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Film / Battlefield Earth

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"While you were still learning how to spell your name, I was being trained to conquer galaxies!"

The film version of L. Ron Hubbard's Science Fiction novel Battlefield Earth was released in 2000, directed by Roger Christian and starring John Travolta as Psychlo leader Terl (he originally wanted to play the part of the book's hero, Jonnie "Goodboy" Tyler, but that role eventually went to Barry Pepper because Travolta was too old by then). Travolta, a self-proclaimed Hubbard fan (and Scientologist), wanted to do the film for a long time, but had trouble securing money for it because of studios' apprehension to bankroll the film due to its connections with the real-life Church of Scientology. He later poured millions of dollars of his own money into the project and signed on as a co-producer, and the rest ... well, is history.

After Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and 20th Century Fox declined offers to distribute the film, it was eventually picked up by Franchise Pictures, a company known for helping stars rescue their troubled pet projects. Out of a $44 million budget, which eventually spiraled into $73 million adding marketing and Franchise's embezzlement, the film grossed less than $30 million across the globe.


The film covers the first third of the Doorstopper book: the Psychlos come to Earth, beat the humans in about nine minutes, and establish an outpost here. They are here for gold — the rarest and most valuable substance in the universe, it seems. Jonnie leads a band of slaves to rise up against their masters. Travolta is still intent on having the second half of the book produced.

Has the dubious honor of winning nine Razzies — a record that stood until 2011's Jack and Jill, which won one more — including the Worst Movie of 2000, the Worst Drama of the award's first 25 years, 1980–2005, and Worst Movie of the Decade, 2000–2009.


While you were still learning how to SPELL YOUR NAME, Battlefield Earth was being trained to provide these trope examples!

  • Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole: While the original novel isn't exactly regarded as a masterpiece of plotting, the film still introduces various plot holes and problems of its own.
    • Perhaps the most glaring is that, in the film, the Psychlos somehow missed the massive reserves of pure gold at Fort Knox altogether, whereas the novel specifically states that the Psychlos have looted the already-warehoused stores of the metal located across the world. In the novel, the humans instead find gold in an old armored truck.
    • In the novel, Terl and most Psychlos have never personally encountered humans prior to the start of the story, which makes some of their prejudices around them a little more understandable.
    • In the novel, the humans use the Psychlos' weaponry, not 1,000-plus-year-old aircraft, against them.
  • Adaptational Nationality: Robert the Fox and his men are Scottish in the novel and American in the film.
  • Adaptation Name Change: Zete, the high-ranking Psychlo who visits Earth early in the story, was called “Zzt” in the novel [albeit the novel's character was a mechanic and more of a rival to Terl]. Presumably his name was changed to make it easier to pronounce.
  • Aliens Are Bastards: You can hardly sympathize with any of the Psychlos, except maybe Ker and the Bartender. In the book, it's explained that an implant in Psychlo brains has a side effect that causes them to feel pleasure when they're being bastards. Ker was nicer than the others because he didn't get the implant due to falling between the cracks when he was young.
  • All Hail the Great God Mickey!
    • Many of the cavemen Jonnie encounter mistook product mascots for humans petrified for "angering the gods".
    • Carlo tells Johnnie about temples where people would drive chariots to golden arches to magically receive food.
  • Almost Out of Oxygen: A pair of Psychlo guards decide to execute Jonnie by ripping off his breathing device and seeing how long it takes for him to suffocate. Jonnie manages to borrow another prisoner's oxygen, which the guards consider cheating, then finds his way to a vent that leads outside, where he can breathe.
  • Alternate DVD Commentary: Courtesy of RiffTrax.
  • And Man Grew Proud: The humans have forgotten that the Psychlos invaded and conquered Earth over a thousand years ago, instead believing that demons came down from the sky because the gods were angry.
  • Artistic License – Gun Safety: Terl intentionally hands a human prisoner a ready-to-fire weapon, to prove his point that the "man-animals" are too stupid to operate firearms, even though the human has already shot one person, according to his subordinates. The prisoner ends up using the weapon to kill Terl's lieutenant. Psychlos are shown not to store loaded weapons, so this is apparently another example of the Psychlos' bizarre arrogance vis-à-vis humans in believing that they're not sentient, despite all the technology that Terl acknowledges they had.
    Terl: Well, I'll be damned. [Laughs]
  • Artistic License – Military: The flight simulator and Harrier jump jets found at Ft. Hood were property of the United States Marine Corps. The real Ft. Hood is an Army base.
