Battlefield Earth

Battlefield Earth has been lambasted by critics all-around, but I found it to be a decent pulpy sci-fi time killer.

The plot is convoluted, typical of works by L. Ron Hubbard (the author of the novel that this film is based on). In the year 3000, humanity has pretty much gone back to the stone-age after losing a war with an alien race, the Psychlos from the planet Psychlo. The Psychlos are busy mining the earth for gold (for what?), headed by the evil Terl (John Travolta) and Ker (Forest Whitaker). It is up to one human, Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper), to save the last of human kind from extinction.

The movie starts off pretty badly, and it's easy to see why someone can be lost and never come back. The dialogue and exaggerated laughter at the beginning is forced. Travolta, who's a great actor, is constantly barking out bad lines at the top of his voice. It is as though he is trying to pull off an over-the-top performance (which he has managed to do in films like Face/Off) but isn't quite sure how best to do it. Pepper isn't the greatest actor and he doesn't have the screen presence and charisma to command the lead role. However, once the movie goes through its paces and the aliens and humans start fighting, then the action is constant and keeps the film interesting, albeit derivative.

The best part of the movie is that it doesn't take itself too seriously (I think--it's still funny in any event). The scenes where Terl sets Jonnie and his companions loose in the Rocky Mountains and predicts that they are in search of their favourite food are hilarious. In general, the alien arrogance and the human self-righteousness is exploited for a lot of laughs. The amusing thing is that aliens portrayed are really depictions of human beings today. The movie is at times reminiscent of The Matrix (the scene where Jonnie is running in slow motion with concrete shattering around him in gunfire), Star Wars (the plane fight scene), and, of course, Planet of the Apes (aliens ruling earth). There's not much to say about the acting, but the special effects once in a while do end up being impressive. The sound track, like the rest of the film, has its moments but is mostly way too over-the-top.

The connection between anything in the film and the Cult, er, Church of Scientology is tenuous at best. Sure, Hubbard was the person to dive into the implant, emerge victorious, and went on to share how he did it by founding Scientology. Sure, Scientology's crazy obfuscated cosmic tenets (i.e, such as the kind outlined the Operating Thetan, Section 3 (OT III)) have some parallel to the obfuscation in the film (and the novel). Sure, Travolta, who produces and stars in this film is a Scientologist. But this is not Scientology propaganda by any means. If it were, almost every other other cheesy sci-fi film could be accused of the same thing.

I definitely will check out the sequel. Battlefield Earth is worth the matinee fare (even if it is only to see the one scene where Terl hilariously misidentifies the favourite food of the humans), but I'd skip renting it. Be prepared to check your brain at the door.

Movie ram-blings || Ram Samudrala ||