I want to be clear: It is impossible to go into watching or reviewing this movie without considering L. Ron Hubbard, the author of the novel upon which the film is based, and Scientology, the religion L. Ron Hubbard founded in 1950. A virtually unknown science fiction writer at the time, L. Ron Hubbard published the landmark book, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health and became an international self-help guru.
Dianetics “borrowed” the basic precepts of every major religion and the latest concepts in pop psychology and re-worded them with sci-fi mysticism to become the foundation of Scientology. Battlefield Earth similarly borrows from every cliché of post-apocalyptic sci-fi/fantasy, packaged with Scientologic themes and language.
Not that the themes are in anyway wrongheaded. Quite the contrary. Abounding in Battlefield Earth are the motifs of the resiliency of the human spirit, the importance of literacy and education, the evils of greed and environmental rape; it is, in fact, overflowing with soaring ideals of humanism. Unfortunately, the themes are buried deep underneath a layer of the most ridiculous clichés of science-fiction: man reverting to primitivism; neo-primitive man enslaved as beasts-of-burden; neo-primitive man revolting against his Klingon-look-a-like oppressors; neo-primitive mastering piloting fighter jets in seven days to overthrow said oppressors. It is as silly as it sounds.
At first, I though it was a brilliant satire but what I soon realized were actual attempts at satire fell flat. References to McDonald’s and mannequins were horribly uninspired, while the “important” moments of “inspiration” elicited huge Coke-out-of-the-nose belly-laughs. Sadly, this was not the filmmakers’ intent.
In the year 3000, a race of aliens known as Psychlos rule the Earth as one of many planets their corporation controls. Terl (John Travolta) is the Head Security officer assigned this remote outpost because of an unsavory dalliance with a Senator’s daughter. Already surly, this puts the dreadlocked beastie into a particularly foul mood, and he takes it out on the man-animals he has enslaved to strip the planet of its resources. His executive officer Ker (Forest Whitaker), a dimwitted lout, aids Terl in his machinations, but mostly they try to outfox each other and gain the upper hand through whatever “leverage” they can get over the other.
In the meantime, Greener (Barry Pepper), a caveman refuge, ventures into the forbidden zone of Denver, gets captured by Psychlos and becomes Terl’s pet man-animal because Terl believes he can teach humans to mine for a hidden cache of gold. Greener then leads a man-animal uprising by reclaiming munitions from Fort Hood, Texas.
I wish I could say at least the performances lifted this film from the quagmire of lame, but Battlefield Earth made me realize how horribly wasted Forest Whitaker was and how terribly overrated Travolta is. The bloated, self-important score went hand in hand with a script straight out of a sci-fi fake book.