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Laramie Movie Scope:
Battlefield Earth

Through a glass, darkly

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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May 13, 2000 -- "Battlefield Earth" was one of the most eagerly anticipated movies of the year for science fiction fans. Based on the book of the same name by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard which sold 20 million copies and was named one of the top science fiction novels of all time, the movie can't be as good as the book. I haven't read the book, but it just has to be better than this.

"Battlefield Earth," with its big budget and its big star, John Travolta, came roaring out of the chute as flat as a pancake on opening night. The crowd was pretty small for an opening night, too, not a good sign. There was no cheering as the film ended with a big climax. It just kind of stayed where it started, flat.

Travolta ("Primary Colors") plays Terl, the evil and corrupt head of security for earth dome, where most of the surviving humans are enslaved by the evil Psychlos, a race of large, human-looking aliens with bad teeth and dreadlocks. Into the midst of the humans rides the hero Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (played by Barry Pepper who was the G.I. sniper in "Saving Private Ryan"). Tyler rejects the old gods his tribe has lived by (religion is the opiate of the masses) and goes off to find out what's really going on.

The year is 3,000 A.D. and most humans have reverted back to a primitive state, so they think the aliens are gods because of their advanced technology. Terl and his clerk, Ker (Forest Whitaker of "Smoke") come up with a get-rich-quick scheme when a satellite photo reveals a vein of ore outside the enclosed city. They plan to train the humans to mine the gold for them. Since the humans are slaves, they won't have to share the profits.

In order to train the humans, one of them, Tyler is strapped into a learning machine so he can learn the Psychlo language and how to operate the Psychlo hovercrafts. Tyler also learns to read books in the nearby Denver library and learns of the proud history of his own people. He and his fellow human slaves soon cook up a plan to rid themselves of their Psychlo masters. In all-out battle, they seek not only to regain control of the earth, but to make sure the Psychlos never come back.

The story is similar to "Independence Day," but with no patriotic overtones because the old human societies and governments are gone. The tone of the film, both emotionally and visually, is dark and bleak. There is little use of light and color to brighten things up. Travolta and Whitaker, both fine actors, spend most of their time overacting and laughing maniacally. There are too many logical gaffes to even begin to list.

The end result is a high-budget star vehicle with big special effects that looks in every other way like any one of over a hundred other nameless low-budget post-Apocalyptic science fiction movies that have been made in the last 30 years or so. This is careless film making. Attention to detail, crisper direction and screen writing could have made all the difference. Those of you who do not think "Independence Day" is a good film, get a load of this one. Compare the two. This film rates a C.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2000 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]