2000 - PG-13 - 118 Mins.
|Director: Roger Christian
|Producer: Jonathan D. Krane, Elie Samaha and John Travolta
|Written By: Corey Mandell and J. David Shapiro
|Starring: John Travolta, Barry Pepper, Forest Whitaker, Kim Coates and Sabine Karsenti
|Review by: Bill King
Just how was I supposed to hate a movie that made me laugh so much? "Battlefield Earth" (2000) is so bad in so many areas that the only reason I wasn't bored or frustrated was because this movie is hilarious. Not in an intentional way, but accidental. I suppose some of the scenes were meant to be funny, but most of the time I wasn't sure. I just laughed aloud too many times to care. With absurd dialogue, cheesy costumes and unintentional laughs, the movie could become a cult classic in the tradition of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," albeit without song and dance. Only time will tell.
The year is 3000, which is 1000 years after earth has been conquered by an alien race called the Psychlos (and I suppose their neighbors are called the Tornadoes). Humans are an endangered species, and they are no longer an advanced race, but a scattered group of people who live like the apocalyptic tribe in "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome." Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper) doesn't believe in the existence of the aliens, and he sets out on a quest to find out for himself. After encountering a miniature golf course and smacking a dragon statue with a golf club, he meets two allies, who take Jonnie to a nuked city. They are captured by the aliens, and are taken to Denver, which is housed inside a giant glass dome.
The Psychlo security chief is Terl (John Travolta), and his very appearance inspires laughter, but wait until he speaks. His laugh is wickedly funny, his voice is high-pitched and his attitude is so optimistic, so naive, that I just accepted him for what he appeared to be: a loony bad guy just waiting to be squashed. His behavior is hard to describe, because I've never seen a character like him. He's evil, but not like a James Bond villain, and he's not a one-note maniacal dictator. The closest recent villain I can compare Terl to is Clown from "Spawn" (1997). Both are villains so original, yet so perversely likable that I couldn't wait for their next scene.
Terl comes up with an illegal plan to use humans (AKA man-animals) for mining. He wants to turn Jonnie into the miners' leader so that he can go about his business back in Denver. Terl forces Jonnie to use a learning machine, so that he can learn the Psychlo language, but he also learns their history, their technology, their weaknesses and so on. With his new-found knowledge, Jonnie organizes a revolt to overthrow his oppressors.
That sounds vaguely like the outline of "Conquest of the Planet of the Apes," but by turning Jonnie into an intelligent human, by teaching him how to read and break free, there's a hint of "The Secret of NIMH" present. The movie also borrows left and right from other movies. There are traces of "Star Trek," "Independence Day," "The Matrix" and even Stephen King's "The Stand."
The movie's problems continue to build. Jonnie wants to fool Terl by breaking into Fort Knox to steal the gold, and give it to Terl to create the impression of mining, when they're really planning a revolt. The gold has dust that measures a few millimeters, but never mind that. When Jonnie gives the gold to Terl, Terl asks why they are bars and not ore. The tone of his voice caused me to laugh. Jonnie gives his reply. I laughed again. I didn't hear Terl's reply.
There's another absurd scene, in which the humans have seven days to learn how to fly jets, which have been sitting in hangars for 1000 years and are still in perfect condition. Needless to say, the humans learn how to fly them via simulator. Then there's the dogfight between jets and alien ships. What else made me laugh? How about Terl's secretary, who looked like Divine from "Pink Flamingos." I kept wondering when this movie was going to get serious.
That never happened, and in a way, I was glad. I was having a good time, and I didn't want the momentum to stop. The repartées between Terl and Ker (Forest Whitaker) are extremely funny, as they attempt to blackmail each other to gain power. I could see that both Travolta and Whitaker were having fun in their roles. Travolta produced the movie, based on the novel by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. I don't know how the book handled this material, but I'm glad the movie turned out the way it did, sort of. "Battlefield Earth" is great fun if you're in the mood. After enduring the awful "Ready to Rumble" from the same year, and countless other comedies that try to be funny and fail, I welcomed this film with open arms. It's one of those "so-bad-it's-funny" kinds of movies.