Judge Patrick Naugle, ever the lover of bad cinema, can't even find it within his heart to give a favorable review to John Travolta's labor of love. Don't let that deter you from reading; it's like driving real slow past a car wreck.
Scientology's finest hour.
Right now you're waiting for me to give some scathing jab to Battlefield Earth. "Go ahead, Judge Patrick, rip into it like the critics did last summer" you say. Dear friends, I will do no such thing. This movie took more lumps than Bill Gates signing up for wrestling in jr. high. Many days upon weeks upon months of manpower went into making this epic, and I shall not diminish its memory by tearing down work that someone cradled, nurtured and loved. How would you like it if I looked at your darling newborn baby and said, "Someone must have thought your gene pool was the crapper," then laughed maniacally in your face? Wouldn't be very pleasant, would it?
Then again, neither is Battlefield Earth.
All right, enough with the pleasantries. You know you have a stinker the size of Texas on your hands when the best review quote they could find for the box was "…great scene transitions and some of the better special effects of the year…"
Facts of the Case
The year is 3000. The human race is on the verge of becoming extinct due to the fact that the "Psychlos" have taken over and generally pissed everyone off by enslaving man and taking a great big wizz on our home planet. See, the Psychlos need precious metals that come from the earth. When they find them they transport them back to their home planet of Psychlo to make giant Volkswagens or some weird project (noooo, I'm not making any of this up). The Psychlos are led on Earth by the evil and unbelievably unfunny Trel (played with head shaking embarrassment by John "I need a drink" Travolta). Trel is scary and frightening in the same way that Tammy Faye Baker is. Trel has a sidekick in the form of Ker (played by Forest Whitaker who looks like he wandered in from a biopic of Bob Marley). Everything on earth is going great until they capture Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper of Saving Private Ryan). Jonnie is a rebel…the leader of the pack, so to speak. He thinks that the human race can take back the planet and beat the Psychlos. Jonnie also lives in a cave and doesn't' wash his hair, so it's not surprising when his peers question his motives.
From here I'm going to be honest in saying I don't know what the hell is going on. I know that Trel thinks these "man-animals" can be trained. He sets up some scam to blackmail some other Psychlos and some double crossing happens. Johnnie is captured, then escapes, then captured, then escapes…this seems to happen quite a bit, yet Trel lets him live. The Psychlos have overtaken thousands of planets, yet they are stupid enough to let the one troublemaking human live. The spirit of Ed Wood lives on.
The movie veers towards lunacy, a rebellion happens, Trel and the Psychlos get their just dessert and, of course, some nice scene transitions happen. Roll end credits while the audience downs some Advil.
Errr…there's good stuff to say about Battlefield Earth? Umm…lemme see…the DVD itself is a picture disc. And there are end credits.
See, I can spot the good in everything if I try.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Yes, this movie sucked donkey balls. I'm not going to beat around the bush. Battlefield Earth is bad in a very grand, dazzling sort of way; like when you see a clown, a set of stairs, and a banana peel all merging together as one. You know it's a disaster in the making, but one that will be of fantastic proportions. Years from now, when such films as The Adventures Of Ford Fairlane and The Postman are being raked over hot coals by new "Mystery Science Theater 3000" fans, Battlefield Earth will undoubtedly be the crown jewel in their collection. John Travolta is immediately granted a lifelong membership into the "What The Hell Were They Thinking?" Club for this vanity project. The plot, the characters, the dialogue, the effects…oh, such perverse pleasure you'll reap watching this horrific train wreck.
Travolta's character Trel is one of the worst sci-fi (or any genre) villains ever to grace the silver screen. First off, if you're going to play a villain, at least have some menacing qualities. You'd think that Harrison Ford, purveyor of playing the good guy in every film he does, wouldn't be able to pull of a bad guy in Robert Zemeckis' What Lies Beneath. But he actually pulls it off. This can't be said of Travolta. The first problem is that every other line sounds like some corny zinger out of an EC Comics story. It's the year 3000, this is (apparently) a master alien race, and the only thing Trel can think of to make fun of Jonnie is to call him "rat-brain"? Not only that, but he calls him "rat-brain" over and over again. The first time is forgivable, but what screenwriter thought this would be amusing multiple times? (Oh wait, I can look on the DVD case and point blame…this is all Corey Mandell and JD Shapiro's fault.) Travolta also seems to lack understanding in emoting. Everything is said with sadistic anger. Even the worst villain, to be effective, must show more than one emotion. Travolta can be good in his Michael/Pulp Fiction roles…but this, John, is way out of your league. Stick to Look Who's Talking 6: It's The Grandkids!. The rest of the cast is just as bad, but that's not really their fault. When you're given a script as distasteful as this, you're pretty much screwed. Forest Whitaker looks dazed and confused as Ker, Pepper is peppy and annoying as Jonnie, and the rest are just plain boring.
