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BATTLEFIELD EARTH

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: John Travolta, Barry Pepper, Forest Whitaker, Kim Coates, Richard Tyson, Kelly Preston
Director: Roger Christian
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Widescreen 2.35:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 119 Minutes
Release Date: January 16, 2001

Film *

Battlefield Earth actually marks a crucial point for me as a film reviewer. It is the first review I have written for this site where I have given my lowest rating for a movie. There have been many movies I have loathed much more than this, but this just happens to be the first one.

Battlefield Earth seemed destined for trouble right from the get go. Even before its release, many were predicting that it would fail miserably, and would easily become more of a bad movie debacle than such films as Waterworld, The Postman, and Wild Wild West, though I easily find those three to be better by comparison, especially The Postman, which I felt was unfairly panned. What makes the case of Battlefield Earth worse is the fact that itís star and co-producer, John Travolta, is one of my top five all time favorite actors, and I canít bare to see him fail any more miserably than he has here. He reportedly fought long and hard to bring this film to the screen. Travolta is a student of Scientology, and L. Ron Hubbard, who was the founder of Scientology, wrote the original novel of Battlefield Earth back in 1980. Judging from that bit of information, this was Travoltaís sole reason for working so hard to get this film made.

The movie ended up being every movie criticís worst nightmare, and it died in theaters no less than two weeks after its release. Despite the movieís enormous failure both at the box office and with critics, Travolta has already announced that he would like to make a sequel. I respect Mr. Travolta on all accounts, but if he wants to do a sequel, he should definitely avoid doing a sequel to this film and instead, reprise his roles from one of his much better films, like Get Shorty and The Generalís Daughter, which were also based on novels. Since this film has already become the butt of bad movie jokes, Mr. Travolta should stray from attempting to make a franchise out of Battlefield Earth, because I can assure you, the franchise is already dead and rotten.

Travolta does what he can do in this movie, and is actually one of the more interesting elements of Battlefield Earth. He plays the filmís villain named Terl, who is the leader of an alien race known as the Psychlos, who have conquered earth and have turned the remaining earthlings into slaves. The movie takes place in the year 3000, and the Psychlos have controlled earth for the last century. Terl has long been the Alien Chief of Security, but is desperate for a transfer off Earth. When his superiors inform him that he will be kept to run Earth for another 50 cycles, Terl loses his nerve, and plans a heist of gold so that he can buy his way off the planet. In order to pull this off, Terl orders than man-animals, as humans are dubbed by the Psychlos, should be trained for man labor and retrieve the gold for him. For this task, his primary slave is Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper), who hatches his own secret plan to rebel against the Psychlos and to take back the planet.

Hubbardís novel may have been written more than twenty years ago, and the movie had been made at that time, it might have come across has an original piece of work. Time has gone by, however, and there doesnít seem to be one original element in the entire movie. The Psychlos look more like klingon rejects than a race of aliens that are meant to be taken seriously. The movie also seems to borrow from every science fiction film ever made, even ones that were bad to begin with. Watching this film, I noted that certain elements had been borrowed from Star Wars, Independence Day, Dune, Waterworld, The Postman, and Planet of the Apes. Battlefield Earth only has one redeeming factor, which is Travoltaís attempt at a campy villain. He does acquire a great villainous laugh in him, and even garners a few laughs, just as every antagonist should. Still, itís nowhere near the actorís other bad guy roles in Broken Arrow and Face/Off. Itís ironic to note that the director, Roger Christian, had previously collaborated with George Lucas. He served not only as Lucasí 2nd unit director on The Phantom Menace, but was actually in charge of production design on the original Star Wars. Iím sure Christian had intended the film to have the look and feel of a Star Wars like movie, but the execution proved to be less than successful.

Science fiction adventures always have the tendency to astound me, but I didnít find that quality in Battlefield Earth for a single minute. All that I saw before me were sets copied from other movies, characters copied from other movies, battle scenes copied from other movies, and when it wasnít copying another movie, the movie simply didnít make any sense whatsoever. Iím sincerely hoping that Mr. Travolta will move on to something much better, and forget that he ever made such a movie.

Video ***1/2

And itís all high points from this point on. Warner continues their winning streak of transfers with their glowing transfer for Battlefield Earth. The movie is shot in dark blues and bright greens, and the colors shine and gleam wonderfully in this anamorphic widescreen presentation. Even though I criticized the look of the movie, the DVD transfer certainly doesnít make it look any worse.

Audio ****

The audio job on this disc is of true intergalactic quality, just as youíd come to expect from a science fiction movie. The Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation is quite a knockout on the senses. The movie was one of the loudest sounding movies Iíve ever seen in a theater, next to Armageddon, and the DVD is a good disc to show off you sound system. When spaceships fly around, every speaker seemed to pick up every direction it flew in. This may be the closest thing to Star Wars on DVD that we will get until the movies actually make it DVD.

Features ***1/2

Most of the time, movies that get a bad rap tend to add nothing extra on DVD, but thatís not the case with Battlefield Earth, and Warner has also priced the disc under $20, so you are actually going to get more bang for you buck, even if you are sorely disappointed by the feature film itself. Featured is a behind the scenes featurette called Evolution and Creation, a commentary by Roger Christian and production designer Patrick Totopolous, a look at John Travoltaís make-up test, a brief documentary on the visual effects, a storyboard montage, Theatrical Trailers and TV spots, and a DVD-ROM web link.

Summary:

Most of the time I stand out in my opinions of certain movies, such as Mission to Mars and Hollow Man, but I am pretty much in agreement with the majority of critics and audiences who felt like they had wasted their money on Battlefield Earth in the theaters. Despite the movie itself, the disc is a worthy one at the price it sells for.

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