Battlefield Earth
directed by Roger Christian
(Morgan Creek/Warner Brothers, 2000)

I realize that a review of the new John Travolta sci-fi epic, Battlefield Earth, may seem redundant at this point. You've probably already read dozens of scathing reviews in which the film has been trashed unmercifully, and you have no reason to expect anything else from me. After all, I'm not a Scientologist, I like to think that I have fairly good taste when it comes to films, and I'm particularly sensitive to science fiction films, since so many are just plain lousy. But I'd like to try a different tack regarding Battlefield Earth and point out the film's good qualities. The danger is that this strategy may make for a very brief review, but I'll do my best.

First and foremost, this may finally be the film that destroys John Travolta's career, or at least makes more people realize the long-obvious fact that he is a very limited actor. His best performances, such as the one in Pulp Fiction, resulted from the fortunate use of the niche that he is most at home in, the sleazy, not-too-bright villain. But wait, you say -- he also plays a sleazy, not-too-bright villain in the film under discussion here. Yes, I answer, but he plays a sleazy, not-too-bright alien villain who looks like Worf, so we expect him to sound mean and gruff. Instead, he sounds like tenor Travolta, and when he bursts out with a "Bwa-ha-ha-ha-hah!" (which occurs after nearly every one of his lines), he sounds like Frederica Von Stade trying to imitate Paul Robeson. He is totally miscast, and it shows in every scene.

There is also great benefit to the movie-going public that this film will undoubtedly also end or severely limit the career of the director, Roger Christian. How any producer would hire a director whose sole talent seems to be in tipping the camera at an angle no matter what the scene pertains to is beyond me, but then so is how this film managed to get made in the first place.

Another positive is that you will most definitely laugh at the funny parts, but not because they're funny. When Travolta gives his killer lines, you laugh in a stunned disbelief at the sheer audacity of the script writers and Travolta himself that they would even think these lines are funny and worthy of laughter. Thus you wind up laughing at them, even though you try not to, because you don't want the people around you to think that you are so simpleminded as to find amusement in these godawful lines.

One thing, however, that many critics have been carping at is the amazing stupidity of the Psychlos, the aliens who have taken over Earth from us poor humans (or "man-animals"). Travolta's character Terl trains the hero by filling his brain with every damned bit of knowledge the Psychlos have, thus giving him the know-how not only to free the people of Earth, but also to destroy the Psychlo's home planet seemingly within minutes of his acquiring the knowledge. How, the critics howl, could this supposedly superior race have been so stupid? The answer to that question brings out Battlefield Earth's strongest point: never before in the history of cinema has there been such a convincing depiction of ALIEN LOGIC!!! Of course it doesn't make sense to us -- it's ALIEN!!!

The last positive quality about the film is that it will probably quickly disenchant anyone toying with the idea of looking into Scientology, that wild 'n' wacky "religion" developed by L. Ron Hubbard, who wrote the bloated novel that this film is based on (as well as nine others in his SF "dekalogy," which mercifully should never see the light of day after this fiasco). If this stands as the sole film which the love for Hubbard and his odd religion have produced, people should be fleeing Scientology and Dianetics in droves, and that is certainly a positive.

As for other good points, well, gee, I can't really think of any.

[ by Chet Williamson ]

Buy it from