John Travolta, Barry Pepper, Forest Whitaker, Kim Coates"/>
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With: John Travolta, Barry Pepper, Forest Whitaker, Kim Coates
Written by: Corey Mandell, J.D. Shapiro, based on the book by L. Ron Hubbard
Directed by: Roger Christian
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sci-fi action
Running Time: 117
Date: 05/10/2000

Battlefield Earth (2000)

1 Star (out of 4)

Plan Ten from Outer Space

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Back in 1975, John Travolta made his movie debut in a horror film about devil worshippers called The Devil's Rain. It co-stars William Shatner and is one of the most hilariously bad movies ever made. Now, 25 years and as many movies later, Travolta returns to that same territory. Not to devil worshippers, but to the art of making hilariously bad movies. Battlefield Earth is a hoot.

Worshipping bad movies has a long tradition. The first bad cult movies, to my knowledge, were made in the 1930's, Reefer Madness (a ridiculous anti-drug propaganda movie) and The Terror of Tiny Town (a western peopled with midgets). When critic Michael Medved published his book The Golden Turkey Awards in the early 1980's, he gave birth to a new cult of bad movie lovers. The top scorer, Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), became an instant classic. If there were to be a volume 2, Battlefield Earth would surely have a place of honor.

Battlefield Earth is based on the 1982 book by L. Ron Hubbard (and, no, the movie has nothing to do with Scientology). Sometime around the year 3000, Evil 8 foot-tall aliens called Psychlos (yes, that's right) have taken over the Earth. Under the leadership of Terl (Travolta) the Psychlos have enslaved and are wiping out the human race. It's up to a small band of human rebels (led by Barry Pepper, from Saving Private Ryan) to take the world back. It's a pretty thin plot for a book that rambles on for over 1000 pages, even though this movie represents only the first half of the book. (The second half will be the sequel.) This same plot has been used a thousand times in science fiction, from Wells' War of the Worlds to the 1980's TV miniseries "V." Usually there's some kind of story going on with the humans, or at least some interesting characters to follow, while we're waiting for the inevitable Big Battle. But in Battlefield Earth there's practically nothing.

Pepper, playing Jonnie Goodboy Tyler, is pretty much a non-entity. He runs around, flares his nostrils, and grunts and yells a lot. Travolta chews up half the scenery and has such a good time that you end up rooting for him instead of the good guy. When a subplot finally comes up, it's so blamed stupid you have to either sit there in disbelief or just laugh your head off. Terl and his bumbling assistant Ker (Forest Whitaker) discover a vein of gold and attempt to make the humans mine it for them. But to do this, they have to teach Jonnie everything about Psychlo history, language, and technology. They may as well have given him a handbook called "How to Defeat the Psychlos."

After we've waited through close to two pointless hours, the Battle finally arrives. Jonnie and his men fire up some old air force jets and missiles, somehow still working after 1000 years of being dormant. It seems a few days in the flight simulator has made them crackerjack pilots with skills that would impress even John Wayne. Director Roger Christian, who shot second unit on Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999), shoots the action scenes with as little composition as possible. Instead we get the usual shaky camera and rapid-fire cutting. One gets the feeling that he just spun around in circles, randomly firing his camera, hoping to photograph something interesting. He fails. It's a directorial debut that reminds us of Edward D. Wood, Jr.

Battlefield Earth is just too absurd to pay full price to see in a theater. It will work better on home video late at night. Maybe you could put together a double feature with another science-fiction film of equal quality: The Amazing Colossal Man (1957), The Brain from Planet Arous (1958), The Incredible Melting Man (1978), Laserblast (1978), or Ice Pirates (1984).

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