Berlin, Germany May 15, 2000 Spiegel
by Martin Paetsch
With "Battlefield Earth," Hollywood star John Travolta has chalked up virulent criticism in the USA: The actor and professed Scientologist has been accused of spreading covert messages from the sect with the science fiction spectacle.
At first glance, "Battlefield Earth" is not the stuff of which scandals are made. The setting for the $70 million film which was just released in U.S. movie theaters is in the year 3000: evil aliens, commanded by low-down super-grouch Terl (John Travolta), have taken over the earth and enslaved humanity. This is followed by the battle for liberation customary for the genre which offers the opportunity for the just as customary special effects spectacle.
A simple plot which would quickly pass into oblivion were it not for the fact that the primary actor was named John Travolta and the story had originated with L. Ron Hubbard. "Battlefield Earth" is based on the novel of the same name published in 1982 by the science fiction author and Scientology founder. The major share of the first filming of a Hubbard work was taken on by professed Scientologist Travolta as co-producer, and he likes to emphasize that, for him, this was a life's dream come true.
The public proximity to Scientology has been at the top of the agenda for critics of the sect. The anti-Scientology organization, F.A.CT.Net, even accused the film maker of having put subliminal messages in "Battlefield Earth" in order to recruit new members for the sect from the theater-goers. Even though Scientology was not the real financer for the Warner Brothers film, it was said to have had massive influence upon the script and production.
Those responsible for the film strongly reject those kind of accusations: there is "no connection" between the film and Scientology, asserts Travolta, who is already suspected of spreading sect propaganda with "Phenomenon." Also the producer of "Battlefield Earth," Roger Christian, contests any affinity to sect philosophy. He is not a Scientologist, but a Buddhist, he is quoted as saying in "USA Today." "If I, as a producer, were to have put subliminal religious messages in the film, don't you think they would have had their roots in Buddhism?"
At least on the internet, the separation between the sect and the filming of the novel is not as clear as people like to stress. From the official film homepage of Battlefieldearth.net, one mouse click brings the visitor to the internet page Battlefieldearth.com, where L. Ron Hubbard is praised, not only as an author, but also as an "artist, discoverer and philosopher." The operator of the web page is, who would be surprised, a company managed by Scientologists called Author Services Inc., which is entrusted with the licensing of Hubbard's science fiction works.
The containment of the indignation in the USA, despite the protests of the anti-Scientology activists, is probably due to the fact that no great power of conviction has been ascribed to the science fiction film due to a lack of quality. The U.S. critics are not sparing the rod with "Battlefield Earth": the script is said to be "deeply stupid and depressingly full of cliches," judged "USA Today." And the Los Angeles Times found that the Hubbard film, in the genre of the post-apocalyptic adventure films, even made Kevin Costner's "Waterworld" look like a masterpiece.
"In contrast to the fears of the sect haters, Battlefield Earth has nothing in it which could drive weak theater visitors into the open arms of the Scientologists," U.S. news magazine "Newsweek" summed it up. And it actually appears as though the indignation over Battlefield Earth in the USA will soon die down - after all, in the country praised for its freedom of opinion, Scientology is dealt with relatively tolerantly.
In Germany, however, the sect is regarded as incompatible with society. For that reason, "Phenomenon" has been eyed much more critically here at home than it has in the States: in 1996, media watchdogs presumed there were parallel between the simple story of enlightenment and the Scientology philosophy, and requested an intensive review of the film. In "Battlefield Earth," which is supposed to open in Germany in October, super-alien Travolta will probably have a much harder time of it.
http://www.battlefieldearth.net http://www.battlefieldearth.com http://www.factnet.org
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