less like a conquering alien than Rob Zombie on a bender. When not chewing on the scenery or shooting the legs off cows, he inexplicably provides the human slaves beneath him with everything they need to foil his evil schemes. Mankind is an endangered species, you see, subjugated centuries ago and now worked to death in Psychlo mines or living a tribal existence in the irradiated outlands. Not to worry though: once Terl captures primitive leading man Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper), he promptly hooks the savage up to a learning machine in order to assist in a preposterous scheme to steal gold. Apparently there's no off switch, because Jonnie learns everything from the machine, including history, mathematics and how to organize a grassroots guerrilla war. But Terl isn't concerned. Jonnie can't possibly find anyone to help him, right? And even if he could, he doesn't know where any weapons are, right? And even if he did, they'd all be a thousand years old and inoperable, right? And even if they weren't, the Psychlo technology was advanced enough to crush them before, and they've had a thousand years to improve upon it, right? Right?!

Glaring plot holes like these are easy to point out and Battlefield Earth is rife with them. The trouble, however, is that a plot hole implies a solvable problem: to wit, "if only they'd address this nagging inconsistency, the film would be better." NOTHING you could do to this train wreck could possibly make it better. Every single element, every single frame, reeks of abject incompetence. The acting is terrible, the special effects are embarrassing, and the sets look like a fourth-grade production of Logan's Run. The camerawork is shoddy, the costumes beyond ridiculous, and the directing could give Ed Wood a run for his money. No script tightening or casting change could dent this abomination, no talented individual could find a silver lining. It's like a perfectly woven asbestos blanket, smothering all hope beneath it. The only thing to do is destroy it and try to build something beautiful in the ashes.

I suppose Battlefield Earth can be useful as a cautionary example or as a strange testament to Travolta's progress as a star. Ten years ago, he made films like this because he had to; now he makes them because he can. The film was based on a novel by L. Ron Hubbard, and you would assume that scientologists like Travolta would have a vested interest in turning out a good adaptation. Guess not. It's tough vilifying Battlefield Earth because, as I said, everybody and their grandmother is doing it. But no film in recent years deserves it more and few films fail so exquisitely as it does. The louder we condemn it, the better the chance that it will never happen again.

Review published 05.19.2000.

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