Naysayers have been quick to joke about the possibility of veiled connections between "Battlefield Earth" and the self-proclaimed "religion" of Scientology. Adapted from church founder L. Ron Hubbard's popular novel, the sci-fi thriller features superstar John Travolta, an outspoken Scientologist, in the role of Terl, the ruthless security chief for a group of aliens (the Psychlos) who have enslaved the last surviving Earthlings in the year 3000 A.D. "It's not a recruitment ad for Scientology," a writer for Premiere magazine cracked. "And there are action figures to prove it."
If the movie did amount to an effort by the organization to sign up converts (which it does not), the results wouldn't be very satisfying for Hubbard's followers. Potential church members might take their spiritual quests -- and their cash -- elsewhere after getting a taste of this particular vision of the future: "Battlefield Earth," despite imaginative costume design and impressive special effects, is a real snoozer, one that's characterized by wooden acting, sappy melodrama and illogical plot lines.
The feel of a Saturday-matinee serial and some fairly blatant borrowings from "Planet of the Apes" occasionally lend the film a boost of unintentionally campy fun. But it's too little, too late.
Terl is an ugly baddie with a bouffant stack of dreadlocks on his head, tiny silver buttons on his temples, flying-V eyebrows, really bad teeth and an annoying cackle. He's in a foul mood thanks to bad news from the Psychlo home front. A past misadventure with the daughter of a senator has come back to haunt this rising star of a military man, forcing him into extended engagement on the planet he's come to hate.
Terl's life on Earth might be tolerable: He occupies a position of power, enjoys the opportunity to dilly-dally with female Psychlos who are equipped with comically long tongues (Travolta's wife, Kelly Preston, in a cameo) and has the option of killing his captives at will. But then there's the apparent duplicity of his colleague, Ker (an underused Forest Whitaker), to deal with, as well as the attitude problem of a particular "man-animal".
That would be Johnny Goodboy Tyler (an earnest Barry Pepper), who's been imprisoned in an underground holding area after leading a few members of a rag-tag Rocky Mountain tribe of humans in a valiant effort to attack the Psychlos.
Even internal logic is thrown out the window about midway through "Battlefield Earth," when Terl decides to supply young Johnny with an education in the ways of Psychlo culture. In no time at all, the kid takes to the language and absorbs the history. Then, in another odd move, Johnny and his mates are taught how to maneuver flying machines and assigned to mine gold.
The wannabe rebels wind up at Fort Knox (don't ask) and return to the strip-mining mountain with gold bars and a working plan of attack. Johnny may have been raised in a cave, but he's a darn quick study, and so are his pals.
As a long series of explosions begins, "Battlefield Earth" likewise comes tumbling down and falling apart. Watch for the appearance of Johnny's hometown girlfriend, Mara (Marie-Josee Croze), one in a series of characters whose sole purpose is to show up when a plot point needs to be made. Yes, it's that kind of movie.