Battlefield Earth

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Here’s what’s good about “Battlefield Earth,” the new futuristic movie based on L. Ron Hubbard’s 1982 novel:

The visual effects, and the fact that at least it doesn’t try to preach a message or teach a moral.

Now here’s what’s bad about “Battlefield Earth”:

Everything else.

If L. Ron Hubbard’s Scientology makes as little sense as this movie, I’m amazed anyone adheres to it. Illogical, confusing and bombastic, this ordeal takes place in the year 3000, when man is an endangered species, thanks to the centuries-ago invasion of an evil race of tall, ugly aliens called Psychlos.

Borrowing from “Planet of the Apes” (“borrowing from” will be a recurring motif in this review), humans are called “man-animals” and are viewed as an inferior species, separated by language and technology from the Psychlos. A human named Jonnie (Barry Pepper) wants a better life for his people, though, so he sets out from the remote village into what used to be a city, where he is promptly captured by the Psychlos and taken to the “Human Processing Center” in what used to be Denver (and now looks like some parts of present-day New Jersey).

Head Psychlo Terl (John Travolta) isn’t just evil by Psychlo standards; he’s greedy, too, and wants to train Jonnie and other man-animals to mine the land for gold to make him rich. (Why is gold a precious commodity on the Psychlos’ home planet? Isn’t that just an Earth thing?) Trying to train humans to do anything is against the rules, though, so he does it secretly, with the help of henchman/stooge Ker (Forest Whitaker, looking like the love child of Della Reese and a Klingon).

In true Bond-villain fashion, Terl teaches Psychlo language and other skills to Jonnie, which not only enables him to do Terl’s bidding, but also enables him to defeat the entire Psychlo race. While Jonnie and the other humans are supposed to be mining for gold, they’re actually hurrying off to Ft. Knox (apparently left unscathed and very easy to get into after the invasion) to get gold fast, leaving them with plenty of time to plan their revolt.

The revolt, which borrows from “Armageddon,” “Independence Day” and “Star Wars,” involves training humans how to fly centuries-old aircraft (still in working order and full of fuel, apparently), then sending them into battle. We’re told that the initial Psychlo invasion lasted only nine minutes before all of Earth’s armies were defeated, yet this rag-tag group of post-apocalyptic hunters and gatherers manages to wipe them out with relative ease.

This movie could not be stupider. Most of the performances are bad — notice how Barry Pepper screams “Noooooo!” in exactly the same melodramatic fashion when he is told his father has died as he does when his horse is shot — but Travolta takes the cake. His Terl is comically unthreatening, speaking in an over-the-top, fey voice that sounds like a cross between “Return of the Jedi’s” evil Emperor and the most flamboyant Bond villain you can think of. It’s a hilariously bad performance; if it were MEANT to be funny, it would be brilliant.

Another major problem, aside from the gaping plot holes and often incomprehensible developments, is that the film has no point. Good vs. Evil is fine — that’s all “Star Wars” boils down to, after all — but neither side is represented very strongly here (Terl’s evil mostly takes the form of lying to people, and Jonnie is too bland to be a solid ambassador of Good). So when Good defeats Evil in the end, there’s a strong sense of “Who cares?”

There’s also a strong sense of “What is this crap I just watched?” The movie is clean and harmless, but it’s also a poor telling of what must have been a lame story to begin with. The good visual effects and absence of sanctimoniousness aren’t enough to save it from getting …

F (; PG-13, very mild profanity, sci-fi violence.)

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