BATTLEFIELD EARTH - 2000
Morgan Creek Productions
Ratings: Argentina, Spain: 13 / Australia: M / Canada: PG / Chile: 14 / Denmark, Norway, & Sweden: 15 / Finland: K-12 / France:
U / Germany & Switzerland: 16 / Hong Kong: IIA / New Zealand: M / UK: 12 / USA: PG-13
I have two words about this movie before we get into the details:
BATTLEFIELD EARTH stars John Travolta (THE DEVILS RAIN, CARRIE) and his ego (SWORDFISH, THE GENERAL'S DAUGHTER) as Terl, a member of an alien race known as the Psychlo. Travolta also served as producer. It was written by Corey
Mandell and J. David Shapiro and directed by Roger Christian (THE FINAL CUT). As is well known and much discussed, the movie is based on a book by Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. Travolta's sad devotion to that ancient religion is . . . never mind.
The story opens with a day in the life of Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper: THE GREEN MILE). No, he's not a football hero. Instead, he is a primitive member of a tribe
of hunter-gatherers living in the mountains of what turns out to be Colorado.
The tribal religion is based around a legend about how humanity once ruled
the planet but because of our sinful behavior a race of demons came down
and destroyed our cities. These demons still roam the Earth and the tribe
lives where it does because these people have been in hiding for generations.
"Bah!" says Jonnie. "Superstitious bushwah!" He jumps on his horse and heads for the horizon, much to the consternation of his tribe. Our boy Jonnie quickly discovers the ruins of an ancient city and some more tribes of barbarians. They all have the same legend, which gives him pause, but he's too tough to let it show until he and his new friends meet an actual demon.
The 10 foot tall Rastafarian-looking monster is a Psychlo, the alien race that conquered
Earth 1000 years ago. He takes Jonnie and his friends prisoner and brings
them to the Psychlo mining colony to work as slave labor. Who's laughing
now, Mr. Jonnie know-it-all?
The Psychlo are here to mine. They use "man-animal" slaves and Psychlo workers
to mine metals (mostly gold), which are teleported back to the Psychlo homeworld. That being said you get the impression
that they sure went to a lot of trouble (conquering Earth) to establish a pretty puny mine. They just have the one
location and a relatively small workforce, thus leaving Earth's vast mineral
wealth (we haven't come close to mining it out - don't let anyone tell you different) practically untouched. If
they only had the resources for a single mining operation, why isn't it
in South Africa, where most of Earth's gold is located? Didn't they do
Jonnie manages to steal a gun from and shoot a guard, then make a break for it. His luck
runs out when he runs into Terl (Travolta), head of security. Terl smacks Jonnie around (something
he does again and again throughout the movie) and demands to know
how this "man-animal" got loose. When told that Jonnie shot
a guard, Terl doesn't believe it. A man-animal who can operate a gun?
Ridiculous! He hands Jonnie a gun and much to Terl's amusement Jonnie
shoots another guard.
Still laughing about the funny dead guards, Terl attends a meeting with a representative
from the home office. Terl is under the impression that he is about to
be promoted off this horrible planet and into a cushy job back on Psychlo.
I think we all see where this is going. It turns out a vengeful Senator
who's daughter had an improper encounter with Terl has seen to it that
Terl will remain on Earth till he's old and whatever color Psychlo's turn
when they get old. This is a big disappointment to Terl and to Ker (Forrest
Whitaker: SPECIES), Terl's assistant,
because Ker thought he was about to be promoted into Terl's job.
This also illustrates a Hollywood science fiction staple taken to its extreme. In
more movies than I care to remember the bad guys are part of an uncaring,
environmentally incorrect, greedy, evil corporation. Here, the entire
Psychlo civilization is a monolithic evil corporation. The Psychlo are
ready and willing to sacrifice everything, including the lives of both
slaves and Psychlo workers, for more profit and they care nothing for
the effect their mining has on the environment (which actually isn't much, given it's small scale as discussed above).
Psychlo society is male dominated and the only female Psychlo's are shown
as secretaries / sex-toys. The Psychlo are as politically incorrect as
they can be.
In other words the Psychlo represent the way most Hollywood writers think all corporations
actually are. Why is Hollywood so anti-business, when most people involved
in it are millionaires thanks to huge movie-making corporations? My theory
is that they're all communists. But it's just a theory.
Terl doesn't give up that easy, of course. The discovery of a new gold deposit inspires
Terl to steal it all for himself and buy his way back to the homeworld.
He can't use Psychlo workers for this job because there's also a uranium
deposit nearby and Psychlos are very sensitive to radiation (a
plot point which becomes critical later), which normally would
mean he's out of luck, but Jonnie's proficiency with the gun leads Terl
to believe man-animals just might be smart enough to run mining machinery.
There is a well-done transition between the Psychlos speaking their unintelligible
language in front of humans, the Psychlos speaking to each other, and
the moment Jonnie begins understanding them after Terl puts him in a learning
machine. The machine teaches Jonnie more than the language and by the
time he steps out he understands all manner of advanced topics. Will it
be enough to plan a rebellion?
Before I pretend not to answer that question, how about a quick
There's a long list of things wrong with the science in this movie but
the worst offense has to do with a strange gas (only referred to as "breath gas") that makes up a sizable
portion of the Psychlo homeworld's atmosphere and that the Psychlo's will
die without. This gas also explodes if exposed to radiation, which makes
you wonder how the hell the homeworld has survived. Is it located in some
magical area of space free of cosmic rays? In the billions of years it
must have existed did a uranium-bearing meteorite never fall? And never
once did any of the Psychlo's enemies ever think to exploit this incredible
Also, I must mention that for a millennia old star faring civilization, the Psychlo technology
isn't that impressive. Their weapons, computers, aircraft, etc. are just
variations on existing technology, leaving me wondering what their tech
was like 1000 years ago when they conquered Earth.
I mentioned lowered expectations earlier and I certainly had them going in. This movie
has a reputation for being really bad and it is. The 10 foot tall Psychlo's
get most of their height from the most ridiculous stilt boots. Travolta's
make-up is impressive but the effect is ruined in the wide shots by the
silly boots and his obvious gut. And his performance combined with the
many, many plot holes makes this . . . a fun movie. I was laughing my
ass off! Not the reaction they were going for, true, but a good time is
a good time. I give BATTLEFIELD EARTH three negative shriek girls.
copyright 2000 E.C.McMullen Jr.
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