  • Artistic License – Physics:
    • Gold is apparently the rarest and most valuable material in the universe. There are dozens of rarer elements, even if you discount the ones that would be of no use to the Psychlos because they're either radioactive or exist only in microscopic quantities.
    • The planet Psychlo has an atmosphere that spontaneously ignites in the presence of radiation. This means radioactive decay does not naturally occur on the planet, meaning the planet violates the second law of thermodynamics and is effectively a perpetual motion machine.
      • On a related note, the Psychlos have eyes, which means Planet Psychlo must orbit a light-producing star. Stars emit radiation. Lots and lots of radiation.
      • Not to mention that a highly advanced, star-faring, and extremely warlike species supposedly got along without ever using radioactive materials.
      • The novel does suggest that the Psychlo homeworld exists in another universe altogether (Jonnie Goodboy concludes this when attempting to understand Psychlo math).
  • As You Know: Terl "graduated top of [his] class" at the Psychlos' mysterious Academy of Evil, which he reminds Zete of to protest the extension of his assignment to Earth.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: Terl demonstrates his marksmanship "skills" on some cows to make a point to the humans he's trying to threaten.
  • Barbarian Longhair: Humans and Psychlos alike sport long, flowing, ungroomed locks.
  • Beard of Evil: Some of the Psychlos, namely Terl and Zete.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: Hidden cameras are a thing with the Psychlos.
  • Big Damn Heroes: The Harriers that saved Carlo from being killed by a Psychlo fighter.
  • Big "NO!": Most of Jonnie's lines involve him violently expressing his grief over a person, animal, or thing.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: Psychlos have tall heads, like the Coneheads with dreadlocks, breathe air that is toxic to humans (and vice versa), and even the slightest amount of radiation is deadly to them. At least one female Psychlo has an Overly Long Tongue that would make a Luxan proud, though this seems to be unusual for the race as both Terl and Ker regard it as a fetish. Additionally, Terl has six fingers, though the camera doesn't focus on any other Psychlo's hands to see if that's normal. (In the book, it's mentioned obliquely that Psychlos have six fingers on one hand and five on the other.) Also, loss of limbs seems to be a minor inconvenience.
  • Bloodless Carnage: The film is free of gore, be it human or Psychlo. Rather jarring: a few Psychlos (e.g. Ker and Terl) lost at least one limb (not to mention the decapitated head of the Bartender). The humans? None.
  • Blown Across the Room: Carlo, the first time a Psychlo ray gun shoots him. Especially noteworthy since every other time a human gets hit, the shot merely knocks them back a bit or makes them fall over. A ray gun, used realistically, should cause no recoil at all, compounding the silliness.
  • Braids, Beads and Buckskins: Suspiciously clean buckskins (Travolta didn't want the movie to look too grimy), for the first act, anyway. The Psychlos, though irredeemably evil, are nice enough to give the man-animals jumpsuits after capture.
  • Break Out the Museum Piece: Apparently, fighter jets that have been in storage for the last thousand years are perfectly serviceable when needed, and even the fuel still hasn't degraded.
  • Bumbling Sidekick: Ker is presented as this to Terl, though the latter doesn't evince that much more brainpower.
  • Call a Human a "Meatbag": The Psychlos typically refer to humans as "man-animals."
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": The Psychlos always refer to the substance they breathe as "breath gas," not "atmosphere" or "air," or the specific gas that they inhale.
  • Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit":
    • In one scene, Ker is seen placing a plate of sorts with a topographical map showing the location of some gold into a rack of other such plates (as he thinks Terl has left Earth for good by now and wants to 'find' the gold himself). When Terl comes in and confronts him about it, he inexplicably refers to the plate as a "photo," even though it's obviously a model or map and looks nothing like a photo.
    • The Psychlos call their security cameras "picto-cameras". Not only is this a dumb name, other than being able to retract into the wall and hide, said cameras seem no more high-tech than modern-day security cameras, and indeed, have worse vision as they are all tilted at an angle and are in all green for no apparent reason.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Virtually all the Psychlos except Ker, the bartender, and another low-ranking flunky or two.
  • Catchphrase: "Piece of cake!" by the humans, "Leverage!" by the Psychlos.
  • Chekhov's Classroom: Subverted. Jonnie teaches his followers Euclidean geometry, claiming it will be very important. It never is (beyond what they would need for piloting anyway). Even better, he teaches some of his fellow prisoners geometry and others piloting.
