I’m almost embarrassed to include this under ‘Culture’. What you get when you cross an ambitious actor’s love of a pet project with a big budget, a pulp sci-fi script hacked from vintage L. Ron Hubbard, and big dollop of Spartacus? A five-star turkey of galactic proportions. Or Spaceballs without the jokes.
Don’t wake up in the year 3000; Earth is ruled by the Psyclos, a bunch of gas-breathing, eight-foot uber-capitalist aliens that has enslaved the planet to strip-mine it of resources. Ridiculously pretty but shallow Jonnie “Goodboy” Tyler (Barry Pepper) gets a dose of the Psyclos educator-machine, escapes to the mountains, organises a rebellion and returns to overthrow the alien overlords in the perfect Braveheart-meets-the-Dirty-Dozen covert operation. That’s it.
Based on the novel by L. Ron Hubbard, sci-fi hack and founder of the Church of Scientology (“I’m going to start a religion; that’s where the money is…”), Battlefield Earth was a labour of love for Scientologist John Travolta who raised the finance and stars as Chief alien-Nazi Terl. Other names who should have known better are Forest Whitaker, Kim Coates, and Travolta’s wife Kelly Preston.
The aliens are both ludicrous, unintentionally comic, sleazy and yet dull; a bunch of back-stabbing cosmic shop-keepers from a Klingon dentistry convention. Travolta notches the villainy up to eleven and disappears into the parallel universe of his own ego. No cliché or plot device is left in the dressing-up box. Thanks to the miraculous educating machine, Jonnie teaches the rest of the survivors the basics of trigonometry, the Bill of Rights, how to use a machine gun and how to fly a Harrier jet, just so we can get to the cod-heroics of the ‘big guns and planes’ finale. Oh yeah, let’s blow up a planet, too.
Heavily stylised, shot on the tilt and lifting everything from Planet of the Apes and every other 1970’s Charlton Heston movie, Independence day and Blade Runner. The dialogue is risible, the performances either earnest schlock (humans) or voyeuristic and sleazy (aliens). Travolta’s reputation hasn’t recovered from this tragic waste of celluloid, a $100m flop for which Travolta’s interference and studio re-writes are largely held to blame – although that neglects the root cause – Hubbard’s junk sci-fi.
You have to be a particular kind of masochist to sit through this abomination. Perhaps reserve it for A Friday night of beer-goggles viewing with an extra keg and a house full of equally drunk friends, at which point it becomes a hoot. RC
Genre Action & Adventure, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Production year: 2000
Certificate (UK): PG-13,
Running time: 114 mins
Director: Roger Christian
Writers: Corey Mandell, J.D. Shapiro
Cast: Barry Pepper, Forest Whitaker, John Travolta, Kim Coates