Top critical review
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Special effects good, movie bad
on January 23, 2004
Few films in modern history have undergone a drubbing resembling the one endured by John Travolta's "Battlefield Earth." The star of "Saturday Night Fever," "Grease," and "Pulp Fiction" doubtless wished he never made a comeback when he read the reviews for this film. "Battlefield Earth" the movie, as everyone probably knows, was based on a novel by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. Since Travolta swears fealty to Hubbard's movement and is one of its most well known members, he wanted to bring the author's vision to the big screen. There's nothing wrong with that. But in an effort to lionize the leader of a controversial creed, Travolta stumbled big time. After viewing the film, I agree with the abuse critics heaped on this picture, but only to a certain extent. "Battlefield Earth" is an atrocity, a mind blasting heap o' badness best left rotting in a bargain bin at the local video store. I am not willing, however, to categorize this picture as one of the worst films in cinematic history. Fans of B movies will agree with me on this point. There are PLENTY of films out there far worse than this one.
In the year 3000, the planet earth is no longer a safe home for human beings. Some thousand years earlier, a race of hostile aliens from the planet Psychlo invaded our world and destroyed our civilization in a matter of minutes. For the next millennia, these rapacious invaders have systematically reduced the surviving humans to a state of stone age existence. In fact, the human race is dying out due to the continuing harassment of the Psychlos, who have built a base on the planet in order to mine the most precious resource known to the aliens: gold. When not hunting down humans for sport, the Psychlos plot against each other to better their position in their social hierarchy. Earth as we know it today is long gone, but there is one man who may yet rise against Psychlo tyranny and restore humanity to its rightful place on earth. This man is none other than Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper), a mouthy upstart who frequently violates village rules about wandering into dangerous Psychlo territory. Predictably, Jonnie soon roams too far from the safety of his community and finds himself captured by these aliens.
The leader of the Psychlos on earth, and the creature who will soon face down Jonnie and his rapidly growing band of resistance fighters, is Terl (John Travolta). Terl is a conniving thug, always shouting and threatening his underlings--especially his assistant Ker (Forest Whitaker)--whenever he isn't brown nosing the brass during their infrequent visits to the planet. As for humans, the Psychlos never take them seriously. They treat them like animals, brutalize them, and keep them locked up in huge cages. Terl chuckles over these pitiful brutes, never realizing for a second that these "animals" are capable of complex emotions and rational thought. At some point in the film, Terl decides Jonnie possesses an ability to learn and allows the little man to plug into a machine that teaches a potential enemy everything about languages, mathematics, geometry, and weaponry. In a series of illogical leaps that stagger the imagination, Jonnie and his fellow barbarians manage to wage a successful war against Terl and the Psychlo invaders. Heck, these guys, who just minutes before could barely figure out how to sharpen a stick, successfully plan, organize, and launch a massive assault against alien hegemony. The wonder of it all!
The first part of the film had me wondering what all of the fuss was about. There were a few obvious problems to contend with, such as the chase scene in a thousand year old mall where Jonnie crashes through several panes of glass without cutting himself to ribbons (let alone the unbelievability that these glass panes could survive for a millennia with nary a crack), but these problems were little different from thousands of other movies. A few parts of the picture, particularly the very cool special effects used to create the information transmission pod that Jonnie uses to learn about the Psychlos, looked great. Even the battle sequences in the grand finale were far above average as far as science fiction movies go. So what is the problem with "Battlefield Earth," the problem that turns the stomachs of the most jaded film critics? It's simple, really. Travolta's vanity flick is dumb, even dumber than most big budget films these days.
The biggest problem is the script. There are so many plot holes in "Battlefield Earth" that even I could have done a better job. The worst stupidities occur towards the end of the film when Jonnie recruits primitive humans in order to wage war against the invaders. Tyler and his allies breeze around the former United States like they owned the place, openly planning for war against their enemies. Totally unbelievable are the scenes where Jonnie finds thousand year old military depots loaded to the brim with pristine jet fighters, tanks, bombs, firearms, and nuclear weapons. When looking for a specific page in a manual about arming a nuclear weapon, one of the illiterate human beings bumps an overhead projector, the machine comes on, and there is the one page necessary to use the nukes. Impressive coincidence or major plot disaster? You be the judge. When I saw tribal members using flight simulators so they could learn to fly jets, I wrote the whole movie off as a lost cause. These examples are only a few of the serious problems that plague the picture; I won't even mention the annoying cinematography, the ridiculous appearance of the Psychlos, or the endless sci-fi clichés that appear regularly. Only lovers of disaster films and B movie nightmares should waste time viewing this crud.