And how 'bout we talk about the script. Battlefield Earth is based on the best-selling book by Scientology (*snicker snicker*) founder L. Ron Hubbard. Apparently, the book is one of the biggest science fiction bestsellers ever. How ironic that it would initiate the worst science fiction film ever made. Warner says that "Battlefield Earth creates a totally new style of science fiction filmmaking." What, with shoddy effects and a lazy script? Sorry Warner, but this has definitely been done before. The film has nothing new to offer the genre (aliens come to earth to mine our resources and we must fight back!!) and the script is about as tight as John Goodman's pants on Kate Moss. The end sequences are especially sloppy…flipping from one fight sequence to another with no real coherence. Director Roger Christian should be forced to direct 1-800-COLLECT commercials for the rest of his life for such shambled direction. And the dialogue…Lord, I don't even know where to start. All I can say is there wasn't one word that came out of Travolta's mouth that didn't make me laugh (and that's not a compliment). Trel, in anger, yells at Ker "What kind of crap lousy game are you playing?" Crap lousy game? Were the screenwriters occupied by booze and porn when they were writing this?
Finally (don't think I'm finished…just cutting it short), there is the makeup. As time passes and movies become more sophisticated, doesn't it seem obvious that if you're going to make a sci-fi flick, make the aliens at least neat to look at…try for something we haven't seen? If nothing else, Battlefield Earth could have had some interesting extraterrestrials to look at. Instead the aliens in Battlefield Earth have Jamaican dreadlocks, yellow eyes and werewolf hands. My 5th grade Halloween costume looked better than that. A collective Three Stooges slap for all the makeup people behind Battlefield Earth.
Battlefield Earth is presented in its original 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen format, and I actually have good things to say about it. Although the film is shot in drab blues and yellows, there is nary a grain or speck to be found. No digital artifacting, no edge enhancement…nothing to distort the picture. Everything looks crisp and clean. The audio is equally as good. Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and DTS, there was no distortion of dialogue, the music and sound effects are mixed well and the bass was loud and booming. Other sci-fi films could take a lesson from Battlefield Earth (on JUST the sound and picture, please)!
For supplements Warner has been very generous with Battlefield Earth. First director Roger Christian and production designer Patrick Tatopolous give us a commentary. One nugget to learn: Christian worked on the original Star Wars. He must be hanging his head very, very low these days. Most of the track is based on technical work and how they did certain effects. Christian says that they had $9 million for effects on Battlefield Earth. After it's dismal release, I'd have thought that at least seven of it would have gone towards vodka and sleeping pills.
A behind-the-scenes documentary entitled "Evolution and Creation" is next and it's a general documentary including interviews with the director, stars and effects people. There's also a lot of shots and scenes from the movie (as if you didn't get enough when you were watching the film itself). Overall a relatively thorough documentary on a relatively empty film. Enjoy!
Next up are Travolta's make-up tests, which is sort of an evolution of Trel's look and the general look of the Psychlos. The storyboard montage consists of storyboards and scenes from the film edited together and then shown with some dance music in the background. The creative visual effects feature is a small documentary on the visual effects (spaceships, explosions, et cetera) and doesn't last very long.
Finally there are some general trailers and TV spots for the film, along with a little plug for Hubbard's original "Battlefield Earth" novel (and thank God not a word is mentioned about "Dianetics"). Also included are some annoying hidden menus which are just quick 30 second snippets of behind-the-scenes footage, plus some web links (did you know that Battlefield Earth actually has two official websites? How sad).
Lambasted in theaters, despised by critics and audiences alike, Battlefield Earth is one embarrassment of a film. But, in its defense, I have compiled a small list of A-stars that critics and audiences love who have done some of their own Battlefield Earths:
Tom Hanks—The Bonfire Of The Vanities
Kevin Costner—The Postman
Julia Roberts—I Love Trouble
Harrison Ford—Six Days, Seven Nights
Billy Crystal—City Slickers II: The Legend Of Curley's Gold
See John, it's not so bad. As for the DVD, it is packed with a lot of extras. If you like your punishment dished out in large doses, this disc is for you. The transfer is good, the audio is good, the film…well, we won't go there again. For the price of around 15-20 bucks, it's…well, it's still not worth it. Rent it first (unless, of course, you are a follower of Scientology. Then you are probably forced to watch it every Sunday until you die).
Found innocent on account of having good scene transitions. Free to go because we all need someone to pick on and laugh at as the years go by…
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary Track
Review content copyright © 2001 Patrick Naugle; Site design and review layout copyright © 2016 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.