Science Friction


Apparently, the first thing those nasty Psychlos did when they conquered Earth was destroy all our lightbulbs. The cads!

And that's one of the least ludicrous aspects of "Battlefield Earth," an underlit, overlong, underwritten and overloud albatross of a movie based on a book by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, who dabbled in sci-fi in his spare time.

Scientology is one of those groups (or cults, or religions, or coffee klatches, whatever you want to call it) that tend to bring otherwise rational people to blows. For many, nothing associated with Scientology can be good, and for months they've proclaimed that "Battlefield Earth" is evil, that it'll warp minds, that it's no more than a recruiting film.

Would it all were true; that film might prove fun to watch. It would certainly kill fewer brain cells than this mess, which wastes the considerable talents of John Travolta (for whom the movie was a pet project) and Forest Whitaker on a film that mixes equal parts "Star Wars," -"Braveheart" and "Plan 9 from Outer Space."

The year is 3000, and the Psychlos are a particularly nasty and greedy band of outer-space dwellers who attacked the Earth around 2000, destroyed all our defenses in nine minutes and since have been strip-mining the planet for its gold. They also turned man -- or "man-animals," in Psychlo-speak -- into an endangered species.

But just when things look their darkest, a plucky, I-will-bow-to-no-ugly-alien hero comes forth, determined to wrest back control of the planet. Sure, he's only one man, and sure, the species has reverted to the dark ages, and sure, the Psychlos have absolutely no scruples about killing man-beasts for pleasure.

But they never counted on Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (I'm not making this up), a snarling, freedom-loving man-animal who's clearly descended from William Wallace, the snarling, freedom-loving Scot of "Braveheart." When Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper, the sharpshooter from "Saving Private Ryan") is captured by the Psychlos, no way he's going to serve quietly.

Lucky thing for the man-animals that Jonnie comes under the supervision of Psychlo Chief of Security Terl (a 9-foot-tall Travolta), who feels underappreciated by his Psychlo superiors and has devoted his life to one goal: getting as much gold for himself as possible. Finding a heretofore untapped vein of gold in the Rockies near what used to be Denver, Terl commandeers a bunch of man-animals -- including Jonnie -- to do the mining and make him one rich Psychlo.

From there, the plot goes off in all sorts of directions, each accompanied by the thundering notes of the score by Elia Cmiral (who apparently never met a bass instrument he didn't love).

There's so much to mock in "Battlefield Earth," it's hard to know where to start. There's director Roger Christian ("Nostradamus"), who seems to be trying to mask the film's shortcomings (and save on the electric bill) by shooting most of it in the dark. There are those foot-long nose-plugs the Psychlos wear, which make for one heck of a fashion accessory but seem rather impractical for battle.

There's the essential plot point that has the Earthlings recovering the gold from Fort Knox (guess the Psychlo gold-detection equipment isn't so sophisticated.)

And then there's the man-animals' amazing ability to expertly pilot sophisticated 20th-century warplanes after about one week's study. They must have found a heckuva how-to manual.

Both Travolta and Whitaker, who plays his right-hand Psychlo, seem to be having a grand time, as does Kelly Preston (Mrs. Travolta), who has a few moments onscreen as a female Psychlo with an impressively long tongue. Too bad their audiences won't be similarly entertained.

'Battlefield Earth'

Starring John Travolta, Barry Pepper and Forest Whitaker

Directed by Roger Christian

Released by Warner Bros.

Rated PG-13 (Language, violence, mean aliens)

Running time 117 minutes

Sun score: * 1/2

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