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BATTLEFIELD EARTH

by: Scott Renshaw

Battlefield Earth ... is ... 117 minutes ... long ... which is ... plenty long enough ... to spend ... watching ... a very ... bad ... film ... but I grew even ... more ... annoyed ... when I realized ... the film ... could have been ... at least ... 15 minutes ... shorter ... (therefore ending ... all our torment ... 15 minutes ... sooner) ... if someone ... had told ... director Roger Christian ... to stop ... using ... slow ... motion ... for ... every ... freaking ... action ... scene.

Lousy summer action films are nothing new. It is still a bit shocking, however, when you have the misfortune to stumble upon one so fundamentally inept even as grandiose adventure. Battlefield Earth is just such a shambling behemoth, a film not even bad enough to be funny-bad (at least not often enough). Based on the novel by L. Ron Hubbard, it tells of an earth 1,000 years after a conquering alien invasion by the profit-hungry Psychlo race. Bands of humans live primitive hunter-gatherer lives on the outskirts of the Psychlo mining colony in Denver, while most humans work as slave labor. Leading the Psychlo security force is the arrogant Terl (John Travolta), embittered by his posting on earth and prepared to con his superiors out of a recently-discovered gold deposit. But he's about to meet his match in Jonnie (Barry Pepper), a feisty human keen on leading a rebellion against the Psychlos.

I've never read the L. Ron Hubbard novel on which Battlefield Earth is based, so I don't know how much of the film's narrative idiocy is his responsibility. I do know that the film could set you to scratching your head so furiously you could draw blood. How is it that in 1,000 years of occupation strictly for the purpose of acquiring precious metals, none of the Psychlos bothered to investigate Fort Knox, or noticed the big glowing vein of gold in the rocks a few miles from their headquarters? How is it that the expression "piece of cake" survives in a culture that doesn't appear to have much time for baking? What miraculous change in the planet's weather patterns allowed books in the Denver Library to survive 1,000 years' exposure to Rocky Mountain winters? And would it have been so hard to explain why the Psychlos' domed habitat is so strategically important when both humans and Psychlos must wear breathing devices (strangely like high-tech Breathe Right strips) in order to survive inside it?

Even with so much slipshod storytelling involved, I might have settled for an action-adventure that seemed concerned about making its action somewhat ... adventurous. Instead, Roger Christian turns every confrontation, every chase and every battle into parade of slow-motion explosions. The device has certainly become popular thanks to Hong Kong directors like John Woo, but in such cases the film-maker is usually giving viewers the opportunity to appreciate a particularly cool stunt, or Chow Yun-Fat flying through the air with a pair of guns blazing. Christian, on the other hand, uses slow-motion to turn the film into an agonizing crawl towards its conclusion. It's clear he wants Battlefield Earth to be something epic and mythological; the frequent George Lucas collaborator even uses the familiar wipe-dissolves from the Star Wars films. In Christian's hands, unfortunately, the wipes are yet another way he takes us far too slowly from one place to another. You know a film is failing on its most fundamental level when an entire sell-out preview audience responds to the climactic explosion with stony silence.

Battlefield Earth does offer the chance to watch Travolta -- who has shown no reluctance to ham up his villainous characters in films like Broken Arrow and Face/Off -- whooping it up as the gleefully duplicitous Terl, which occasionally makes the film watchable. Sadly, his gusto only makes it evident that someone involved in the fil

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