Battlefield Earth

Directed by Roger Christian
Starring: John Travolta, Barry Pepper, Forest Whitaker.
MPAA Rating: PG-13

Review by Matt Heffernan
May 13, 2000

After seeing Screwed, I didn't think I would see another film that bad in a long time. Well, the very next day I got to see Battlefield Earth. That'll teach me to stop being optimistic.

In the year 3000, Earth has been conquered by aliens from the planet Psychlo. Humans are an endagered species, and those that exist have no knowledge of their history or culture. Man has yet again been reduced to living in caves, or even the ruins of old cities. One brave man named Jonnie (Barry Pepper) wants to explore beyond the caves, regardless of his tribe's superstitions. He doesn't believe that demons fall from the skies, but he meets some men who have seen the demons. After a nice meal over a bonfire in the local mall, they are captured by a Psychlo ship and taken to the human processing center, in the domed city of Denver.

Humans there are forced into labor by Security Chief Terl (John Travolta). They have to be fitted with nose clips, so they can breath in the simulated Psychlo atmosphere. Jonnie, adventurous soul that he is, decides to defy the Psychlos. His resourcefulness impresses Terl, who puts him on a knowledge machine that teaches him the alien language, and the basics of flying and mining. This becomes handy, when Terl assigns him to lead a party of human slaves digging for gold. This scheme was developed by Terl, with his assistant Ker (Forest Whitaker), to help him go back to the home planet rich. Of course, this is the perfect opportunity for Jonnie's insurrection.

Could a decent film be made from this story? Probably not, but they could have done better than this. The film is based on the novel by L. Ron Hubbard, the late founder of the Church of Scientology. Travolta is their most vocal member, and this film was his pet project. A lot of money was spent on elaborate sets and special effects. Unfortunately, the people working with this budget were totally incompetent. The production is a murky, muddled mess that rarely makes sense. If the characters didn't blandly explain the proceedings, the audience would be lost.

OK, so Roger Christian's direction left a lot to be desired (he even had the audacity to steal from George Lucas, who himself adapted from Kurosawa), but we can depend on the cast, right? Think again. As proven in Broken Arrow, Travolta has no clue when it comes to playing villains. He is completely artificial in this film, with none of the charm that he can often exude. I'd say it is easily his worst performance to date, even worse than his work in the ironically titled Perfect. Pepper seemed like he was off to a good start with Saving Private Ryan and The Green Mile, but he only embarrasses himself here (a career tip: stick with Tom Hanks). Corey Mandell's screenplay (his first) was no help, forcing the actors to mutter incredibly stupid dialogue.

And don't think I missed the obvious comparison to Spartacus. This horrendous marriage with Planet of the Apes (and a little Independence Day thrown in for incredulity) makes Gladiator look like a masterpiece. Battlefield Earth will have no chance at the box office with Ridley Scott's film in competition -- not that it could have done well otherwise. A bomb is a bomb, regardless of the opening date.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Battlefield Earth (2000)

Here's some merchandise for sale at
Battlefield Earth (2000) -- VHS
Battlefield Earth (2000) -- DVD
Battlefield Earth, a novel by L. Ron Hubbard -- Paperback
Battlefield Earth, a novel by L. Ron Hubbard -- Audio Cassette (read by Roddy McDowall)
Battlefield Earth: Original Soundtrack -- Compact Disc Home
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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan