There is only one thing worse than an ill-fated passion project, and that’s an ill-fated passion project with a reported budget of $73 million. John Travolta’s Battlefield Earth is one such film, but if you could get past the deluge of Dutch angle, John Travolta’s over-the-top Shakespearean dialogue delivery, and a hamfisted plot about an advanced alien race exploiting human slaves in their conquest for Earth’s precious resources, then you’re in for a treat of epic proportions.
Unfortunately, you cannot stream Battlefield Earth anywhere because they’re still trying to make their money back on this one, but you can rent a copy on Apple TV, Amazon Video, Google Play Movies, and YouTube.
John Travolta marketed the sci-fi disaster Battlefield Earth by saying it’s “like Star Wars, only better.”
Though critics and audiences alike wholeheartedly agree that Battlefield Earth is one of the worst films of all time, John Travolta has gone on record suggesting that his then self-proclaimed magnum opus would be “like Star Wars, only better,” “Pulp Fiction for the year 3000,” and our favorite, “the Schindler’s List of science-fiction.” If you’re one to seek out entertainment in the form of bad cinema, then this movie most certainly belongs in your head-canon.
Battlefield Earth is set in the year 3000 and centers on an ages-long battle between a clan of primitive hunter-gatherers and an advanced alien race known as the Psychlos. 1,000 years after the Psychlos destroyed Earth (and most of humanity) for its resources, surviving human Johnny Goodboy Tyler sets out to find a better way of life, refusing to succumb to the hopelessness that everybody else seems so willing to accept.
During his initial exploration, Johnny and his travel companion, Carlo, are both kidnapped by a raiding Psychlo party and brought to a human processing center located in Denver, Colorado.
We’re quickly introduced to Terl (Travolta), a Psychlo security chief and the primary antagonist in Battlefield Earth. Terl, after being caught with his pants down with the Senator’s daughter, gets punished by his superiors and is stuck working on his remote Earth outpost with no option for promotion. In his frustration, Terl devises a scheme to use humans (man-animals) to illegally mine gold from Earth so he could bribe his way back to the Psychlo home planet and reclaim his rightful place on the Psychlo corporate ladder (or something).
John Travolta’s decision to over-enunciate all of his lines in Battlefield Earth is only one of the many baffling decisions behind the film.
In one of his many misguided attempts to carry out his inter-planet gold heist, Terl straps Johnny into a Psychlo rapid-learning machine that looks like something you’d see in A Clockwork Orange.
In Terl’s mind, this is the right move to make because there’s no way that giving his captor all of the knowledge in the known world could possibly backfire. Johnny quickly learns advanced mathematics, science, and history and decides to use his newfound knowledge to orchestrate his own plan to overthrow the Psychlo army.
Thinking he still has the upper hand, Terl, with the assistance of his bumbling Psychlo sidekick, Ker leaves his captors unsupervised so they can go back to the Psychlo home planet and drink excessive amounts of Kerbango.
During this time, Johnny discovers a massive supply of gold at Fort Knox and a bunch of outdated military equipment. Putting his now brilliant mind to work, he tasks his crew to restore and refuel the newly discovered Harrier jump jets and suit up for the ultimate battle of the ages.
Battlefield Earth is so breathtaking in its stupidity because Terl is one of the most idiotic antagonists we’ve ever seen. When he first captures Johnny and his clan, he wants to know how to get leverage over his subjects. He discovers that they will choose to eat uncooked rats over starving to death, and he immediately has reason to believe that rats are their favorite food, and he tries to bribe Johnny with live rats on more than one occasion.
Battlefield Earth was a historic box office flop, earning only $30 million during its theaterical run, and it still haunts John Travolta’s career to this day.
What really drives Terl’s characterization home in Battlefield Earth isn’t his lack of intellect, however, but rather John Travolta‘s delivery. Every single line is over-enunciated, which makes it sound like he’s auditioning for an off-Broadway rendition of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
When Terl passionately reminds Ker that he was destined to conquer galaxies, you can’t help but spit out your drink when you realize that John Travolta starred in Pulp Fiction and was nominated for an Academy Award just five years prior.
Knowing that John Travolta likened Battlefield Earth to a number of iconic films that preceded its own production, we’ve got a new way to describe this masterpiece of bad cinema: “The Room, but with aliens.” That is to say, Battlefield Earth is so bad that the few dollars it will cost you to rent on-demand are worth its weight in Psychlo gold when you consider its entertainment value.