The good people of Nag End-On-Sea can rest easy: we've found someone to play King Rat in this year's Christmas panto. His name's John, and he's just starred as an evil alien creature in a sci-fi movie. If Mr Travolta intended Battlefield Earth to be an entertaining space-panto for the kids, then he's succeeded. But if he was after a serious sci-fi block-buster, he's been sold the arse end of a fake dobbin.
Striding about in his big, silly boots, with his bigger, sillier forehead and even bigger, sillier laugh, Travolta is the mutant result of gene-splicing between Ming The Merciless and Officer Dibble from Top Cat. One minute he's the cackling supervillain, lording it over his inferiors, the next he's making such huge errors of judgement that you begin to wonder how he got the job in the first place. You want stupid? Try leaving a group of prisoners, one of who you've trained to use all of your technology to mine gold, in possession of a fighter ship - unattended. And then react with surprise when they start flying off on jaunts around the country to, say, find a nuclear device. Well, duh. Terl needs to get out to the cinema more often.
And, post Scream/Galaxy Quest, you realise just how old every element of Battlefield Earth feels. With plot points everyone in the audience can anticipate, you'll end up quoting the rules as the film unspools: the hero's always beaten up by the bad guy and squeezes in a rallying speech before the final battle; huge coincidences always lead to an advantage for the downtrodden; and one of the lesser characters always sacrifices themselves nobly for the good of the many. Plus, the gutsy girl rides off to save her man, only to be promptly captured. Solid, old-fashioned rollocking adventure? You can keep telling yourself that, but you'd be better off saving the cash, going home and watching Star Wars on video again instead.
Okay, Battlefield Earth is not entirely without entertainment value; there is a silver lining to this very dark cloud. Patrick Tatopoulous has been a busy man since making the visuals just about the only palatable thing on both ID4 and Godzilla. He's responsible for the creepy creature designs for next month's alien slasher Pitch Black, and now he's been let loose on both production design and costumes for Battlefield Earth. So sit back, and let the lovely panoramas of alien cities and striking ruined Earthscapes wash over you. It's certainly preferable to listening to the dialogue or having to endure the acting. Still, not to worry, eh, John? They pay very good rates at Nag End Community Theatre...
A sci-fi pantomime that throws every conceivable cliché into a plot which can't support them. Tragic dialogue and low-rate acting don't help matters, but at least it's all very nice to look at. Sign up for this battle at your peril.
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