Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Battlefield Earth

By Marc Savlov

MAY 22, 2000: 

D: Roger Christian; with John Travolta, Barry Pepper, Forest Whitaker, Kim Coates, Sabine Karsenti, Richard Tyson, Maria-Josée Corze, Kelly Preston, Shaun Astin-Olsen. (PG-13, 117 min.)

Simply put, Battlefield Earth is the worst film I've seen in over 10 years, and believe me, that's saying a lot. It's a hideous masterwork of style over substance, formula over form, and Travolta's fanatical devotion to the teachings of Scientologist/sci-fi author L. Ron Hubbard over, presumably, his agent. Hubbard's massive, 1,000-page tome (the film only covers the first 500 or so pages) follows the adventures of Jonnie Goodboy (Saving Private Ryan's Pepper), a future inhabitant of Earth, and his struggle to bring his people back from the edge of extinction. It's 3000 A.D., and humanity has been reduced to a pre-agrarian, cave-dwelling society, terrified of the "demons" that dwell outside the reaches of their valley, and restlessly praying for some sort of assistance from the gods. Apparently, Earth was conquered a millennium before in a nine-minute battle with the Psychlo, an eight-foot-tall race of interstellar scuzzballs given to oversized footwear and Rastafarian hair weaves. The Earth contingent, headed by Travolta's sneering head of security Terl, has enslaved the remaining populace of "man animals" and is using them to mine gold in the Rocky Mountains. Terl, a cosmic scam artist in search of the all-important "leverage," hatches a plan to bilk the "Home World" of their rightful Earth loot. When Jonnie is captured by Terl and his sloth-like aide-de-campKer (Whitaker), he's taught the secrets of the Psychlo language and sent out into the wilderness with a team of humans to work the gold mines. Along the way, they steal a Psychlo ship and fly to Washington to check out the Library of Congress and discover their heritage before returning to commandeer a few dozen USAF Harriers stored in the mountains surrounding Denver. It's a battle for freedom, baby, complete with a stunningly overzealous score from Elia Cmiral, tons of cheesy explosions, and a dark blue filter imposed over every single shot. There's no way to adequately describe how nonsensical Battlefield Earth actually is ­ I can only say that if you have two hours to kill and feel up to the task, this may actually be one of the funniest misfires you're ever likely to see. A brilliant example of the "So Bad It's Good" school of filmmaking, this ranks right alongside such infamous stinkers as Plan 9 from Outer Space and Showgirls. Travolta gives what will likely be a legendarily bad performance as the greedy Terl, chewing scenery like it was going out of style, while wife Kelly Preston (as one of Ker's concubines) licks everything in sight with her 48-inch tongue. Unintentionally hilarious on almost every level, this is the kind of miraculously bad filmmaking you just don't see much of anymore, and as such, it's actually quite entertaining. Genuine fans of Travolta and Whitaker (not to mention Pepper, who spends the film looking like he just escaped from Zendik Farm) will be aghast at this tremendously incompetent miscue from these otherwise sane actors, and rightfully so. A sci-fi Heaven's Gate, Battlefield Earth makes Costner's twin apocalyptic failures Waterworld and The Postman look positively Oscar-worthy by comparison. For once, it really is that bad.

0 Stars


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