  • Chewing the Scenery/Evil Is Hammy/World of Ham:
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Again, the Psychlos. Especially Terl. It borders on Stupid Evil at points, as they are willing to backstab each other even when it's not in their interest.
  • Color Wash: Scenes that take place in the dome are tinted blue. The rest of Earth is more yellowish-brown. The Psychlo planet itself is purple. In-universe, Psychlo security footage is all in green for no discernible reason. Perhaps they use old Apple IIe monitors.
  • Critical Research Failure: In-Universe: The Psychlos seem to have this regarding humans and Earth in general, the biggest being not knowing Fort Knox has a lot of gold in it (averted in the novel) despite invading Earth with the express purpose of finding and getting gold. There are several other humdingers as well, such as how, when Terl and another Psychlo are looking at a picture of a human driving a car with a dog riding in the passenger seat, they assume the humans acted like chauffeurs to their dogs, even after realizing how this "superior race" is incapable of doing most of the things their alleged servants can. Even assuming none of the many planets they are implied to have conquered had a concept of pets (which is a lot to swallow itself), it's hard to believe that, after ruling Earth for 1,000 years, the Psychlos have apparently never seen a pet store.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Terl towards his subordinates.
  • Decapitation Presentation: Terl to Ker: "It [Ker's informant] could even be ... OUR FRIENDLY BARTENDER!"
  • Discretion Shot: At one point, a human gets his head exploded by a prison collar. The scene cuts away from the explosion itself to show other characters' reactions to it.
  • Domed Hometown: The Psychlo outpost is one of these, because of the whole "exploding breath gas" thing. In a shocking subversion, it's more of a pyramid, but the characters refer to it as a dome regardless.
  • Do Wrong, Right: When Terl catches Ker trying to pretend he wasn't hiding a report detailing the location of a newly exposed gold deposit, he criticizes Ker not for betraying him, but for not being competent enough to check what he was betraying him for. As Terl already knows, the gold deposit can't be mined because the entire area is radioactive, so Ker betrayed him over a worthless photo.
  • Dull Surprise: Many characters, but special mention goes to Terl's reaction to losing his right arm. Also earlier, Ker when losing his left hand.
  • Dutch Angle: This is Dutch Angle: The Movie. It notoriously used them to the point of excess. (A shot from the film provides the page image.) As Roger Ebert noted in his review:
    "The director, Roger Christian, has learned from better films that directors sometimes tilt their cameras, but he has not learned why."
    • It's even used in-universe. When Terl looks at some security camera footage, that too is tilted.
    • It gets worse. Roger Christian gave invokedWord of God that Dutch angles were used in all but one shot of the film.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: A nuke sent to Psychlo causes a reaction with its atmosphere and blows up the planet ... except this time Psychlo is reduced to a cloud of noxious gas.
  • Easily Conquered World: The Psychlo invasion force wipes out every Terran military in nine minutes, apparently by teleporting millions of nerve gas drones all across Earth. And then, to show the trope goes both ways, a much smaller army of cavemen using thousand-year-old Harriers beats their small force of armed cargo haulers.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Hardly any of the Psychlos actually have names, and even in the credits are generally only referred to by their titles.
  • Evil Laugh: There's enough "normal" Evil Laughter and fake, mocking laughter to fill a half-hour sitcom, not to mention Forest Whitaker's hearty chortles and some disturbingly fey laughter by Travolta. The Psychlos are a merry bunch (it makes one either wonder what gas they breathe, or think that's why their air is so volatile).
    • Chris Stuckmann says this should be called "Evil Laughter: The Movie", as the Psychlos seem to do nothing else.
  • Evil Old Folks: The Planetship is clearly a very elderly Psychlo.
  • Exact Words:
    • Zete promises Terl that his assignment to Earth won't be extended "for another five cycles" as expected. Instead, it will be extended "...for another FIFTY cycles. With endless options for renewal!"
    • Terl promises Jonnie he won't kill a prisoner destined to have his head blown off ... only to give Ker the trigger to the explosive device and have him do it. As he puts it, "I only said I wouldn't kill him."
  • Explosive Stupidity: Subverted; while Terl has an explosive collar strapped to his arm when he triggers the detonator that he believes will kill Jonnie's love interest, he doesn't die from it.
  • Expy: The Psychlos basically look like Klingons, except they are nine feet tall, have even less of a fashion sense, and lack any factors that make them scary or badass (or, indeed, especially interesting in any way). Only they're also slimy corporate businessmen, so imagine the Klingons if they had the personalities and culture of the Ferengi, and the juxtaposition is just as weird and jarring as that sounds.
