AAAAAAAAGHHHH! MY EYES! IT BURNS! IT BURNS!
When I go to hell (and I will), I’ll find myself in the circle of the damned reserved for film critics. It will consist of a 100-screen multiplex where the popcorn is perpetually three days old and the only soda left is Diet Pepsi. Eternally playing will be “Life Is Beautiful”, “The Other Sister”, “Wild, Wild West”, “The General’s Daughter”, and the short films of Peter Greenaway. Consuming the remainder of the screens will be the Kevin Smith/Joel Schumacher film festival. Well, all except one. That theater is reserved for “Battlefield Earth”.
Where do I even begin? As bad as you may think this movie is going to be, it’s far, far worse. In an act of career suicide neither Marlon Brando nor Mickey Rourke could conceive of, John Travolta has managed to burn through any good will and probably every favor he’s earned since his comeback. Ed Wood never made a film this bad. Hell, Joel Schumacher never made a film this bad, not even among his last three (“Batman and Robin”, “8MM”, “Flawless”). I never thought I’d see a sci-fi flick this year that would be worse than “Supernova”, but I’m man enough to admit when I’m wrong.
I never read the original book, written by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Church of Scientology, whose members include Travolta and his wife, Kelly Preston. The movie opens in the year 3000. What’s left of mankind has reverted back nearly to the stone age after Earth was conquered by an alien race called the Psychlos in a 21st century war lasting all of 9 minutes. The Psychlos look like Klingons but their actions, culture, and dental work are strictly Ferengi. By the time of this film, Earth is nothing more than a backwater mining colony to them. Humans are used for either slave labor or target practice.
Now one guy, Johnny “Good Boy” Tyler (Barry Pepper), gets a little bored of life with his cave-dwelling tribe. Having never previously seen the planet’s oppressors, he makes out for the big city. He’s in for an education.
On the other side, the planet’s chief of security, Terl (rhymes with hurl, played by John Travolta) is more than a little restless. He can’t get assigned off Earth after screwing the wrong guy’s daughter. He does have the secret location of a previously unknown gold streak, as well as the stupidest plan ever conceived in recent cinema without the aid of either Jim Carrey or Michæl Rappaport. With the aid of the steepest learning curve ever witnessed in any movie, Johnny just might be able to fly through the enormous plot holes and rescue his people.
The way I see it, we have two major problems here (other than the star): the story and the director. There are so many unbelievable elements here, the movie can’t linger on one before it has to move on the next one. First, it’s hard to believe that a society as corrupt, conniving, and deceitful as the Psychlos could ever get off their own planet, much less invade ours. These characteristics may have helped the Nazis rise to power in Germany, but these elements carried into their power structure to where they prevented the development of jet planes, ballistic missiles, and probably nuclear weapons in time to win the war.
The Psychlos also seem to have only one base on Earth, with nothing in orbit, leaving them dangerously vulnerable. The humans, on the other hand, despite centuries of technology around the level of, say, FIRE, seem able to cram their way up to the information age in a matter of days. This comes in handy when they find a secret military base, apparently untouched for nearly 900 years, where all the weapons work better than they could have when they were new. Getting the idea?
Long a personal pet project of the “Pulp Fiction” star, I had presumed that Barbarino failed to attract an A-list director to the film due to the Scientology connection. Little did I know the real culprit was the script, which resulted in the single most implausible piece of trash to haunt the multiplex, possibly ever. How far down the list did Travolta slide? Did Joel Schumacher turn it down? Did Stephen Hopkins (“Lost in Space”, “Blown Away”)? How about Zalman King (“9 1/2 Weeks”, “Red Shoe Diaries”)? Did Charles Band (“Trancers”, “Dollman vs. Demonic Toys”) get a shot? Eventual director Roger Christian’s greatest claims to fame are the barely released Patrick Stewart film, “Masterminds” and acting as second-unit director on “The Phantom Menace”. Having acted as art director on “Alien” and set director on the original “Star Wars”, he must have wanted the chance to direct a bug budget science fiction film in the worst way, and that’s just what he got. His feeble response to this challenge was to generically ape every major sci-fi film of the last 30 years, from “Planet of the Apes” to “The Matrix”. Worse still, despite however many millions were spent on this atrocity, it never looks that much better than one of Charles Band’s direct-to-video opus for Full Moon.
Am I getting my message across to you? I’m concerned that many of you might check out the movie anyway in the mistaken belief that it’s so bad, it’s funny. Nuh-uh. While the Zucker brothers might be able to direct an “Airplane!”-style parody using the exact same screenplay, THIS version is just plain bad. DO NOT contribute to the opening weekend gross. DO NOT contribute to the glory of a certain pseudo-religion. More importantly, DO NOT contribute to John Travolta’s dementia. Films like this only get made when ONE lunatic rises to a position of power where no one else is willing or able to call him on his folly. The studio may have been too chicken-shit to point it out, but I’m willing to say the emperor has no clothes. Doesn’t seem to have any marbles left, either.