Earth to John Travolta . . .

Friday, May 12th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Battlefield Earth is set in the year 3,000 A.D., but all the humans look like 3,000 B.C. -- dressed in animal skins and living in caves where they paint on the walls.

It harks back to all those post-apocalypse movies and this is not a good sign for the start of Battlefield Earth.

Unfortunately, things go downhill from there.

Based on a 1982 novel by L. Ron Hubbard, this humans-versus-aliens story already seems stale. But because it was written by the founding father of Scientology, movie star Scientologist John Travolta has been trying to get it off the ground for many years. Now that Travolta's pet project has finally made it to the screen, the question is not only "Why?" but "Who has been advising Travolta?"

When the project first was dreamed up many years ago, Travolta wanted to play the human hero, Jonnie Goodboy Tyler, who leads a revolt against their slaving masters from the planet Psychlos. But Travolta is too old for that and instead plays Terl, the Psychlos chief of security. With leather duds, rotten teeth and a makeup job that looks like a Star Trek villain reject, Travolta and the other Psychlos cut bizarre figures in a depressing landscape.

Battlefield Earth's primary colors are blue and gray, adding to the misery. Whenever we glimpse sunlight, the screen goes all stale yellow, as though someone had urinated on the print. This, by the way is not such a bad idea.

It's a dreary tale with generally poor special effects, light years behind something like Gladiator or the latest Star Wars. Director Roger Christian won an Oscar for set decoration on the original Star Wars and worked as a second unit director on the latest Star Wars, but his input here is merely workmanlike. Christian has staged a spectacularly explosive finale for Battlefield Earth, but it takes a long time to get there.

The Psychlos swept down a millennium earlier to enslave the humans they didn't kill off and mine the mineral riches of Earth. The cackling Terl, played to the max and beyond by Travolta, runs a human detention center in what used to be the Denver Zoo. When his superiors assign him to another 50-cycle stay on Earth, a planet he despises, Terl, in a revenge move, plots to rob gold ore from his own leaders.

In the midst of this Psychlo skulduggery, Jonnie (Barry Pepper) rallies his fellow human captives to revolt against the Psychlos who have erected an enormous greenhouse over what used to be Denver. The greenhouse is necessary for the Psychlos to breathe normally. Whenever they leave they must be connected to a breathing device with a pair of long tubes dangling from their nostrils.

The humans, when they're inside the greenhouse, must wear these nostril tubes to breathe oxygen. Needless to say, this makes for an unfortunate looking sight all around.

Some have feared that Battlefield Earth will serve as a recruitment device for the Church of Scientology. They needn't have worried. Once word gets around, this stinker won't be long in theaters.


Battlefield Earth

Starring : John Travolta, Barry Pepper, Forest Whitaker, Kim Coates, Richard Tyson, Sabine Karsenti.

Producers: A Warner Bros. release written by Corey Mandell and JD Shapiro, directed by Roger Christian.

Playing : Apple Valley, Campus, Harbour Mall, North Dartmouth Mall, Opera House, Providence Place, Showcase North Attleboro, Showcase Seekonk 1-10, Showcase Warwick, Stonington, Tri-Boro and Woonsocket cinemas.

Rated : PG-13, contains violence.

Running time: 1 hour, 57 minutes.