Battlefield Earth

dir Roger Christian
scr Corey Mandell, JD Shapiro
with John Travolta, Barry Pepper, Forest Whitaker, Kim Coates, Richard Tyson, Sabine Karsenti, Michael Byrne, Christian Tessier, Sylvian Landry, Shaun Austin-Olsen, Earl Pastko, Kelly Preston
00/US 2 out of 5 stars

Review by Rich Cline
Based on the L Ron Hubbard novel, Battlefield Earth desperately wants to be one of those big sci-fi epics like Stranger in a Strange Land or Dune, with a tale of universe-conquering bad guys and humanity in danger of extinction. Unfortunately, the film is far too silly to take seriously due to its ludicrous character and art design, soaring space-opera music, scene chewing performances and an incomprehensible telling of a derivative story. In other words, Ed Wood lives!

It's the year 3000 and mankind is nearly extinct. Then high in the Rockies a young hunter named Jonnie (Pepper) decides to head out on his own, leaving his beloved (Karsenti), to find out what's behind his people's superstitious believe in space demons. Well, he finds out soon enough when he's captured by the psychlos, a large, brutal breed of space thugs who have decimated earth and enslaved "man-animals" to do their manual labour. Soon Jonnie and the psychlo Security Chief Terl (Travolta) lock horns in a battle of wits. Can Jonnie free the humans, conquer the psychlos and show Terl who's the boss? Silly question.

But the preposterous, predictable, reed-thin plot isn't the problem here. It's the way it's been brought to the screen by the filmmakers in such an over-the-top, harebrained way. There's nothing believable about this universe; power and gold are all the psychlos want. Some of the special effects are excellent, but most are very cheesy, with bad matte paintings and low-rent sets in which nothing much has deteriorated over a millennium of disuse. Pepper works like a trooper, putting all his energy into the role. And Travolta refreshingly refuses to take it seriously, keeping us giggling (although this is mostly due to his farcical makeup and costume). But nothing comes together, and the massively complicated action finale is so badly directed and edited that you're never sure what's happening or why. And you never care about anyone as they give their lives to save humanity. Ho hum. That's the worst crime in this otherwise so-bad-it's-good mess.

[12--violence, themes] 30.May.00
US release 12.May.00; UK release 2.Jun.00

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take back the planet "People, don't listen to the reviews. They're falling over one another to slate this film, calling it incomprehensible, full of holes and so on. Well to my eyes this is one of the best sci-fis to date - best since The Matrix - great effects, wonderful cinematography and a deep and intelligent story that has a lot to say about we man-animals. A must see for any sci-fi head with brains enough to follow a story that leaves a lot between the lines." --Ezra Dread, net 12.Aug.01

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2000 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall