BATTLEFIELD EARTH. WTF of a science fiction

Science fiction cinema follows its own rules.

Rafał Oświeciński

24 November 2023

BATTLEFIELD EARTH. WTF of a science fiction

Anyone who watches Star Wars or Independence Day knows that everything they see is fiction created to help the viewer relax, unwind, eat popcorn, and then, if they want, become a fan of the film or even start a fan club… like the Matrix, for example. It’s nothing unusual; those are the rules of the game. The problem with Battlefield Earth is this: it’s impossible to like this film. It’s too annoying and ridiculous, even for a sci-fi spectacle.

The film promotes the presence of John Travolta in one of the main roles. He made his debut in the ’70s with a fantastic performance in Saturday Night Fever. Then came a small crisis, but John returned with roles in Grease and Blow Out. Suddenly, Travolta disappeared from the pantheon of stars for a few years. However, he returned with the comedy Look Who’s Talking. After this film, he went silent again. Finally, he returned for a more extended period with the role of Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction, earning a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination. Since then, he has the status of a Hollywood superstar (although a little bit faded recently). Although he started to act in increasingly (it seems) worse films, or at least those less “actor-centric” and more box-office-oriented (see The General’s Daughter, Phenomenon, Michael), Hollywood didn’t let him go. Unfortunately, his performance in Battlefield Earth wasn’t the best for his reputation.

Battlefield Earth John Travolta

The battle for Earth takes place in the year 3000 between humans and Psychlos, invaders who use the poor Homo sapiens as a workforce in mines and factories. For the Aliens, humans are animals (an analogy to how humans treat, for example, a dog, cow, or horse). Of course, not everyone is a slave. Somewhere in the mountains, valleys, and caves, a few survivors hide. They live similarly to nomadic tribes, wearing “live” fur. They are like cavemen: they don’t have access to modern technology (even from the 18th century, not to mention the 20th century), and even counting or writing is quite difficult.

At the beginning of Battlefield Earth, Jonny “Goodboy” Tyler sets out from his cave in search of food for his fellow tribesmen. The magic-chief of the tribe warns him about hasty decisions: the Gods may get angry, and the beasts will catch him in their vile paws. The young, ambitious, and golden-haired lad doesn’t listen to the old man and sets out into the unknown. He bids farewell to his beloved and rides away… As fate would have it, the Aliens catch him in their traps. He is captured and forced to work alongside other representatives of the human race. The head of the prison security is Terl, played by Travolta. However, the Aliens want to use this brave and clever human for some nefarious plan: they will train and tame him, just like a human teaches a parrot to talk. The compelling argument to force him into intensive learning will, of course, be his beloved (where have we heard this before?). But the young man won’t be easily fooled!

Battlefield Earth Barry Pepper

What to criticize first? Perhaps that this Battlefield Earth mocks the viewer? Examples of mockery: humans, not animals, learn fairly complex mathematics (geometry) in a matter of minutes. Besides, humans (I’ll remind you once again: “not animals”) cavemen have successfully learned to fly fighter planes, launch rockets, have memorized the Declaration of Independence, etc., etc., etc… A nuclear bomb (just one! and that from the 20th century) blows the entire Psychlo planet to smithereens, which we know is several (dozens of) times larger than Earth. The Aliens force the humans to mine gold (pure gold from the mines, but here this precious metal lies on the surface of the Earth), and the humans (Earthlings) deceitfully put a few thousand gold bars in their way, and the Aliens don’t even bat an eye, accepting the prisoner version as obvious. And why do the Invaders need gold anyway? Why not coal or water, or maybe air? The film doesn’t provide answers.

Acting? Some praised Travolta for the role of the evil Psychlo. In my opinion, he does it so typically that it gives me a headache. Evil and greedy to the core, constantly making the same menacing and ruthless faces. What does Forest Whitaker do in this film? I don’t know… Maybe after Ghost Dog, he wanted to earn some money. His role is expressionless. Forest lost recognition in my eyes. Travolta as well. I wonder if he will experience another decline in Hollywood? It’s very possible.

Battlefield Earth Barry Pepper John Travolta

The symphonic music is just a hindrance, or at least it is too pompous, “generic,” without, for example, a leitmotif. The special effects, although not the worst (and even very good in some scenes), are not at the level of The Phantom Menace or The Matrix, which now set the standard for special effects in this type of spectacle. However, I can find one positive thing: the cinematography. It’s really very good! Surprisingly, because the whole film can be considered not very successful. The scene of Jonnie’s escape from the Psychlos is beautifully filmed (although it’s impossible to avoid comparisons with The Matrix – those walls, columns, cornices, etc., splintering into small pieces), the rest of the shots are also flawless (original camera work, somewhat filming “at an angle”).

Battlefield Earth John Travolta Sabine Karsenti

Comparisons to the hit that was Independence Day are out of place here. When Independence Day arrived, you could feel a certain thrill reaching to the core. There were excellent special effects (who doesn’t remember those explosions of the Empire State Building?), and the story was also interesting. Of course, it was naive, patriotic, and clichéd, and additionally thoroughly “Americanized.” However, it didn’t matter that much. ID4 was a great spectacle…

And how will we remember Battlefield Earth? As kitsch, a misunderstanding, a film full of absurdities, mocking the viewer’s intelligence? Some may think so (I certainly do). However, the simplest thing to say is this: Battlefield Earth is a BAD movie! That’s all…


Rafał Oświeciński

A celluloid fetishist who doesn't despise any kind of cinema. He doesn't watch everything because it doesn't make sense, he only watches what might make sense.

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