  • Failed a Spot Check: The Psychlos love gold. They came to Earth looking for it, and spent a millennium on the planet doing so, mining it, and shipping it off. And yet in that millennium, they somehow failed to find Fort Knox, which is crammed with the stuff.
    • Made worse by the fact that the Psychlos didn't overlook Fort Knox in the book.
    • Also, the humans fool the Psychlos into thinking they are working by giving them the gold from Ft. Knox and pretending they mined it themselves and smelted it into bricks as a courtesy. Unless Terl left them the equipment to do this, which would be weird, he just accepts that explanation on its face and orders production doubled.
  • Fat and Skinny: Rock and Carlo, the first allies Jonnie makes from outside his tribe, are these respectively.
  • Faux Action Girl: Chrissy. Jonnie says she can handle herself better than most men, but she barely has any screen time since she's a Token Romance, and for most of it she has an explosive collar strapped around her neck and Terl holds her hostage.
  • Faux Affably Evil: This seems to be a personality trait of a few Psychlos, especially Terl.
  • Future Imperfect:
    • Fast food and automobiles are the stuff of legends, and mannequins are purportedly people punished for offending the gods.
    • The Psychlos are shown at one point examining old Earth photos of people driving with their dogs, leading them to believe that the dogs were the superior species since they had the humans chauffeuring them around. They also note that dogs, while much more cooperative than "man-animals", which the Psychlos interpret to mean higher intelligence (after all, dogs recognize who their betters are), are almost useless for manual labor (further proof that dogs were the masters of "man-animals", who did all the work).
    • Even with his newfound intelligence, Jonnie assumes a map of the United States which has red lines depicting state borders is entirely literal and someone must have painted these giant lines on the ground. That they aren't there now just means they must have faded over time.
  • Gangsta Style: Because Psychlos are so much bigger than humans, a two-handed sideways grip seems to be the only way the humans can aim and fire the aliens' weapons.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: The movie botches even this simple trope — the cow-shooting scene doesn't show us Terl turning live cattle into raining beef chunks, but it's shot so poorly (and the actors' responses so utterly bland) that it's hard to tell what's even happening. Not only that, but the one cow we do see get shot uses Bloodless Carnage at the same time, making the attempt at hiding the 'violence' come across as redundant.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: The Psychlo Overlord, who is the one behind the Psychlo invasion on Earth.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Apparently Ker got tired of being surrounded by his Large Ham Idiot Ball-carrying species (especially Terl) and joined up with the humans at the end.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: When Carlo blows up his own ship to destroy the "dome," and when Mickey detonates the nuclear bomb.
  • Hilarity Ensues:
    • "You are out of your skull-bone if you think I'm going to write on the report 'shot by man-animal' as the cause of death unless I see it!"
    • "Piece o' cake, piece o' cake, piece o' cake, piece o' cake!"
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Sort of. Though he doesn't actually die, Terl blows off his own arm with the exploding collar he used on Jonnie's girlfriend. And in the end he's put in a cage in Fort Knox, surrounded by gold. It's ironic, y'see, because he put Jonnie in a cage and started the whole scheme to get gold.
  • Humans Are Morons:
    • Terl and his fellow Psychlos believe that the humans are too stupid to do anything on their own, so they give them some 'assistance' in the form of Psychlo knowledge beams. Considering the fact that all the Psychlos, Terl included, appear to have been issued an individual Idiot Ball at birth, this arguably becomes a form of unintentional Hypocritical Humor.
    • More exasperating, the Psychlos know full well that Homo sapiens sapiens once had industrial societies in varying states of health, and yet they still assume they're too dumb to walk and chew gum at the same time.
    • Part of this is actually a large In-Universe case of Strawman Has a Point. It wasn't until Terl used the machine to impart Psychlo knowledge to Jonnie that he even knew what a triangle was.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Jonnie delivers a Rousing Speech about how "We [humans] have enough problems without killing each other over food!" ... having just beaten the crap out of a fellow prisoner (granted, he was a prison bully) over food.
  • Idiosyncratic Wipes: Now, center wipes are not very idiosyncratic as far as scene transitions go... but every. single. transition is a center wipe. All of them, even the transition to the credits.
  • Idiot Ball: Many characters grab this, but each Psychlo seems to have been issued an individual one at birth.
    • One example from many: Terl gets so into shooting cows to demonstrate his shooting prowess to the humans that he doesn't actually pay attention to his surroundings, and gets jumped from behind as a result.
