Battlefield Earth (12)
WHEN a film emerges with quite as much negative press as Battlefield Earth, one feels a duty to say something – anything – in order to swim against the tide.
With this execrable entry into the annals of filmed science fiction, it is simply impossible to justifiably say anything other than that it’s poorly conceived, poorly written, crass and embarrassing – a vanity project of behemoth proportions with a miscast star at his very worst.
From the outset Battlefield Earth displays its heart on its sleeve, and by the time the end credits roll it has exhibited all the ingredients to make it a disaster as big as Kevin Costner’s The Postman.
That was the last big vanity project which fell, flaming, to earth. It took Costner’s prestige and box-office appeal with it. Like Battlefield Earth it took as its subject the destruction of Earth and its post-apocalyptic aftermath, with scattered survivors roaming a shattered America.
Battlefield Earth takes its mistakes several steps further. Based squarely on the best-seller by L. Ron Hubbard, the film tells, in jumbled, fragmented fashion, the story of life on Earth a millennium after most human life has been exterminated by the Psychlos, a warlike race of alien giants who now mine the planet for its minerals.
Humans, apart from those who skulk in caves in the mountains, are starving slaves. The Psychlos are led by Terl (Travolta in a big rubber head, bad wig and pallid make-up), a self-serving administrator who only wants to make it back to his home planet.
When a feisty young outsider, Jonnie (Barry Pepper, the sniper from Saving Private Ryan) wanders into the Psychlos’ world, he inadvertently becomes the catalyst which leads to revolt and warfare between mankind and the Psychlos.
At its most fundamental, Battlefield Earth is a half-baked, wannabe sci-fi adventure. What deposits it several rungs below the likes of Starship Troopers, Blade Runner or, indeed, the much-maligned The Phantom Menace is its mind-numbing dialogue and the cringe-worthy central performance from Travolta.
As a piece of ‘serious-minded’ science-fiction, it cannot be taken seriously. It lacks tension, action, drama, any serious themes or, indeed, any of the basic building blocks of the sci-fi epic.
Travolta’s attempts to create the wickedest screen villain ever invented (has he never heard of Darth Vader?) predominantly involve striding around in size 30 boots and cackling maniacally. It’s puerile beyond belief.
This is boring, juvenile fare given the big-budget treatment. In truth, it should never have got as far as a TV movie, and never would had it not been for Travolta’s patronage.
The story bears witness to having been whittled down from the mammoth novel which Hubbard created. Consequently the story is thin, weak and simply does not hang together.
Where, for instance, is the battlefield of the title? What is presented instead is a colliery in a backwater of Colorado, against which unconvincing background paintings attempt to portray the shattered landscape of Earth.
In fact, the Psychlos’ empire seems to consist of a few miles of wasteland and mountains, patrolled by a few dozen super-tall hulking brutes who appear to be a mix of Star Trek’s Borgs and Klingons.
Sci-fi has never been the critics’ choice, but this one represents the nadir of the genre. It is a genuine no-brain turkey, and Travolta should be ashamed.
For very young, very undemanding children only.