Picks and Pans Review: Battlefield Earth

updated 05/22/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/22/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

John Travolta, Barry Pepper

Failure doesn't come cheap. It reportedly cost at least $70 million to make a movie as egregiously awful as Battlefield Earth. The end result is a science-fiction saga so incoherent, so ugly and so pointless that you have to wonder why Warner Bros, is even bothering to distribute this embarrassment.

The reason, obviously, is John Travolta. Battlefield Earth is based on a 1982 sci-fi novel by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology—a religious group to which Travolta belongs. The actor had long dreamed of bringing Hubbard's tale about noble earthlings battling evil aliens to the screen and serves as a coproducer on the film. Travolta cast himself not as the movie's stalwart hero—that role goes to Pepper—but as the bearded leader of the alien invaders, a sneering fellow who looks like a cross between a Klingon and a Wookie, struts about in platform boots and a leather codpiece and periodically emits a hyenalike braying, "Heh, heh, heh," to show contempt for his perceived inferiors.

If Battlefield Earth, as haplessly directed by Roger Christian (who worked as a set decorator on the first and third Star Wars movies and as the second-unit director on last year's chapter), features subliminal messages advocating Scientology (Travolta has said in interviews that it doesn't), they are buried so deeply as to be undetectable to nonfollowers. Equally inscrutable are the finer points of the film's murky plot. Set in the year 3000, when much of Earth is a wasteland, the film lurches from scene to scene, most of them shot in intense close-up, at odd angles and in dark colors. As far as one can make out, Pepper (a standout as the American sniper in Saving Private Ryan) is enslaved by Travolta but is then inspired to lead a rebellion of the other human slaves after finding a dusty copy of the Declaration of Independence in the ruins of the Library of Congress. Our Founding Fathers never intended this. (PG-13)

Bottom Line: Travolta's travesty

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