Planetary Disaster

Hollywood, USA
approx. May 23, 2000
Spiegel 21/2000, page 272

Hollywood's leading Scientologist John Travolta fulfilled his life's dream by filming a space thriller from his sect guru - and made a terrible fool of himself.

Though it is clear that life is risky, and that applies to movies, too. Movies can cause husbands to leave their wives because they do not look like Julia Roberts in "Notting Hill"; they can lead teenagers astray when they go out and obtain fully automatic weapons and run amok like "Natural Born Killers"; they can give people the idea of jumping off the roof of a skyscrapers believing that they are capable of flying like Superman.

This spring, the early warning systems of culture criticism found a new reason to sound the alarm: a science fiction film by the name of "Battlefield Earth" was coming to the screen. The novel on which it is based originated from a man by the name of L. Ron Hubbard, who became known in his lifetime for the founding of the Scientology Church.

That alone would have been suspicious enough to send the the readers and guardians of the entertainment sections of the newspapers to their word processing computers with typing fingers at the ready. But things got better still: the leading actor and co-producer of the film is named John Travolta - a Hollywood star, no less, who at $20 million a film is one of the surest and best-paid public magnets, and a member of Hubbard's Club besides.

Before the earth turned into a battlefield on the movie screen, the sirens of the American media were wailing. There was talk of "subtly manipulated messages" and even the otherwise prudent New York Times asked with concern, "Could this be an insidious attempt to lure unsuspecting moviegoers into Scientology?" In other words, the conspiracy theorists rumbled almost as loudly as in the 1970s and '80s when it was said that Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" could lead people to Satan worship, which allegedly could be proved by playing the song backwards.

Except for a few wild professors, of course, nobody ever tried that; generations of Led Zeppelin listeners have been spared the clutches of Lucifer, and neither will Battlefield Earth seduce the public with refined sect propaganda, because the film does not carry messages nor does it raise questions outside of why "Battlefield" ever made it to film without someone crying "Stop! This film will turn into our own battlefield and we will all be buried by it!"

With the exception of the nearly senseless, with or without Scientology, John Travolta who dreamt of filming this science fiction story for 15 years: a novel in which a few remaining surviving people combat their oppressors from outer space. A book which only has one connection to the cosmos of the aliens: it is extraterrestrially bad.

He had help from a man by the name of Elie Samaha, a Lebanese who immigrated to America 20 years ago to earn his fortune by cleaning fabrics for people who wanted to be celebrities and then risked a social promotion: he became a film producer.

His idea: he sought out material of which stars had dreamt for years and offered them a fast production - provided that the millionaires would work for far less money. On top of that, the Lebanese had another trick to save money: he filmed in Canada.

In that manner Samaha managed to hammer down the budget for Battlefield Earth from 90 to 64 million dollars - whoever sees the film, however, will ask himself where the money was spent. Okay, John Travolta, the leader of the bad guys, has poisonous green teeth and a haircut that looks like he listens to Reggae all day: $750; okay, he drinks poisonous yellow cocktails out of test tubes: $18; and okay, the script of the entire movie apparently got lost on which account there was a crisis and probably monkeys had to be caught and given many cans of beer so they could put something together: $960.

As a member of the audience, one soon gives up looking for meaning in this chaos of cadaverous dialogue and clinically dead sequences and asks just one last question: "Show me the money," where is the money? It looks here as if a blind man tried to stage a futuristic version of the Karl May festival. In a trash dumpster in Toronto. With a 40 watt bulb for lighting.

The film catastrophe had only one redeeming value: hardly had the movie started in the USA than the hysterics in the editorial department were called off and the annihilation writers took the command. A "planetary disaster" judged Time, "probably the worst film of the century," wrote the New York Times.

In vain one waited for just one statement from Scientology. Probably for a good reason. Until now the psycho-association enjoyed the fact that it was feared by many people who would not break out in derisive laughter as soon as its name was heard.

There are two alternatives in saving the ugly mug of the soul sect: either they hold Travolta responsible for this battlefield of a movie, as any other company would do when one of its image bearers fail, and throw him out.

Or they grit their teeth and stand through the catastrophe. The film can always be used as an instrument of torture. Whoever is a voluntary member of Hubbard's shop has to be a masochist and is surely enthused by this new punishment: "Scientology has the pleasure of sharing with you that you have the honor of watching Battlefield Earth - 50 times."

Thomas Hüetlin

German Scientology News