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Plan Inane From Outer Space

Director Cameron Crowe poses during a press conference for the festival jury on the first day of the 63rd Venice Film Festival Aug. 30, 2006.
GETTY IMAGES/Franco Origlia
It's way too early to declare the biggest movie blockbuster of Summer 2000. But the biggest bombbuster? No competition, folks. That contest's already been fought and lost on Battlefield Earth.

What can you say about a sci-fi epic-wannabe that makes you long for last summer's big flop Wild Wild West? What words can do justice to an opus that will surely replace Moment By Moment as John Travolta's biggest career folly? How do you convey the stupidity of a movie in which Travolta's over-the-top arch-villain belts out insults like "Ratbrain!" and dialogue like, "Stupid Humans! HA HA HA HA HA!!!"?

Travolta in his Spock-ish eyebrows and otherworldly dreadlocks may have had fun playing the nine-foot-tall alien Terl. But the fun is his alone. And for all his bigger-than-life barking, he's no Dick Dastardly (and there's not even a Muttley).

There's a lesson here: Maintain separation of church and screen. Battlefield Earth, you see, is based on the 1984 novel by L. Ron Hubbard. This is the same L. Ron Hubbard who founded the controversial Church of Scientology. John Travolta is a high profile Scientologist. Get it? Please, think twice before making a movie inspired by your guru.

Travolta insists there's no Scientology message, agenda, or subliminal recruitment tactics in Battlefield. Good thing, too—at least for Scientology. If there actually had been, it could have done more to damage the church's image than that Time magazine expose a few years back.

The movie takes place on Earth in the year 3000. The planet is a wasteland and humans are an endangered species. A millennium earlier (hmmm...why that would be about...now!), aliens from the planet Psychlo descended upon Earth and wiped out its defense force in a mere nine minutes.

Unfortunately, some members of mankind remained (had they been extinguished, we would have been spared this movie). One of those scrappy survivors is Jonnie (Barry Pepper) who, along with his small tribe, ekes out a primitive existence.

But Jonnie's not satisfied. He heads out into the unknown seeking more. What he gets is captured by the alien Psychlos who populate a domed city. Now a slave, Jonnie must work with other captured humans in the mines (funny how even big, ugly aliens have a thing for gold).

Jonnie also comes across the chief of security, Terl (Travolta). They form an immediate arch-rivalry, as Jonnie makes his first escape attempt. And things just get dumb and duller from there.

Just to give you a sense of the hyper-stupidity, note the sequence in which the humans—cave-born and bred—find a bunch of 1,000-year-old Air Force jets and figure out how to fly them...in, like, a day! And they also figure out how to—skip the rest of this sentence if you don't want to know the ending!—not only destroy the Earth-residing Psychlos, but the entire Psychlo planet light years away!

Of course, maybe we should be grateul for the stupidity. It takes our minds off the fact that we're not the least bit interested in any of the people we're supposed to root for or against. The stupidity, in fact, may be the only thing that keeps anyone awake.

Not every frame of film is wasted. The Psychlos fly these neat future-retro ships. There's the occasionally worthwhile production value. The climactic big boom at the end will satisfy any pyrotechnic freak. And for decibel fans, there's lots of volume (pity poor Florence Henderson, sitting just a few seats away, who had to cover her ears).

But trust me. You have to be Psychlo to spend any money to see Battlefield Earth.

Written by Rob Medich