Battlefield Earth (VHS, 2001, Spanish Subtitled)

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Epinions Product Rating: Disappointing
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a movie that makes Hubbard's writing actually look pretty good: Battlefield Earth

Jan 24, 2001 (Updated Jan 24, 2001)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Travolta succeeds in making a movie that makes Hubbard look good

Cons:this is only probably good news to John Travolta

The Bottom Line: It's unusual that a film is actually as bad as everyone says it is. Battlefield Earth is.


"When I felt better about everything was when George Lucas and Quentin Tarantino and a lot of people that I felt knew what they were doing saw it and thought it was a great piece of science fiction. The book stood for something classic and this hopefully will too," - John Travolta, October, 2000.

A disturbing thing happened between the theatrical and belated video releases of Battlefield Earth. Travolta, having an increasingly rare moment of clarity, decided that the praise of George Lucas and Quentin Tarantino (who somehow found merit in Travolta’s Look Who’s Talking movies), did not necessarily mean that the rest of humanity was wrong about the relative quality of Battlefield Earth. So Travolta and only Terl knows who else, went back into the editing room and recut Battlefield Earth prior to its video release. Will we ever see the version shown on the big screen? I don’t know, but if it was actually worse than what I’ve watched this evening, I’m praying that we don’t.

I have never heard of anyone else doing such a thing to his or her film prior to a video release (not counting the films that Blockbuster edits for content without informing the public), but it sets an ugly precedent. Travolta, apparently, is more than just a fool and a remorseless egomaniac – Travolta is also a coward.

Travolta is also making me do the unthinkable – he’s going to make me say that something written by L. Ron Hubbard was actually “more subtle” and “more thought out” than something else. Before watching this film, I was quite certain that the likelihood of something comparing poorly to L. Ron Hubbard was akin to something comparing poorly to having your head twisted off by a giant rubber band. But it’s happened. The book of Battlefield Earth is actually. . . boy, this is still hard to say. . . it’s actually (urk) better (urk, urk) than the movie.

I will say this much, though, I’ll say that the movie has at least captured the spirit of the book. In other words, both are cheerfully devoid of science and sense, both are ridiculous homo-erotic Nietzchien empowerment polemics, both make Ayn Rand look like a sane and reasonable person, and both suck with a mighty and dedicated vigor - the film just more so.

Johnny Good Boy Tyler (Barry Pepper: The Green Mile) is an endangered species. At least that’s what the Psychlos (giant Rastafarian KISS army Klingons with silly rubber werewolf hands), call humanity. It’s interesting to me that a species that has no regard for other species would even have a phrase like “endangered species” but as this is a failing of the novel as well, I’m not going to hold it against the film. You see, it’s one thing to be bright enough to correct Hubbard’s logic (my dog corrected about 60% of Hubbard’s logical failings through a simple series of barks and tail positions) – it’s another thing altogether to make Hubbard’s logical failings seem slight.

The Psychlos, a super-advanced species that has invented teleportation and deep space travel relies upon human slave labor on Earth. I know, I know, they only do that in the book because conniving Terl (John Travolta) wants to illegally mine gold ore from a location irradiated by deadly uranium – but the film version shows the evil Psychlos with a cages full of humans hitting rocks with hammers like something out of an Indiana Jones movie. In the film, it appears, the Psychlos have yet to invent an industrial revolution.

Funny, that.

Johnny Good Boy Tyler learns how to read and speak Psychlo and then, a few minutes later, he learns how to fly an fighter jet and arm an atomic bomb. Luckily, he reads the Declaration of Independence first (helpfully titled “Declaration of Independence” in case you dropped out of school after third grade), so that he will use his knowledge in the pursuit of good old fashioned American values (very old fashioned, the film is set in the year 3000).

What I want to know is how the humans manage to fly these jets without oxygen in the cabins and, more importantly, without gravity suits. Perform some of the things these brave primates do in a supersonic fighter jet and you’d get turned into a skin bag full of squished up goo if you somehow managed not to pass out. All of this presupposes that the fighters would actually be operational after 1000 years in cold storage, that the military base in which they are housed would still have electricity to power the flight simulator (and the fuel pumps), and that this 1000 year old technology would be somehow more effective against the Psychlo technology, which, as the film states, largely wiped out humanity after nine minutes with technology that is now, for the Psychlos, 1000 years old.

Thinking back to the year 1001 (1000 years ago), I'm not exactly quivering with fear at the thought of 500 fur-clad Breton mercenaries marching on Fort Bragg with fifty cavalry and a bristling 20-man crossbow contingent. Especially if my culture had already vanquished an army of such soldiers ten centuries previous with technology that was, at that time, already several generations superior.

Why, oh why, am I getting so detailed? It really begs the question of "bigger fool" doesn't it?

Anyway – the Psychlos are inexplicably vulnerable and the savage Quest for Fire humans are surprisingly resourceful and brave.

Come to think of it, though, Psychlos shouldn’t have built their precious life-giving atmosphere dome out of a thin sheet of plexi-glass. They were, admittedly, pretty lucky as it was that it never hailed in 1000 years, thus ending Psychlo civilization on Earth in a War of the Worlds-type deus ex machina.

The entire film is shot with the camera canted. If you’re a very talented filmmaker, you can maybe get away with one canted scene in your movie. Maybe a POV shot immediately after someone’s been hit on the head, or perhaps a dream sequence that’s particularly psychedelic. You cannot shoot a film that is entirely canted, however, without making at least some members of your audience wonder about whether or not there’s something freaked out about their posture. There is absolutely no reason that the entire running time of Battlefield Earth is dedicated to giving the illusion that the contents of the screen are in mortal peril of sliding off one side or another.

I wouldn’t even begin to know how to clean something quite so toxic off the carpet.

I could wonder about why Forrest Whitaker is in this film, and I could wonder why it is that John Travolta chose to play his chief bad alien as some freaked out combination of sweat hog Vinnie Barbarino and a three-dollar Tijuana crack w-hore on a particularly bad locoweed bender, but I’m too busy being worried about the possibly carcinogenic consequences of having both L. Ron Hubbard’s atrocious novel and its abominable screen still-birth in my head at the same time. The sweet nepenthe kiss of senility has never been more intoxicating than it is now.

I guess I could feign ironic surprise that director Roger Christian was a second-unit director on George Lucas’ awful Phantom Menace movie, but I confess that I not only knew that going in, but I wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised by the revelation. I would wager, in fact, that more than a small percentage of people muttered sarcastically during the running time of Battlefield Earth that at least it wasn’t much worse than Episode 1 - not knowing how closely related the two shambling eyesores were.

The frightening irony of it is that Travolta has actually produced a film that makes his Scientology guru Hubbard look good. You win this round, John Travolta.

Ultimately, Battlefield Earth occupies that rare position in film where it’s actually too stupid for people that will like anything, too terrible to be remotely funny, and too odious in its execution to offer much possibility of a defense from even the most misguided members of society. In other words, Battlefield Earth has gained a measure of immortality by its “badness” and, by association, so has Travolta. You could rent this truncated and re-edited mess tonight if you want to, but then you’d be “pulling a Travolta” of “Battlefield Earthian” proportions.

I’d recommend that you read the book, but that would also be “pulling a Travolta” of. . . well, you get the idea.



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