Barry Pepper as Jonnie Goodboy Tyler
John Travolta as Terl
Forrest Whitaker as Ker
Kim Coates as Carlo
Sabine Karsenti as Chrissy
I like this movie. I really, really like it.
Hold it there a minute! Don’t touch that mouse! I can explain. This movie does suck. Everything you may have heard about it is true, and then some. It is indeed one of the most all-around incompetent films to ever get a major theatrical release. It has the dialogue of Batman & Robin, the logic of bad 1950s sci-fi, worse acting than Steven Seagal, and it looks like director Roger Christian is a coked-up hack who didn’t have much more than Windows Movie Maker to work with (he actually had a $44 million budget). The ineptitude on display defies all belief! And in doing so, it inadvertantly crosses into the comedy genre, where it excels.
Any piece on Battlefield Earth would be incomplete with mentioning its executive producer and star: John Travolta. As a Scientologist and Hollywood big-shot, he loved Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s most famous novel, Battlefield Earth. So for over a decade, he suggested this project. In fact, he originally planned on playing Jonnie, the hero, but realized he’d gotten too old for that but not necessarily the experienced Terl. Horrifyingly, this only covered half of the book, so there was supposed to be a sequel. Travolta hoped that this two-parter would become a big sci-fi franchise, the next Star Wars, if you will. More like the next Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.
Our story opens with a text prologue, ala Star Wars, explaining that aliens called the Psychlos (yuk-yuk-yuk-yuk-yuk) conquered Earth in the year 2000 and that a thousand years have passed. During this time, the Psychlos have set up a mining colony but have been unable to reach certain irradiated areas, which the Humans have hidden in but are slowly going extinct because while less dangerous to Psychlos, the radiation is still toxic to humans. But not too toxic if it’s been like this for A THOUSAND YEARS. These Humans have regressed to the tribal society but one, Jonnie, although it’s something like forty-five minutes before he’s referred to as such, doesn’t believe in the so-called gods or traditional rules. He sets out to disprove the tribal superstitions. He comes across two hunters, Carlo and Rock, who claim to have seen gods and will show them to Jonnie in exchange for food. These “gods” are the Psychlos, who unsurprisingly capture them.
Admittedly, that introduction isn’t all that funny. At this point, the movie becomes a complete rip-off of the original Planet of the Apes (I should note that the book came out way after that movie). Even the giant aspect of the bad guys remains intact, as the Psychlos are nine feet tall, displayed through the newfangled tech known as stilts. That’s only the first funny the Psychlos show us, though to be fair, at least they limit the stilted shots.
They’re not nearly that clever about much else though, including the Psychlos themselves. To be frank, they’re idiots. Jonnie makes brief escape after brief escape, mainly because they can’t seem to hold anything live in their hands for long. The chief of security, Terl, upon being told a “Man-Animal” managed to fire one of their weird-looking laser pistols as he escaped, puts a gun right back in Jonnie’s hands, getting one of his men killed. Later, to show how rough life is for the Human prisoners that the Psychlos have enslaved, a helicopter accidentally rams into the side of a building, raining concrete on the poor Humans. Terl has a fake access code placed in plain sight in his office but failed to set an alarm to ring if it’s used. Not only that, Terl’s real code is the fake one in reverse. I’m giving you the tip of the iceberg here. Of course Jonnie was going to outfox these dumbasses. One may as well doubt that Brer Rabbit will outwit Brer Fox and Brer Bear.
The acting is terrible. Most actors in this movie are rookies and it really, really shows. There’s only two standout performances. Forrest Whitaker plays Terl’s assistant and he’s the only one who does a half-decent job here. Not that it paid off. His career was dealt a mortal wound that he’d take several years to recover from. John Travolta, on the other hand, turns in possibly the worst performance I’ve ever seen (and I’ve been through Red Zone Cuba, Batman and Robin, and a bunch of Steven Seagal movies, among many others). He has often tended to overact when playing villains. This is no exception. He is way, way over the top, complete with a high-pitched voice. Merely listening to Terl talk is funny.
There’s also the amount of gimmicks employed by director Roger Christian. If there’s something allegedly cool but actually amateurish, I’m pretty sure Christian tried it here. Weird camera angles, slo-mo rip-offs of the Matrix, blue filters, cheap but somehow flashy effects, and scene wipes seem to be nothing to him. And since it’s the director’s job to motivate and advise the actors, the piss-poor performances are partly his responsibility.
For the ending to this piece of crap, you’ll just have to check and see. I’d not be spoiling anything if I said good conquered evil in an unbelievable way, would I? Of course not.
Battlefield Earth is a movie you should definitely see. Not only does it show you how not to make a movie, watching this train wreck unfold is a real belly roll.
Overall: 8 out of 10 (for unintentional comedy)