I have two words about this movie before we get into the details:
BATTLEFIELD EARTH stars John Travolta (THE DEVILS RAIN, CARRIE) and his ego (SWORDFISH, THE GENERAL'S DAUGHTER) as Terl, a member of an alien race known as the Psychlo. Travolta also served as producer. It was written by Corey Mandell and J. David Shapiro and directed by Roger Christian (THE FINAL CUT). As is well known and much discussed, the movie is based on a book by Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. Travolta's sad devotion to that ancient religion is . . . never mind.
The story opens with a day in the life of Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper: THE GREEN MILE). No, he's not a football hero. Instead, he is a primitive member of a tribe of hunter-gatherers living in the mountains of what turns out to be Colorado. The tribal religion is based around a legend about how humanity once ruled the planet but because of our sinful behavior a race of demons came down and destroyed our cities. These demons still roam the Earth and the tribe lives where it does because these people have been in hiding for generations.
"Bah!" says Jonnie. "Superstitious bushwah!" He jumps on his horse and heads for the horizon, much to the consternation of his tribe. Our boy Jonnie quickly discovers the ruins of an ancient city and some more tribes of barbarians. They all have the same legend, which gives him pause, but he's too tough to let it show until he and his new friends meet an actual demon.
The 10 foot tall Rastafarian-looking monster is a Psychlo, the alien race that conquered Earth 1000 years ago. He takes Jonnie and his friends prisoner and brings them to the Psychlo mining colony to work as slave labor. Who's laughing now, Mr. Jonnie know-it-all?
The Psychlo are here to mine. They use "man-animal" slaves and Psychlo workers to mine metals (mostly gold), which are teleported back to the Psychlo homeworld. That being said you get the impression that they sure went to a lot of trouble (conquering Earth) to establish a pretty puny mine. They just have the one location and a relatively small workforce, thus leaving Earth's vast mineral wealth (we haven't come close to mining it out - don't let anyone tell you different) practically untouched. If they only had the resources for a single mining operation, why isn't it in South Africa, where most of Earth's gold is located? Didn't they do a survey?
Jonnie manages to steal a gun from and shoot a guard, then make a break for it. His luck runs out when he runs into Terl (Travolta), head of security. Terl smacks Jonnie around (something he does again and again throughout the movie) and demands to know how this "man-animal" got loose. When told that Jonnie shot a guard, Terl doesn't believe it. A man-animal who can operate a gun? Ridiculous! He hands Jonnie a gun and much to Terl's amusement Jonnie shoots another guard.
Still laughing about the funny dead guards, Terl attends a meeting with a representative from the home office. Terl is under the impression that he is about to be promoted off this horrible planet and into a cushy job back on Psychlo. I think we all see where this is going. It turns out a vengeful Senator who's daughter had an improper encounter with Terl has seen to it that Terl will remain on Earth till he's old and whatever color Psychlo's turn when they get old. This is a big disappointment to Terl and to Ker (Forrest Whitaker: SPECIES), Terl's assistant, because Ker thought he was about to be promoted into Terl's job.
This also illustrates a Hollywood science fiction staple taken to its extreme. In more movies than I care to remember the bad guys are part of an uncaring, environmentally incorrect, greedy, evil corporation. Here, the entire Psychlo civilization is a monolithic evil corporation. The Psychlo are ready and willing to sacrifice everything, including the lives of both slaves and Psychlo workers, for more profit and they care nothing for the effect their mining has on the environment (which actually isn't much, given it's small scale as discussed above). Psychlo society is male dominated and the only female Psychlo's are shown as secretaries / sex-toys. The Psychlo are as politically incorrect as they can be.
In other words the Psychlo represent the way most Hollywood writers think all corporations actually are. Why is Hollywood so anti-business, when most people involved in it are millionaires thanks to huge movie-making corporations? My theory is that they're all communists. But it's just a theory.
Terl doesn't give up that easy, of course. The discovery of a new gold deposit inspires Terl to steal it all for himself and buy his way back to the homeworld. He can't use Psychlo workers for this job because there's also a uranium deposit nearby and Psychlos are very sensitive to radiation (a plot point which becomes critical later), which normally would mean he's out of luck, but Jonnie's proficiency with the gun leads Terl to believe man-animals just might be smart enough to run mining machinery.
There is a well-done transition between the Psychlos speaking their unintelligible language in front of humans, the Psychlos speaking to each other, and the moment Jonnie begins understanding them after Terl puts him in a learning machine. The machine teaches Jonnie more than the language and by the time he steps out he understands all manner of advanced topics. Will it be enough to plan a rebellion?
Before I pretend not to answer that question, how about a quick
Also, I must mention that for a millennia old star faring civilization, the Psychlo technology isn't that impressive. Their weapons, computers, aircraft, etc. are just variations on existing technology, leaving me wondering what their tech was like 1000 years ago when they conquered Earth.
I mentioned lowered expectations earlier and I certainly had them going in. This movie has a reputation for being really bad and it is. The 10 foot tall Psychlo's get most of their height from the most ridiculous stilt boots. Travolta's make-up is impressive but the effect is ruined in the wide shots by the silly boots and his obvious gut. And his performance combined with the many, many plot holes makes this . . . a fun movie. I was laughing my ass off! Not the reaction they were going for, true, but a good time is a good time. I give BATTLEFIELD EARTH three negative shriek girls.
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