This week's quiz question: What do Kirstie Alley, Jenna Elfman, Isaac Hayes, Chick Corea, Priscilla Presley, Lisa Marie Presley and Greta Van Susteren have in common? Answer: They will all love Battlefield Earth, which stars John Travolta as Intergalactic President of the Hair Club for Men. Or, if they won't love it--who could love this Jupiter-sized bomb?--they will at least be going to see it because they're all members of the Church of Scientology, and Battlefield Earth is based on a 1982 sci-fi novel by Scientology's founder, L. Ron Hubbard. In interviews, Travolta has made it clear that the movie has nothing to do with Scientology--a relief, I suppose, but even if it did, who would care? There hasn't been a sci-fi flick this lame since Ed Wood formulated Plan 9 from Outer Space. The year is 3000, and man is an endangered species, holed up in the mountains like some kind of savage. The rest of the planet is ruled over by the Psychlos, alien beings who make Klingons look like pretty boys. Psychlos are 10 feet tall, give or take an inch, and they have enough hair weaves and hair extensions to keep Mel Gibson in Braveheart sequels until the end of time. Oh, and they're diabolically clever, although, I have to say, they're the dumbest diabolically clever beings I've even seen. Travolta's Terl, who's head of security on this remote outpost of the Psychlo empire, is the kind of fearless leader who would demand, as ransom, one...million...dollars. Moment by moment, this has to be the most hilariously inept performance of Travolta's career, and that includes Moment by Moment. For starters, there's his voice--so soft and high-pitched you expect him to peel off all that latex and reveal Barry Manilow cowering underneath. Then there's what he does with the voice, enunciating every consonant like he was trying out for the school play. Finally, there's what he says with the voice: diabolically clever inanities that will have the Mystery Science Theatre guys pinching themselves with disbelief. My favorite is when Terl, after promising not to vaporize someone, hands his vaporizer to his chief lieutenant (Forest Whitaker, looking like one of the actors stranded by the closing of Cats), who proceeds to vaporize the guy. Then Terl cackles, "I said I wouldn't vaporize you, but I didn't say he wouldn't vaporize you. Ah-ha-ha-ha-HA!" Kudos to the other actors for not shouting "But it was implied."
Barry Pepper, the Christian sharpshooter in Saving Private Ryan, is fine as the rebel leader of the "man-animals"--a term that does not fall trippingly off the Psychlo tongue, hence Terl's tendency to substitute (ad nauseam) "rat-brain." The Psychlos' highly evolved disdain for humans evokes Planet of the Apes, which came out 15 years before Hubbard's novel was published. Whatever sources Hubbard used to piece together his thousand-page opus, he was smart enough not to quit his day job, but I wonder about Travolta's denial of a connection between the movie and Scientology. According to Scientology's scriptures, humans, in various incarnations, have been hanging around earth for 75 million years, which is exactly how long Battlefield Earth seemed to last. Coincidence? Ah-ha-ha-ha-HA!