    • Terl also teaches the humans how to work their aircraft, weaponry, and speak the Psychlo language. He seems to be the only Psychlo who realizes the humans have intelligence and are capable of performing complex tasks, but doesn't consider the possibility this could be used against him.
    • In any scene with Terl and Jonnie together, you can almost see them passing the ball back and forth. For example, when Terl is inspecting the results of Jonnie's "mining," he quite understandably asks why Jonnie is presenting him with smelted gold bars, rather than the ore he was expecting. Jonnie, who hadn't spotted that flaw in his plan, explains lamely, "I assumed, sir, that a Psychlo of your refinement wouldn't settle for anything as coarse as raw ore." Terl accepts the flimsy excuse without question, even though he knows Johnnie was never provided with the training or the equipment to do this.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: The only marksmanship any Psychlo exhibits is when Terl shoots up a herd of stationary cattle. The fact their guns are held upside down, making them nearly impossible to aim, probably contributes to this.
  • Incredibly Obvious Bug: So obvious even cavemen can spot them.
  • Insane Troll Logic: At the end of the movie, Jonnie keeps Terl alive so that if there are Psychlos living off their homeworld, and they come looking for revenge, humans can use Terl as leverage ... because the Psychlos would be really pissed at Terl for indirectly dooming the homeworld ... so if they get him, they won't bother with the humans, who directly doomed their homeworld. Clearly, he Didn't Think This Through very well.
    • This was almost certainly meant as a Sequel Hook; the adaptation stops a third of the way through the book.
    • In the book, Terl is put in protective custody as the [several including Ker] Psychlos are after his blood.
  • It Works Better with Bullets: Doubles as Not with the Safety on, You Won't, since Terl says this to Jonnie and his friends aiming them at him.
    Terl: If ANY of you rat-brains knew ANYTHING about firearms, you would know that you never. Store. Loaded. Weapons!
    • Of course, Terl correcting somebody else's gun safety is kind of ironic considering what OTHER film John Travolta was in.
  • Just Plane Wrong: Oh, so many examples.
    • Nothing should be working after about a millennium; it takes years, not weeks, to learn to fly one; none of them has flight suits and yet they're all stunt dog-fighter material. On the positive side, they do mention that Harrier jets can hover.
    • Harriers are so unreliable it is almost ridiculous to suggest they can even be repaired.
      • Not to mention that Harriers are infamous for being extremely difficult to master compared to most jets, primarily due to their unique flight characteristics.
  • Kick the Dog: Terl shoots the legs off a herd of cattle just to show how evil he is.
  • Large Ham:
  • Laughably Evil: Terl.
  • Made of Explodium: Psycho breath gas explosively combusts when exposed to radiation. When the atmosphere on Planet Psychlo ignites thanks to a single nuclear bomb, the resulting explosion rips the entire planet apart — crust, mantle, core and all.
  • Made of Plasticine: The Psychlos seem to lose limbs a lot easier than one would expect. At one point, Ker is shot in the hand by Terl, and everything above his wrist just vanishes, while Terl later on would lose his own limb courtesy of a shaped charge from Johnny. Both times, the injuries are mighty clean, though Ker's hand could at least be handwaved as being "vaporized" by the blaster shot, a property that's demonstrated several times throughout the movie.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: Ker gets his hand shot off. The most reaction this gets out of him is mild confusion. In turn, Terl loses his entire arm and manages to be annoyed by it. Maybe the Psychlo physiology makes such an injury not a big deal, but the movie explains nothing.
  • Manly Tears: Mickey, just before he detonates the nuke.
  • Marquee Alter Ego: Jay of Half in the Bag points out that John Travolta and Forrest Whitaker, the biggest movie stars in the cast, not coincidentally happen to be the Psychlos whose makeup covers up the least of their actual faces.
  • Messianic Archetype: Jonnie starts to become a savior figure after the Psychlos capture him.
  • Mistook the Dominant Lifeform: The Psychlos interpret surveillance photos of humans with dogs in car passenger seats as evidence that the dogs were "obviously the superior race, having the man-animals chauffeur them around." They also mention that the dogs were much more willing to cooperate with the alien masters than humans. Unfortunately, dogs proved ill-equipped for manual labor (which, again, demonstrated their superiority, not needing to work). They can fetch, though.
  • Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: Ker joins the humans because of Terl's regular abuse and mistreatment (and because most of his race was exterminated when the planet Psychlo exploded).
