Battlefield Earth

To my taste, L. Ron Hubbard peaked as an imaginative writer in 1940, with yarns like Fear and Typewriter in the Skya full decade before Dianetics turned his imagination in another direction and several decades before his best-selling novels flattened it into thousands of pages of clodhopping prose. This 117-minute adaptation of an 800-page SF adventure for teenagers (2000) seems like a miscalculation on multiple levels. Coproducer John Travolta is buried under what appear to be tons of makeup and padding to create a parody of one-dimensional villainy, and as his flunky, Forest Whitaker fares only slightly better by virtue of retaining his belly laugh. These aliens enslave and exploit earthlings on the charred remnants of earth in the year 3000 while insulting them with various rat-related epithets. The atmosphere is pretty depressing, but I wouldn’t describe the distance between this and The Phantom Menace as a yawning gulf. PG-13, 117 min. (JR)

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