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"BATTLEFIELD EARTH"
(2000) (John Travolta, Barry Pepper) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Sci-fi: A thousand years into the future, a small band of humans tries to overthrow the vicious and ruthless alien race that's all but exterminated them from Earth.
PLOT:
It's the year 3000, Earth has been ravished and nearly all of mankind has been exterminated by a vicious alien race known as the Psychlos. Nonetheless, small tribes of what have essentially become primitive humans have survived outside the now long since decimated urban centers. In one such tribe, a hunter, Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (BARRY PEPPER), doesn't believe in the mythology supported by the others and thinks that there has to be a better life somewhere out there in the world. As such, he leaves his mate, Chrissie (SABINE KARSENTI), and sets out to find it.

Instead, Jonnie and another man, Carlo (KIM COATES), are captured by the Psychlos in an ancient city and transported to the human processing center in the Dome, a large structure inhabited by the alien race. There, he discovers that the Psychlos have captured many other humans and use them as slave labor. He also eventually meets Terl (JOHN TRAVOLTA), the corrupt Chief of Security who's happy to be getting off what he considers a miserable excuse for a planet and handing the post over to his assistant, Ker (FOREST WHITAKER).

Unbeknownst to Terl, who has a knack for blackmailing most everyone he knows, he's been ordered to stay on Earth for another fifty cycles, something that angers him to no end. In response, Terl decides to get his revenge on his superiors by not reporting Ker's earlier discovery of gold veins in the Rocky Mountains and instead hoarding the valuable metal for himself.

Of course, he needs to keep his plan secret from District Manager Zete (MICHAEL MICREA) and thus decides to use human, and not Psychlo laborers to mine the ore. Believing most humans to be nothing more than animals, Terl handpicks a select few he wishes to educate and thus enable them to operate the related machinery.

Little does he know, however, that by educating Jonnie, he's setting into motion a series of events that will forever change life on Earth. From that point on, it becomes a battle of wills and smarts between Terl and Jonnie as each tries to achieve what's best for themselves.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
Back in the midst of "The Big '80s," the Austin duo of Pat and Barbara Kooyman MacDonald (a.k.a. Timbuk 3) released their version of a one-hit wonder, "The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades." According to many futurists and filmmakers who create views of what's to become of life on this third rock from the sun, however, the future is a great deal more overcast.

From the not so joyous 30th birthday parties in "Logan's Run" to the roving fuel hogs of the "Road Warrior" films, and from the watery environs of "Waterworld," to the artificial intelligence takeover of the "Terminator" pictures and the world turned upside down scenario in the "Planet of the Apes" films, it seems that we don't have a lot of hope for the future of humankind.

Of course, that's just the starting point for such stories, and the cinematic adaptation of L. Ron Hubbard's 1982 novel, "Battlefield Earth," is yet another one where things don't look that great at the beginning. Like nearly all of those other bleak future films, however, this one also features a lone hero who initially sets out to save his own skin, but ultimately helps out others in the same condition, overthrows the oppressors and ultimately sets into motion the makings for a better, and seemingly optimistic future for himself and his new friends.

While many of those films worked quite well in the past in portraying a post apocalyptic future, and this one has some of the same potential, it immediately starts off bad and becomes progressively worse and preposterously stupid the further along it proceeds.

For starters, and beyond it following the basic plotline of its doomed future predecessors, the story - adapted from Hubbard's novel by screenwriter Corey Mandell (this is his first produced screenplay) - lacks the necessary dramatic depth and buildup for this sort of picture and simply isn't convincing either in its set-up or later development.

Of course, it doesn't get much credibility support from the costume department as John Travolta and his fellow nine-foot tall aliens look like a bad cross between the restyled Klingons from "Star Trek" and the platform shoe wearing members of the rock group KISS from their heyday in the 1970s.

In fact, those platform shoes - necessary to boost Travolta and the other actors in altitude - make the performers look like they're walking around on stilts or even stiletto heels. As such, they teeter and lumber about as they walk, thus eliminating the possibility of any true chase scenes (which then robs any moments of "pursuit" of much needed momentum and urgency).

The result of all of that, as well as the typical return of the near prehistoric look for the humans, immediately gives the film a huge dose of hokeyness that never dissipates during its nearly two hour runtime. In addition, many of the film's special effects look fake - most notably those occurring early on, especially some city skylines that look too much like matte paintings instead of the real thing - and that certainly doesn't help the film's credibility factor.

What little of that precious commodity that's left is completely eliminated by later developments that are so preposterous it's shocking they were included in a major release. As I've stated many times before, films can obviously exist in their own universe, but they must still abide by the rules existing within such a setting.

While one can accept that it's the year 3000 and that an alien race has wiped out most of mankind, it's, oh, just a "little" harder to buy into what the film then tries to force feed the audience later in the proceedings. Specifically, that's when the humans discover an ancient military installation that just so happens to be fully stocked with military gear, including a full squadron of Harrier jets.

Although it's possible, but not likely, that such weaponry wasn't used in the humans' last-ditch effort to defend their world eons ago, it's preposterous to think that the jets, machine guns and walkie-talkies would still work after a thousand or so years. If battery companies and defense contractors were still around in that day and age, you could bet they'd be using such "antiques" as testimonials for their products ("It keeps going and going - for a thousand years!").

But wait, it only gets better. Topping the similar stupidity found in "Independence Day" where everyday folk learned how to fly and operate jet fighters, this film has the audacity to suggest that what are essentially prehistoric hunters could participate in dogfights with advanced alien spacecraft - flying the difficult to maneuver Harrier Jets, no less - after just one week of training via a discovered and still operational flight simulator. A film like "The Matrix" can get away with something like that due to its unique setup of knowledge being instantly "downloaded" into one's brain (and thus evokes a cool Keanu Reeves type "Whoa" response from the viewer), but here it only comes off as lazy and sloppy filmmaking.

While such nonsense might appeal to some viewers who've yet to graduate from middle school, it just won't cut it with the average moviegoer. From the start, the film teeters on the edge of having the audience turn on it at any given moment due to its general inanity, but once such vapid absurdity takes over, the picture loses all hope of being taken seriously even in the most remote fashion.

Whereas at least "ID4" had Will Smith and a lot of gung-ho spirit going for it, director Roger Christian ("Masterminds," "Nostradamus") can't manage to instill any semblance of that in this film. While the ending at least puts a little action into the proceedings (notwithstanding the aforementioned problems), the film's pacing is all off and never gets the audience involved in the plot, and Christian's weird, tilted camera angles don't add much of anything to the experience.

Of course, a great deal of that's due in part to seeing the likes of John Travolta ("The General's Daughter," "A Civil Action") and Forest Whitaker ("Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai," "Phenomenon") dressed up in the guise of those silly looking aliens. Spouting dialogue as hokey as their getups, the performers can't do anything with their roles. Among the humans, only Barry Pepper ("The Green Mile," "Enemy of the State") is given a substantial character, but he likewise can't do much to instill some life into it. When one thinks of apocalyptic films like this, the images of Charlton Heston and Mel Gibson and their larger than life characters come to mind. Unfortunately, Pepper doesn't have a chance of joining those ranks.

The same holds true for the film. Silly, listless and absurd when it should have been serious, riveting and more than capable of getting the viewer's adrenaline pumping, the picture is quite easily one of the biggest misfires of the new millennium. If this is the "bright" future of filmmaking, I want to borrow those sunglasses from Timbuk 3 so that I don't have to witness any more of it. The laughably bad "Battlefield Earth" rates as just a 2 out of 10.




Reviewed May 9, 2000 / Posted May 12, 2000


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