    • In the novel, he became friends with Jonnie earlier in the novel as he had always felt like an outsider. It turns out there was a good reason for this [see Aliens Are Bastards]
  • Motifs: Nauseating camera angles, lurid blue or purple coloration, people dressed like cavemen hooting like howler monkeys.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: This film holds the dubious honor of providing audiences with the most overly dramatic "cavemen being sprayed with hoses" scene in film history. It's exactly as stupid as it sounds.
  • Never Say "Die": The Psychlos do like the word "Vaporize", though. Even though their guns don't actually vaporize anyone.
  • Noodle Incident: Terl was stranded on Earth as punishment for "an incident involving the Senator's daughter" (usually interpreted as one or more unauthorized sexual encounters).
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Psychlos don't even take poorly to amputations.
  • Orphaned Etymology:
    • The cavemen oddly use idioms one wouldn't think they would even know about, much less use every day. The biggest offender, "piece of cake," is used to mean the same thing it does today (something easy) even though none of the cavemen is seen eating cake at any point and it seems unlikely they would even know what it is. (It's barely more believable that Jonnie's people would understand the meaning of their derogative for him, "greener" — a reference to his belief that "the grass is greener on the other side", i.e., that things are better elsewhere.)
    • A Psychlo tells Terl that he'll die and go to Hell, and it will be an improvement on Earth, even though there's no reason to assume the Psychlos' religion or religions (if they even have any, which we never seen any evidence of) would have a Hell.
    • It's not that surprising that the Psychlos know (or at least, know of) Euclidean geometry. What is surprising is that they call it Euclidean geometry, which was named after Euclid of Alexandria.
    • At one point Terl calls another Psychlo a "rat-brain." Even if he's seen rats from being on Earth, it's still kind of weird he would insult someone by comparing them to an Earth animal, rather than a Psychlo one.
  • Overly Long Tongue: Terl's girlfriend, Chirk (played by Kelly Preston, John Travolta's wife), has one.
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish": The passcode to Terl's vault is his ID number backwards.
  • The Plan: Terl's is to mine undiscovered gold on Earth in order to bribe his way back to the Psychlo homeworld. Not a bad plan, but the execution is subpar, to say the least!
  • Planet of Hats: The Psychlos are almost all violent, profiteering, scheming, and stupid, although they're supposedly highly intelligent and conquered the Earth in nine minutes. Then again, it is Terl who tells this story.
  • Plot Hole: Too many to count.
  • Polyamory: Ker says he's supporting five wives back on Psychlo (none of whom is seen).
  • Portal Network: Psychlos put teleporters on all the planets they control and colonize.
  • Pun: The movie's Tag Line is "Prepare to go Psychlo".
  • Puppet King: Terl uses knowledge of the Planetship's bookkeeping fraud to get him to sign off on blank work order forms that Terl can write whatever he wants on, making Terl the effective administrator of the entire planet. As Terl notes, the Planetship still gets to keep his job and salary, and it's better than being executed were Terl to report him.
  • Ragnarök Proofing: The ruins of Denver look like they've only been abandoned for a year or so, with readable books instead of piles of dust. Then there's Fort Hood. Jets, nukes, stinger missiles, and flight simulators still work just as fine.
  • Ramming Always Works: In one of the film's 'highlights,' a caveman-pilot who runs out of missiles ejects from his plane just before ramming a Psychlo fighter with it, completely overlooking the aircraft's 25-millimetre cannon.
  • Real Is Brown: See Color Wash.
  • Reassignment Backfire: A rare villainous example: Terl has been Reassigned to Antarctica as petty revenge for getting involved with the daughter of a senator, which leads to the destruction of the Psychlo race.
  • Re-Cut: The version on VHS and DVD removes a few scenes, adds a scene between Parson Staffor and Chrissie at the beginning, a scene of the heroes discovering the instructions for the nuclear warhead, and the opening crawl that states the bloody obvious. The versions aired on TV are the original theatrical cut.
  • Reduced to Ratburgers: Terl allows Jonnie, Carlo, and another captured man out in the wild to find out what they will consume as food, as he doesn't know what humans like to eat. The only edible animals they find are rats, so they eat them, but Terl believes it was their preferred meal. Apparently he never stopped to consider that these slaves were so starved, they were actually willing to eat anything at this point (it's specifically stated that they haven't eaten for three days). They didn't even bother cooking it first, causing Terl to assume they prefer it raw.
  • Repeat Cut:
    • When Terl's boss mentions that he plans to keep Terl on Earth instead of giving him a temporary reprieve, the movie plays back the "With endless options for renewal!" line three times for some reason.
