An important aspect of the film industry that I’ve taken a while to really understand is quite simple: Actors are people.
Yeah, that sounds dumb when I write it out, but that’s a small chestnut of the cognitive dissonance I managed to overcome. First, you see a movie. Then, you read of said star in the news. Then, you consider their personal life if a scandal is involved. Just look at Jennifer Lawrence. The girl was Hollywood royalty one minute, but a single snide remark prompts everyone to jump on her.
Which brings us to “Battlefield Earth” and how it practically destroyed John Travolta’s credibility for some time.
The cinematic train-wreck opens on Earth in the year 3000. Humanity has regressed back to the Stone Age, living in caves and apparently becoming Rastafarian because everyone has dreadlocks. A caveman named Johnny Goodboy-Taylor (Barry Pepper) hurls a rock into the air for some reason after hearing someone died. He is then captured by giant Klingon rejects known as “Psychlos” from the planet “Psychlo,” who destroyed human civilization a millennium ago. They are there to mine for gold because (I guess) vibranium or adamantium was taken. Meanwhile, a high ranking Kling–I’m sorry–Psychlo named Terl (John Travolta) is told he needs to stay on Earth for “50 cycles” with endless options for renewal. So he hatches a plan to train humans to mine gold.
Of course, Johnny becomes a freedom fighter, because he can.
There’s too much in this movie to pin down one specific thing as bad. It’s more a sense of general incompetence at play.
For one, every single shot (I’m not kidding) is at an angle. Thusly, it gives the audience the sense that we are watching the epic events of discount Klingons through the eyes of someone with a mean neck injury. The writing is pure-pulp garbage: with illogical character actions, silly sci-fi plot devices (a literal “knowledge ray” comes into play), and villains so idiotic that they are honestly surprised that giving a subjugated caveman advanced knowledge leads to an uprising.
But the real tragedy of this film is the destroyed credibility of John Travolta.
He plays Terl with such a ridiculous camp edge that you’d expect him to start twirling his massive nose hairs that seems endemic to all Psychlo males. He’s supposed to be the main draw of the film. Hell, his face is the most prominent on the release poster! What adds insult to injury is the fact that Travolta worked so hard to get this film made.
For those who don’t know, “Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000” is a two part epic novel by the founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard. This novel has nothing to do with that quack religion, but Travolta, who is a Scientologist, wanted this movie so bad. He even used some of his own money to make it!
Sadly, the film was massive bomb and has now become infamous for its astounding level of genuine suck. According to IMDb, Travolta spent most of the early 2000’s languishing in crap movie limbo before he had a slight comeback with “Hairspray.” Since then, he hasn’t exactly been in the public eye too much. Now, this isn’t a new thing for Travolta. He’s been known for making bad casting decisions that ruin his career only for it to come back before disappearing again. Considering how much older he is now, I doubt he will doing anything too major nowadays. His star, like most others from his heyday, is on the wane due to his poor choices as well as age.
We can partially thank “Battlefield Earth” for Travolta’s slow fade into obscurity and to a, most likely, quieter life away from the spotlight.