Battlefield Earth plays like cinematic poetry, with its brilliantly-staged action scenes pounding along in a furious meter. Repeat viewings reveal new layers of depth and humanity, not unlike revisiting The Coronation of Napoleon at the Louvre. This film represents John Travolta and Forrest Whitaker’s finest hours. It’s in the top 10 for Barry Pepper, as well. Sure, the critics savaged this movie when it first came out. Hell, they booed Stevie Ray Vaughn during his first tour. Sometimes the world just isn’t ready. It’s time to reassess Battlefield Earth, and give it a rightful place amongst the greatest of all movie masterworks.
The story whisks us to the year 3000. The Psychlos, a race of evil, hulking warlords, rule the Earth with feckless abandon. Humanity is broken and scattered: Some function as slaves for the Psychlos, with many still left to scratch a living in caves. Johnny Goodboy Tyler (Pepper) sees a life beyond this despondency, and strikes out with a companion (Kim Coates) to find bigger and better things. Johnny quickly runs afoul of a Psychlo bigwig (Travolta), and finds himself captured and chucked in an alien gulag. As a man of destiny, Johnny rallies the cowering horde of humanity to take back their dignity and start a revolution that will not be televised.
That description doesn’t do this movie justice. Battlefield Earth brims with so much innovation, it makes Citizen Kane look like something that rolled off the Ed Wood assembly line. Director Roger Cristian wisely chooses to shoot entire scenes in striking Dutch angles. I’m just gonna flat-out say it: You haven’t truly experienced John Travolta’s acting until you’ve done it staring up his nose. And the decision to saturate the film’s color palate with neon greens and purples? Somewhere in Heaven, I suspect Francois Truffaut is looking down with a gentle smile.
While we’re at it, I don’t give flying flippity doo-dah what all the so-called “elites” say, this movie’s decision to forgo logic is bold. It’s brave, god damn it. At the end, when all those Cro Magnons are piloting Harrier jets like they’re Maverick and Goose? I mean, you wouldn’t try and throw a halter on a raging stallion. Well, would ya?? No! Don’t even try to contain true genius with something as stupid as common sense.
Historically, art takes a few generations to get the appreciation it deserves. I feel like people are just now coming around on Look Who’s Talking Now, and it’s about friggin’ time. Battlefield Earth is a great movie, but it’s also an important work. It’s a story that cries out to be heard. Perhaps the biggest tragedy lies in the ending. They give us the perfect set-up for sequels. The Iliad didn’t stop halfway through, did it? I wanted more of Johnny Goodboy Tyler, and Travolta as that growling squid-man. But noooo. This is why we can’t have anything nice.