Maligned by the masses. Ridiculed by the critics. As certain as I felt it would provide little entertainment or satisfaction, Battlefield Earth, the adaptation of Scientologist founder L. Ron. Hubbard’s novel has always been a scab that I knew I would have to peel back at some point in my life. That time has come.
As implied by its full title, Battlefield Earth: A saga of the year 3000, a millennium in the future Earth has been invaded by aliens who are mining the planet for gold. The Psychlos are nine feet tall, natty dreadlock haired, warrior like invaders that have decimated the human population on the planet. Of the few humans that remain, those that have not been captured by the Psychlos are now living in isolated tribes far from the Psychlos having regressed to a primitive state. The free humans have only the legends of gods that made their presence known to their civilization and are now punishing them for their sins. One savage among them, Jonnie (Barry Pepper), defies the tribe elder to forage for better resources and also answers to his questions about those reputed gods.
Jonnie is soon captured by the Psychlos and is brought to their massive enclosed base city in which there are many human captives. The Psychlos need a breathing apparatus when not in their base as exposure to Earth’s atmosphere can be deadly and reciprocally the humans need a similar filter while imprisoned there. The Earth is just a resource colony for the Psychlo home planet and ruthless head of security Terl (John Travolta) finds himself continually denied a return home because of some past indiscretion. When he discovers that his underling Ker (Forest Whitaker) had planned to keep a newfound gold deposit to himself he takes over the operation himself. But Terl cannot mine the deposit himself. He realizes that the recent captive Jonnie is smarter than the other vermin humans and subjects him to ‘learning machine’ hoping to get information out of him. To Terl’s surprise, Jonnie learns the Psychlos’ language and convinces Terl that he can lead a band of humans to mine the gold deposit for Terl without arousing suspicion from the Psychlos’ leader But Jonnie uses the opportunity to work outside to mount a rebellion with both the free humans still roaming about and the current captives.
If you combine the flaccid acting, moth-eaten dialogue, and cavernous plot holes, you begin to get a sense of the fiasco at hand. As I haven’t read the 1000 plus page novel (I guess we can no longer apply the ‘phonebook’ adjective as those are relics of the past), I can’t comments on how the adaptation adheres to the source or the quality of the source for that matter. But the journey from novel to film does shed some light. I refer to this film as Barbarino’s Folly, as Travolta, a devout Scientologist, was the one who flogged this movie to the movie studios for years, only to finally make a deal with Franchise Pictures, then a ‘studio of last resort’ catering to such vanity projects and also with him footing some of the bill as one of the producers.
Not quite making the ‘so bad it’s good’ list, the movie does have the cool looking Psychlos, and while the effect is not done perfectly, the oversized aliens set against normal sized humans does work at times. But the groan moments are to numerous and head slap inducing – what the hell was an actor as fine Forest Whitaker doing in this mess – for me to recommend even one mock viewing. I have no idea if the movie espouses Scientology doctrine as I suspect was Travolta’s goal in making it. But if that were the case I’m sure the list of people wanting their money back was longer than any new recruits to the cult.