    • The same thing happens when a caveman tells Jonnie that the Psychlos can't be defeated.
  • Rubber-Forehead Aliens: Imagine the Coneheads with dreadlocks, furry hands, codpieces, limb extensions, and breathing tubes that look like long pieces of necklaced chains pierced on their nose.
  • Rule of Cool
  • Scenery Porn: There is a rather pretty overhead shot of the Rocky Mountains in the beginning.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: The Psychlos' entire reason for conquering Earth was to mine all the gold from it. Despite having had Earth under their control for 1,000 years at the time the movie is set, they still haven't managed to mine all the gold, even though they are supposedly an interstellar empire that has similarly plundered countless other planets for their valuable metals.
  • Sequel Hook: Terl is captured, and the human victors face an unknown future after winning a ruined planet. There is actually a whole other half of the book which would have formed the sequel...if one was made.
  • Shout-Out:
    • When Jonnie is first shot, he falls through several glass panes à la Blade Runner, taking no lasting damage.
    • Also, the first time we're presented with the Psychlo homeworld, the camera pans around a cityscape, also as in Blade Runner's opening.
    • Later at the Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy, Jonnie runs in slow motion through a bunch of pillars as they are shot, just like how Neo runs through the government lobby in The Matrix.
  • Slow Motion: Roughly a fourth of the film consists of slow-mo shots of Psychlos lumbering around shooting at people, Jonnie running away from Psychlos shooting at him (complete with Matrix-esque clouds of debris and shrapnel), or Jonnie mourning somebody's death.
  • Small Universe After All: The Psychlos generally think nothing of conquering entire galaxies. This is actually scaled down from the source novel, wherein they ruled several universes.
  • Smug Snake: Terl, in spades.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Chrissy is the only female with anything approaching an impact on the story, and she's notable only for her relationship with Jonnie. Chirk is even less consequential and, likewise, she's only there to have a relationship with Terl.
  • Space Opera
  • Spared by the Adaptation: As the film only adapts the first half of the novel, Terl is still alive at the end. In the novel he dies off-screen in a Teleporter Accident at around the 700-page mark.
  • Stun Guns: The Psychlos' handguns have a stun setting, which they use to capture Jonnie without killing him. A closeup of one of these guns later shows its owner switching the setting between stunning and lethal.
  • Stupid Good: Jonnie "Goodboy" Tyler snatches a gun off of Terl late in the movie, but instead of shooting him, he decides to give it back respectfully.
  • Suicidal Overconfidence: Terl recognizes that Jonnie is unusually competent for a man-animal, and reasons that he can use Jonnie to mine the gold in the radioactive area. However, he also recognizes that Jonnie has a strong rebellious streak, and thus needs to break that to ensure Jonnie's compliance. He does this by taking Jonnie to the Library of Congress and allowing him to read anything he wants, boasting that humans at their height were powerless against the Psychlos and Jonnie shouldn't expect any better now. Jonnie uses this opportunity to learn everything he needs about where to find military equipment and pre-mined gold, then uses that against the Psychlos. He also reads a copy of the Constitution, making him even more rebellious.
  • Swiss Cheese Security: After Terl assigns the prisoners to mine gold, his only security measure is a robotic drone that flies over them once in a while and takes a still photograph. This despite the fact that he had previously sewn small cameras into Jonnie's clothing and that of his friends (that Jonnie admittedly found), so there should be nothing stopping him from hiding even more on the ship.
  • Token Romance: Jonnie's girlfriend, Chrissy, gets about four scenes in this film. All we know about her is that she left the village against her father's wishes.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The entire Psychlo race, but especially Terl. Terl's stupidity leads directly not only to his own downfall, but the destruction of his homeworld and everyone who lived on it.
  • Training the Peaceful Villagers:
  • Translation Convention: While the Psychlos are in private, their language is translated into English, but when the humans are the focus, it's left untranslated. It gets a little weird once Jonnie learns the language and is speaking both in the same scene and 'translating.'
    • Even before that, kicking off the Almost Out of Oxygen sequence noted above, the two guards involved talk to each other in Psychlo, then one clearly says, "Pull his breath mask off" in English.
  • Translation: "Yes": Actually one of the few things this movie does well. Terl delivers a flowery and overdramatic threat to the humans he's sending to mine gold for him. Jonnie, knowing his audience has no frame of reference for Terl's boasts, accurately summarizes in six words: "Try to run, he'll kill us". Terl immediately Lampshades the terse translation.
