Susan Granger’s review of “BATTLEFIELD EARTH” (Warner Bros.)
THE BACKGROUND AND THE CONTROVERSY: Since 1975, John Travolta has been an outspoken devotee of Scientology, an “applied religious philosophy” that claims to have millions of followers. Travolta credits its founder, L. Ron Hubbard, for all his spiritual and worldly success and fervently believes that Hubbard’s writings, particularly “Dianetics,” contains mankind’s hope for salvation. Hubbard taught that Earthlings are the pawns of aliens. He preached that psychiatry was a timeless evil, that, in a distant galaxy, alien “psychs” devised implants that would ultimately wreck the spiritual progress of humans. The psychs and their “blackened souls” are to blame for sin, violence, and crime. In addition to his religious writing, Hubbard also wrote science-fiction and, for 15 years, Travolta has been trying bring this Hubbard tale to the screen. But Scientology is controversial, teaching that a “suppressive” person deserves no mercy. He may be “tricked, lied to, sued, deprived of property, injured or destroyed by any means by any Scientologist.” A California appeals court called Scientology’s treatment of a member “manifestly outrageous,” awarding him $2.5 million for “serious emotional injury,” a ruling that was twice upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, yet the litigant has never collected. In France, last November, Scientology staff members were convicted of fraud. And a German court ruled that Scientology used “inhuman and totalitarian practices.” Disaffected Scientologists fear that this movie will entice believers and reinforce Hubbard’s anti-psychiatry message. Indeed, in the “New York Daily News,” John Travolta acknowledged his mission saying, “If we can’t do the things now that we want to do, what good is the power? Let’s try to get the things done that we believe in.'”
THE REVIEW: In post-apocalyptic 3000, mankind is an endangered species. Alien Psychlos rule, enslaving the “man-animals” they capture as they strip the planet of its mineral resources. The villainous Terl (John Travolta) is the Psychlo Chief of Security – a huge, snarling, dreadlock’d, fearsome creature. The hero is Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper), a human hunter who leaves his mountain hideout, determined to discover who the demonic Psychlos really are and how to defeat them. Remember “The Postman”? Well, that’s the ambiance – only there’s no Kevin Costner. It’s a mythic good guys vs. bad guys story but Corey Mandell’s screenplay, based on Hubbard’s book, has so many sappy clichŽs and ludicrous, far-fetched loopholes that they incite unintentional laughter. For example, Tyler is a primitive caveman, barely able to communicate, yet he discovers a library and is able to assimilate all its knowledge immediately. He then dupes the Psychlos into believing he’s mining a mountain but substitutes gold bricks from Ft. Knox which, curiously, the ore-hungry Psychlos have never discovered. And, finally, Tyler’s rebellious cohorts from the subterranean dungeons jump into Harrier jets – which have not been serviced in eons – find them full of fuel and fly with precision into a final battle with the Psychlos. So much for believability. Credit the stylish special effects involving art/set direction to first-time feature-film director Roger Christian – that’s his background. But the heavy-handed Christian uses an unusual “center wipe” edit device between every scene, which is distracting and annoying. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Battlefield Earth” is an awful, grim, tedious 2. “Please, I made a mistake,” pleads Forest Whitaker, Travolta’s henchman. But he’s shown no mercy, nor is the audience. As for the allegation that this boring movie will recruit youth – I doubt it!