the chaotic opening scenes of Battlefield Earth, the first multi-million
dollar Hollywood Scientology science-fiction epic, John Travolta strides
on-screen wearing an epicene smile, clothed in a huge black armor-like outfit,
his face colorless and scaly, his eyes glowing green, and with long, stringy
black hair falling down either side of his head. He is Terl, from the planet
Psychlo, which, sometime before the year 3000 (A.D., presumably -- it's never
specified), has taken control of the Earth, wiped out civilization, and sent the
remnants of the human race heading for the hills, where they've reverted to
wearing buckskin, living in tribes, and carry spears.
gods, it seems, turned away from mankind after it became too selfish and greedy,
and so the demons, like Terl, descended. But one human, Jonnie (Barry Pepper,
the rifleman in Saving Private Ryan), wants to see the so-called demons
for himself. Riding out of the hills on horseback, he meets other men, who show
him store mannequins that they mistake for people who were turned to stone by
the gods. Then, whammo blammo, Jonnie and his friends are swept up and whooshed
through the "Denver Human Processing Plant," and imprisoned in cages,
where they're fed excremental-looking food from hoses. Jonnie, being of noble
character, steps forward and insists that the food should be shared and shared
alike. And so it is.
Terl is anxiously waiting for his transfer to come through so he can get off of
Earth. But the Psychlons, along with having bad teeth and no higher culture, are
the type of creatures who cheat, play games with semantics, and pull dirty
tricks on each other. When a senior officer arrives, Terl is informed that his
tour of duty on this miserable little rock has been expanded to ten times its
original length, "with unlimited options for renewal!" Terl,
literally, reaches for his gun. And then they laugh. They laugh, and laugh.
having seen some potential in the "man animal," he chooses Jonnie to
help him secretly mine a newly-discovered vein of gold. After a quick trip to
the Learning Machine, Jonnie can not only converse fluently in Psychlon --
which, in its original form, sounds like strangled garglings -- but fly their
aircraft. And in no time at all, he and a handful of other "man
animals" have devised a way to get rid of the Psychlons once and for all.
Travolta comports himself in this film as a cross between an effete martinet and
the most paranoid aspects of Richard Milhous Nixon. He records all his
conversations, despite the fact that it's against the rules, has surveillance
devices everywhere, and holds onto evidence of things like double ledgers to use
against other Psychlons. He throws people off-guard by suddenly pulling freshly
severed heads out of nowhere and then cackling obscenely. He also boasts of his
family line, and of his record at "the Academy," and keeps telling his
subordinate (played by Forest Whitaker, of all people) how dumb he is.
"That's why I'm an executive, and you're a lowly clerk!"
corporate politics are alive and well in the 31st century. The home planet is
referred to by the Psychlons as the "home office," and they complain
about not being paid enough. During relaxation time, Terl has the bear claw-like
nails on his stubby, thick fingers manicured by a female (Kelly Preston, of all
people), who has an oval-shaped head, jutting Vampira-like eyebrows, and a two
foot-long tongue (she shows it to us), and who purrs in his ear, "I'm going
to make you as happy as a baby Psychlon on a straight diet of kerbango!"
hopes that they're kidding with this stuff, but they're not: the filmmakers are
absolutely serious. I'm not familiar with the "oeuvre" of the late L.
Ron Hubbard, so I don't know how faithful this is to the original source. There
are little threads that appear throughout about overcoming fears, and good
conservatorship. The humans in the 31st century are very, very particular about
killing only for food, and about being faithful to their women. ("A good
woman is hard to find!") The Psychlons, on the other hand, wiped out all
species of dog on Earth because it was found that they were poor at manual
is the type of science-fiction film that throws all science and logic to the
winds. The Psychlons can't breathe Earth's air, so whenever they go outside they
wear metal nose-clips attached to cords which make it look like they have
mustaches growing out of their nostrils. The "man animals," in turn,
can't breathe the Psychlon's atmosphere inside their domed cities, so they wear
nose-clips to protect themselves from air that, allegedly, would make their
lungs burst in a matter of minutes. The humans also find a fleet of air fighter
jets, and operational nuclear weapons, in an underground hanger which, in the
31st century, are all ready to go at the press of a button. Fort Knox, in
Kentucky, is also intact, its gold supplies neatly stacked on shelves, and a
swift kick at the front door is all that's needed to gain access to it.
film also contains what looks like swipes from the Planet of the Apes
series, the dogfight sequences in Star Wars, and the techno-industrial
cityscapes designed for Blade Runner. The locations showing maundering,
ruined Earth cities look like outtakes from The Omega Man, and the long
shots of ruined cities and alien metropolises are no more convincing. "He
speaks the language of the Beast!" says one tribal human, shaking a finger
at Jonnie, just like in Roger Corman's 1958 Teenage Caveman. And then
there's the part where Terl tosses Jonnie and two other "man animals"
into the wilderness outside of what used to be Aspen, Colorado, to find out what
their "favorite food" is. Watching on a monitor, Travolta says, in
dripping, pearly tones, "See how much they enjoy Rat. How slowly they eat
it!" Can you dig it?
Christian directed this unbelievably overblown folderol -- the action scenes are
staged like scrimmages, and the more quiet scenes are on a par with his earlier
film Nostradamus. That was the one where the 16th century scientist was
shown seeing visions of World War One soldiers, interplanetary spacecraft,
toppling skyscrapers, and children standing in a downpour of black rain.
A visiting Psychlon takes one look at Earth upon his arrival and sniffs, "All the blues and greens are gone." So are some of the movie's marbles, but don't take my word for it. By all means, run, don't walk, to your nearest theater, where you can enjoy this peerless piece of camp, in all its glory, on the big screen.