Invasion of the Plot Snatchers
By Dave Larsen Film Critic Friday, May 12, 2000
Battlefield Earth Grade: D--Poor
John Travolta came through for the founder of Scientology by making `Battlefield Earth,' but no one can save the audience
"Never underestimate what a little leverage can do, rat brain," the evil alien Terl snarls at a human captive.
Those words could easily apply to the power that John Travolta wielded to get Battlefield Earth off the ground.
Travolta, who produced the sci-fi action thriller and who stars as Terl, reportedly threatened to leave the William Morris talent agency if it didn't help set up the $60 million-plus adaptation of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard's 1982 novel.
Hollywood studios were reluctant to green-light Travolta's long-dormant pet project, forcing the box-office superstar to seek independent financing and distribution.
Perhaps the controversial Scientology connection scared off the big studios. Then again, it could be that they rightly sensed the film would be an absolute stinker.
The hackneyed tale of one man's attempt to save the remnants of the human race from alien invaders borrows its premise from Planet of the Apes, characters from Star Wars, creature design from Star Trek and sets from Logan's Run.
It makes the lamebrained Independence Day look brilliant by comparison.
The story is tedious, far-fetched and full of holes. Set in the year 3000, Battlefield Earth follows the journey of Johnnie Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper), a post-apocalyptic primitive who is one of a handful of surviving humans following the invasion of Earth a millennium before by the vicious Psychlos aliens.
The Luke Skywalker-like hero leaves the safety his Colorado cave to find a better life for his people. Johnnie is captured by the Psychlos and forced to work as a slave in their mines, stripping the Earth's remaining mineral resources.
Terl, the disgruntled Psychlo chief of security, plots to exploit the slaves for his own selfish ends by training the "man-animals" to operate mining machinery to plunder a vein of gold. Contact with a radiation field surrounding the ore deposit would cause the Psychlos' breathing supply to go boom.
Scrappy Johnnie is educated in the Psychlos' language to act as Terl's foreman. Inadvertently, he also learns math, science and American history--thus sewing the seeds for the Psychlos' destruction.
Adapted by Corey Mandell and JD Shapiro, Hubbard's story is a plodding series of escapes and captures, as well as a thinly veiled screed against business and technology.
The Psychlos oppress workers, stab one another in the back and are driven by the pursuit of profit. They refer to their own planet as "Home Office." Their stated duty is to "serve the corporation."
Too bad we never become "invested" in the characters.
The bleak, dreary thriller is shot almost entirely at extremely skewed angles by Roger Christian, who previously directed Masterminds and the second unit photography for Star Wars: Episode I--The Phantom Menace. You'd think that for $60 million he at least could have afforded a camera tripod with three legs the same length.
Christian's heavy use of tight shots--to avoid putting the 10-foot-tall Psychlos in full scale with humans--is almost as annoying as the constantly tilted angles.
Travolta originally planned to play Johnnie, but he grew too old for the role as the years passed.
Sporting Kiss platform boots, ratty dreadlocks and hairy yellow claws, the two-time Oscar nominee looks like a second-rate Star Trek Klingon. His ridiculously over-the-top performance has him pompously spouting lines and cackling like a B-movie mad scientist.
Forrest Whitaker doesn't fare any better as Terl's feeble-minded sidekick, Ker.
More frightening than their appearance is the fact that Travolta already has planned a sequel to this earthbound dud. Terl's fatal hubris is matched by his own.