To celebrate the release of Wonder Woman, the film that critics are already calling “a superhero movie with a woman in it”, let’s look back on another Warner Bros. landmark.
It’s the year 3000, and almost none of Busted’s predictions have come true. Far from living underwater (though the ugly blue hue may have caused some confusion), humans have become enslaved by a relentlessly bureaucratic alien race called the Psychlos. Which sounds a bit like Psychos. That’s the level.
A few human tribes have somehow managed to evade capture by living in caves (thus making them the movie’s target audience) until one day, a man with the inexplicable name Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper) inexplicably leaves the cave because he doesn’t believe the aliens are out there, and is immediately imprisoned by the Psychlo security chief Terl (John Travolta, who also serves as a producer and invested $5m of his own money).
It’s worth noting at this point that Battlefield Earth is based on an L. Ron Hubbard novel that Travolta had wanted to turn into a film since reading it in 1982. So given this Scientologist background, the idea of being punished for not believing in aliens landing on Earth seems weird. Stranger still is that you’d find religious dogma in this man’s writing. It’s like basing your scripture on the Resident Evil franchise.
Rather than focus on Tyler, who eventually leads the rebellion against the Psychlos, Battlefield Earth revolves around the comically villainous Terl, the most incompetent security chief since Paul Blart: Mall Cop. This is probably due to some combination of Travolta’s producer role, Pepper’s dearth of charisma, bizarre anti-human sentiment and general ineptitude (which could also be Terl’s nickname among the other Psychlos).
One of these other aliens is played by Forest Whitaker, looking duly embarrassed for the duration. Conversely, Travolta seems to be enjoying himself a little too much. Considering this is his passion project 18 years in the making, one would expect him to see it executed with some degree of quality. Instead, it has the production values of a school project. After budget cuts. And a massive fire.
This is one of the worst-looking films I’ve ever seen. Made in 2000 with a production budget of $44m (rather than the $73m fraudulently claimed by Franchise Pictures), it looks like a B-movie from the ’80s. The costumes appear to have been borrowed from a nearby clown school, while the dreadlocked Travolta walks around looking like something from Buckaroo Banzai, saying things like, “Home Office does not make mistakes,” which make him sound like Amber Rudd.
Director Roger Christian came fresh from the Phantom Menace sound stage, which may explain this obsession with alien bureaucracy, not to mention the endless screen wipes. And no amount of wiping can clean up this mess. It’s more vanity project than sci-fi. More Lady in the Water than Waterworld.
Apart from a couple of stupidly funny moments (the sight of John Travolta screaming, “DO YOU WANT LUNCH?!” while brandishing a rat has to be seen to be believed), this is an irredeemably misguided project. It lost millions of dollars, caused the collapse of Franchise Pictures and led to Travolta firing his manager. It did, however, win the most Razzies ever taken by a single picture at the time (tied with Showgirls, naturally), so it wasn’t all bad.
From the laughably cheap-looking special effects to the gaping plot holes filled by Scientology propaganda, Battlefield Earth fully deserves its reputation as one of the worst films ever made. No matter how shrill Travolta’s cries of “stupid humans!”, we’re clearly not as stupid as he thinks.