In the year 3000, a human slave rises up against the alien oppressors who have colonised a post-apocalyptic earth.
Given the relationship between the star and the original Earth author, L. Ron Hubbard of barmy pseudo-religion Scientology fame, Battlefield Earth bares more than a passing whiff of a dubious vanity project. After all, Travolta's been trying to get the screen version of the mammoth novel off the ground for a decade. What has finally emerged is a peculiar paradox, science-fiction that feels old-fashioned, its nominal alien overlords must die set-up and B-movie ideas outmoded by the onrush of Matrixs and Phantom Menaces.
Shot in a murky twilight, possibly to hide the sloppy fusion of CGI and modelwork, we are in a familiar desolate futurescape (3000) of crumbling ruins and isolated tribes. The Psychlos - really daft lanky, dreadlocked Tefal heads with rank complexions and hefty codpieces - are a sinister, genocidal race of manipulators and sadists, exploiting Earth for mineral assets, principally gold. Travolta's Terl is a maniacal security chief with a greedy personal agenda (to get off this forsaken world as rich as possible). Pitted against him is Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (Saving Private Ryan's Barry Pepper), a wild human refusing to submit to alien thraldom, who through Terl's misguided subterfuge gets mind-zapped with Psychlo know-how and plots an uprising of the backward Earthlings. And that's about it.
Director Roger Christian, once a set decorator on Star Wars, keeps getting confused as to which film he's ripping off, fudging his way through various slices of Blade Runner, The Matrix, Planet Of The Apes and even TV's long, lamented invasion hit, V. His wannabe cool, foggy noirish look is at odds with all the comic-book broadness and the action, especially the nuke-the-baddies crescendo, and it's edited with such crashing fury that most of it is plain incomprehensible.
Bizarrely, the film that actually springs to mind, upon looking at Travolta's plump, rubbery claws and preposterous giant forehead, is Carry On Screaming. Which just about says it all; there is nothing in Battlefield Earth you can take seriously. While the producer/star certainly tries his darnedest to give it some flavour, playing Terl with the same raspy-cool badness he threw into Face/Off, the script remains ropey no matter how much relish it's given. It's also shot through with floppy logic: the Psychlos' non-comprehension at human cunning, even though the former defeated "civilised" man, or post-apocalyptic cavemen learning to fly a secret store of Harriers in ten minutes flat.
With the exception of Trek's comical nastiness, none of the other characters even register. Barry Pepper has nothing to work with in Tyler, so he hulks about moodily as if trying to get the whole thing over without being noticed. Forest Whitaker, lost in Psychlo prosthetic, as Trek's fumbling evil sidekick, Ker, is given nothing more than the occasional cackle, while Richard Tyson, Kelly Preston and Kim Coates do no more than turn up. As for Scientology... to be fair, there isn't anything sinister going on here, with nary a blipvert or allusion to be found. The sensible option would be to distance themselves from such irksome rubbish entirely.
A disaster of epic proportions.