Before its release, some of Scientology's critics suggested that Battlefield Earth would be filled with subliminal messages in an attempt to recruit or brainwash viewers. They needn't worry: Outside of marching on Washington in Nazi uniforms while burning crosses and clubbing baby seals, it's hard to think of a worse way to recruit converts than to subject them to this surreal atrocity, an adaptation of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard's 1982 novel. A film too staggeringly inept to be believed, Battlefield Earth is a contender for the worst movie of any year, decade, or century. The film tells the story of devolved future humans who live in what appears to be a Molly Hatchet album cover and do battle with a group of evil alien "Psychlos" who resemble giant Rastafarian werewolves. Clueless enough to make last year's crazy science-fiction turkey Wing Commander look like Solaris and 2001 rolled into one big luminescent ball, Battlefield Earth is written with all the skill and subtlety of a Flash Gordon serial and plotted with the cruel, hard logic of a Lyndon LaRouche presidential campaign. But at least it's uniquely terrible: A good deal of its screen time is devoted to "man animals" and their supposed preference for eating raw rats, which may be a canny bit of psychology on the filmmakers' part. After all, eating raw rodents is one of the few activities that sound less appealing than watching Battlefield Earth. Producer and star John Travolta's cackling, embarrassing performance as the film's nine-foot-tall heavy is bad enough to negate the last 25 years of his career: Travolta may be a gifted actor and a movie star in the classic sense of the term, but from now on, he will be seen not as the charismatic star of Saturday Night Fever and Pulp Fiction, but as John "Battlefield Earth" Travolta, the perpetrator of a film that will go down in history alongside Howard The Duck and Heaven's Gate as shorthand for Hollywood at its out-of-control worst. Not so much watched as lived through, Battlefield Earth is bad enough to make audiences ashamed to be part of the same species as the people who made it.
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