Battlefield Earth


Directed by: Roger Christian
Written by:L. Ron Hubbard, Cory Mandell
Starring: John Travolta, Barry Pepper, Forest Whitaker, Kim Coates
Released: September 28, 2000
Grade: C+

It was impossible to give this film a fair chance given the reviews that preceded it from the United States.  Here’s some examples: "A million monkeys with a million crayons would be hard-pressed in a million years to create anything as pretentious as Battlefield Earth." (Washington Post),  "A bloated sci-fi monstrosity...we are now spared the sleepless nights of wondering which gobbler will dominate the next Razzie Awards for worst turkey of the year." (Toronto Star),  "[The script is] deeply dumb, depressingly derivative." (USA Today), and "In the post-apocalyptic adventure genre, Battlefield Earth makes Waterworld look like a masterpiece." (Los Angeles Times).

Where do I start?  It’s based on a best-selling novel by L. Ron Hubbard that has quite a cult following.  The problem with the film is not the storyline.  In fact, there were moments I enjoyed which showed particular strength in the screenplay.  It may be similar to the standard sci-fi thriller about saving mankind from alien domination but at least it was mildly amusing.

What is severely lacking is any direction and help from the cast whatsoever.  Roger Christian has turned in one of the worst directing efforts I have been forced to witness.  The action scenes are edited very quickly which is annoying for two reasons: (1) you can’t really see or understand what is going on, and (2) it’s a cheap way to cut corners.  For example, when a guy’s head was blown off, the camera cuts away just as it’s about to happen and we see nothing.

The special effects are mind-blowingly unspectacular.  I’ve seen Playstation games with better graphics.  The first scene we see of the big dome and it’s enclosure is clearly a model and it’s a wonder how a film costing $73m could use such mediocre effects.  Every shot I saw of an alien transport vessel was yet another reminder of the distraction the effects provided.

Why John Travolta was cast I will never know.  Paying his standard $20m seems pointless given he’s hardly recognisable with make up on and that goes for the whole cast.  Clearly he is used as the big-name drawcard appearing on posters and TV ads to lure the customer in.  Based on its performance in the U.S., few people were sucked in.  The film made $11m in the first 3 days of release before finishing with a grand total of $21m.  That is a big loss.

Battlefield Earth is a sad tale where everything went wrong.  It’s like a 500 piece jigsaw puzzle with 490 pieces missing.  I think for everyone’s sake (especially Travolta’s) we’ll all just forget this ever happened and never speak of it again.