    Terl: [Beat] That's it?
    [Jonnie nods]
    [Terl shrugs]
  • Unnaturally Blue Lighting: Most scenes involving the Psychlos.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Yes. In nearly a thousand years of occupying Earth, the gold-hungry Psychlos completely overlooked Fort Knox and its hoard of untouched gold stashed within.
  • Upgrade Artifact: Used so our hero can become an Instant Expert without going through a Training Montage. Infamously not used to help the rest of humanity prepare for the revolution, even though having them do just that was a key plot point in the book.
  • Vanity Project: To quote The Other Wiki: "Travolta, a long-time Scientologist, had sought for many years to make a film of the novel by Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. He was unable to obtain funding from any major studio due to concerns about the film's script, prospects, and connections with Scientology. The project was eventually taken on in 1998 by an independent production company, Franchise Pictures, which specialized in rescuing stars' stalled pet projects. Travolta signed on as a co-producer and contributed millions of dollars of his own money to the production, which commenced in 1999 and was largely funded by German film distribution company Intertainment AG."
  • Verbal Tic: Psychlos say "Crap" about every few sentences.
  • Villain Ball: Held by the Psychlos' leader, Terl. Teaching your slaves everything there is to know about your civilization in an instant can only end badly, especially if you're supposedly doing it to help conquer their planet. Introducing your pet human to inspiring documents from The American Revolution will only make things worse. Holding your pet human's girlfriend hostage just makes things personal. Abusing your henchman only serves to set up the Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal in the final act. And not launching an all-out crackdown when the man-animals rebel and attack with air support ... not a good idea. Terl doesn't even notice an exploding collar Jonnie straps to his arm in a melee, and proceeds to amputate his own limb when he triumphantly hits the detonator. His (non)reaction shot is priceless. He appears to read the Bizarro Universe inversion of the Evil Overlord List, telling him exactly what to do wrong.
  • Vocal Dissonance: One of the many poor decisions that makes Terl impossible to take seriously is the bizarrely unfitting voice Travolta uses for the character. You'd expect this guy to have some variation of an mighty, villainous baritone, but instead he speaks in a jarringly high-pitched, quasi-aristocratic voice that's probably supposed to be a variation on an alien Evil Brit.invoked
  • Voodoo Shark: The explanation for why the Psychlos still haven't mined all the gold off the planet after 1,000 years is that the gas they breathe explodes on contact with radiation. The problem being that any planet orbiting a star will have radiation from said star fall on it, meaning their planet should have blown up shortly after being formed. There's also the question of why they can't just wear hazmat suits, or, better yet, use robots to do the mining (as we know they already have robots in the form of the "gas drones").
  • We Will Use Manual Labor in the Future: After wiping out human civilization, the Psychlos use the survivors as slave labor. It strains credibility that Terl's superiors would dismiss his proposal to extend this arrangement to gold mining.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?
    • The nameless guy running around with Jonnie and Carlo in Aspen is never seen again after that scene. (invokedHe died immediately afterwards in a Deleted Scene where Ker, bizarrely, suggests that humans must be able to fly, and Terl proves that they can't by throwing him into a chasm.)
    • The Planetship, Terl's direct superior, abruptly vanishes in the latter stages of the movie. This coincides with Terl gaining leverage on him.
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?: John Travolta seems to be going for a vaguely British accent for Terl, except for when he isn't. Made all the more confusing because all the other Psychlo actors just use their regular voices.
  • While You Were in Diapers: When Ker mocks Terl and says that he could have taken a much less stressful job, he says something to this effect: that he was trained to be a Galactic Conqueror since birth.
  • Wipe: Excessively used, second only to the overreliance on the Dutch Angle. Probably in some misguided attempt to ape Star Wars.
  • Wretched Hive: The Psychlos exude disdain for Earth, with Zete calling it "pathetic" and "one of the ugliest crap holes in the entire universe." Their own narrow, selfish focus on mining out all its gold, everything else be damned, couldn't have helped it, though.
  • You Keep Using That Word: At one point the Psychlos take away Jonnie's breathing equipment and leave him to suffocate. one of the Mooks says something like "last time we didn't stop timing until the man animal's lungs burst, that's the wager." While obviously meant to show how evil the Psychlos are, the word "wager" makes no sense in this context, as unless he gets to oxygen in time (which he does, but they don't think he will), he's guaranteed to either suffocate or have his lungs burst. A real wager would be something like "I bet he doesn't last two minutes."


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