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Battlefield Earth

Entry updated 6 September 2019. Tagged: Film.

Film (2000). Warner Bros presents a Franchise Pictures and Morgan Creek Productions film in association with Battlefield Productions, JTP Films and Mel's Cite du Cinema. Directed by Roger Christian. Written by Corey Mandell and J D Shapiro, based on the first half of the novel Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000 (1982) by L Ron Hubbard. Cast includes Kim Coates, Sabine Karsenti, Michael MacRae, Barry Pepper, Kelly Preston, John Travolta and Forest Whitaker. Colour. 111 minutes.

Blond-haired Superman Jonnie "Goodboy" Tyler (Pepper) leads the scattered remnants of humanity out of Slavery one thousand years after the conquest of planet Earth by Aliens.

"Does all of Earth look like this?" asks District Manager Zete (MacRae) of the Psychlo Galactic Empire on his arrival on Earth via Matter Transmission. "... Pathetic. All the green and the blue sky. They told me Earth was ugly but it's got to be one of the ugliest crap-holes in the entire universe." Nine-foot-tall, leather-clad Klingon-a-likes the Psychlos occupy an atmosphere-controlled Macrostructure above the ruins of the City of Denver, wherein Psychlo security chief Terl (Travolta) loudly trumpets his nefarious scheme to put the "man-animals" (see Devolution) of the Ruined Earth to work mining gold in areas of high radioactivity caused by the Psychlo Invasion (see Post-Holocaust). "If man-animal prefers its rat uncooked then that makes our job much easier," says Terl to put-upon second-in-command Ker (Whitaker) after first furnishing recalcitrant captive Jonnie "Goodboy" Tyler with a Ray Gun – "I'll be damned," he remarks when the human proves capable of using the Weapon – and then allowing him to escape from Prison, before supplying him with access to both Psychlo and human Linguistics via Uplift from the pink neon beam of a Psychlo Machine and dumping him in the remains of the Library of Congress (see Libraries). "This is Mathematics ... the unifying language of the entire universe," says Jonnie, demonstrating his newfound Intelligence by sketching some Euclidean geometry in the dust. "... I learned something from molecular Biology." Clever-Jonnie returns from Fort Knox in Kentucky with hangar-loads of gold bars – "I assumed that a Psychlo of your standing wouldn't settle for something so unrefined as ore," he tells Terl – before discovering a secret stash of Harrier Jump Jets (a millennial Time Abyss has not impaired their function) and a handy nuclear warhead: "I'm taking it to their home planet to detonate." The human-operated Jump Jets make short work of the Psychlo Spaceships and "Planet Psychlo" is duly destroyed by a single blast, the Psychlos being, it would seem, the kind of empire that disdains to research the species it enslaves while also possessing the Technology to overcome them (see Imperialism).

L Ron Hubbard suggested in early 1983 that a Hollywood adaptation of Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000 (1982) was in the offing, and the Church of Scientology sold the film rights later that year through its in-house literary agency, but the project collapsed despite the church's best efforts to promote the venture, and it was not until actor John Travolta (who converted to Scientology in 1975) was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in Pulp Fiction (1994) that interest in an adaptation reignited. "Battlefield Earth is the pinnacle of using my power for something," Travolta told the New York Daily News in May 2000. Distribution deals with MGM and Twentieth Century Fox had, however, fallen through and it was not until Travolta lowered his appearance fee and invested $5 million of his own money through JTP Films that a new deal was struck with Franchise Pictures, itself later bankrupted by the outcome of a lawsuit brought by German company Intertainment AG. It emerged that Franchise had falsely inflated the film's budget to $75 million (from $44 million) as part of a deal in which Intertainment was persuaded to provide 47% of the production costs of Battlefield Earth in exchange for European distribution rights, bringing the film's actual production budget to somewhere between $10 million and $12 million. "Battlefield Earth had the smallest lighting budget of any film I've ever done," much-criticized cinematographer Giles Nuttgens told MovieMaker magazine in 2007. Director Roger Christian, who won an Academy Award for production design on Star Wars (1977) and who had been nominated for another Oscar for his work on Alien (1979), claimed that both George Lucas and Quentin Tarantino loved Battlefield Earth. The film's first scriptwriter, J D Shapiro (rumoured to have been removed from the production after refusing a long sequence of rewrites suggested by Travolta and other members of the Church of Scientology), published an apology for his part in Battlefield Earth in the New York Post of 28 March 2010, in which he wrote, "Comparing it to a train wreck isn't really fair to train wrecks, because people actually want to watch those [...] out of all the sucky movies, mine is the suckiest." [MD]


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