REVIEW: Bombastic “Battlefield Earth’’ Bombs

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c. 2000 Religion News Service

(UNDATED) Now that moviegoers can finally see it for themselves, the science-fiction thriller film “Battlefield Earth” will no longer be called “the most controversial movie of the summer”(as magazine Entertainment Weekly put it), but simply the most disappointing.

The big, bombastic, overbearing film is based on the 1,000-plus-page 1982 novel “Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000” by L. Ron Hubbard, who died in 1986 after writing novels and founding the Church of Scientology.

Bringing the novel to the screen has been a labor of love for John Travolta. The actor is the most celebrated of the many celebrities affiliated with the church, and he has used his money, clout and star power to produce the film and aggressively promote it.

Along the way, Travolta has repeatedly denied charges that his pet project, which opens Friday (May 12), is a Scientology recruiting tool.

“People have asked me if there is a connection between `Battlefield Earth’ and Scientology,” he says. “There is no connection. L. Ron Hubbard wrote numerous science fiction epics. Other than being created by the same person, the two have virtually nothing to do with one another.”

That’s good, because following a Denver screening for the press and the public, one moviegoer called “Battlefield Earth” “the worst movie I’ve ever seen” and another satirically said, “Sure, I want to be a part of that religion!”

The film’s plot is simple. It’s the year 3000 and Earth is a wasteland.

Humans (the good guys) are members of an “endangered species” who survive by huddling together in primitive post-industrial camps or working as slaves for the Psychlos (the bad guys), a race of aliens who look like oversized coneheads with dreadlocks, bulky outfits and clunky platform space boots.

Travolta plays Terl, the Psychlos’ mean and menacing chief of security, who hopes to be transferred off Earth, which the film relentlessly portrays as “one of the ugliest crap holes in the whole universe.”

Actor Barry Pepper, who starred as Private Jackson in “Saving Private Ryan,” uses good-old human ingenuity, made-in-America democratic theory, modern management techniques, and a host of thoroughly implausible cinematic tricks to lead a glorious revolt against the Psychlos.

Surprisingly, the film’s substantial acting and production talent yields a movie full of bad acting, laughable dialogue, cheesy special effects, goofy spiritual mumbo-jumbo, and mind-numbing lapses of continuity and logic.

In addition, moviegoers’ eardrums are continually bombarded with excruciatingly loud sound effects and a musical soundtrack that uses blaring trumpets, pounding drums and faux-“Star Wars” refrains to distract viewers from the film’s many meaningless moments.

“Battlefield Earth” contains no explicit references to Scientology’s doctrines or its foundational therapeutic technology called “dianetics,” which Hubbard first described in the pages of Astounding Science Fiction magazine in 1950, four years before he founded the Church of Scientology.

Today, the church claims millions of supporters in more than 100 countries, but it still struggles for acceptance. Last month, the church-owned Bridge Publications announced a national media campaign in support of a new “Special 50th Anniversary Edition” of Hubbard’s book, “Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health.” Bridge also publishes Hubbard’s novels and has released a new version of “Battlefield Earth” featuring Travolta on the cover.

The church been involved in highly publicized battles with the U.S. government, the media, the psychiatric profession, religious groups that have called Scientology a cult, and perceived persecutors.

The Internal Revenue Service granted Scientology tax-exempt status in the 1950s, but revoked the exemption in 1967, claiming that Scientology was a business, not a religion. The church’s all-out campaign against the IRS led to criminal convictions of 11 church members, including Hubbard’s wife, but church officials dismissed these activities as a rogue operation. In 1993, the IRS reversed itself, granting tax exemptions to the church and more than 100 affiliated corporations, but Scientology operations in some other countries continue to face intense opposition.

The church’s international headquarters are in Los Angeles (where there’s a street called L. Ron Hubbard Way), and it operates a ritzy celebrity center in Hollywood for stars like Travolta, Tom Cruise and Kirstie Alley, who are featured in a glossy Scientology magazine called “Celebrity.” But the church is still ridiculed by many in Hollywood, including Steve Martin, who satirized the group in his 1999 film, “Bowfinger.”

Devotion to Scientology may have inspired Travolta to produce “Battlefield Earth,”and he has already talked of doing a sequel. But it’s unlikely that a plodding film like this will make new fans for either the church or its founder.

AMB END RABEY

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