Most film connoisseurs have probably heard of the universally panned 2000 movie Battlefield Earth, and most of you probably also know that Battlefield Earth was based on a book written by Scientology founder L.Ron Hubbard.
The book itself did quite well, it even reached #1 on the NY times best seller list, but there were suspicions of foul play. It was alleged that the church of Scientology created a book buying campaign to keep the book in the top spot.
The church has a history of using other people to attain more stature in the public eye, so it’s not hard to believe that these allegations may be true. Speaking of that history, it’s likely why a movie adaptation was even considered.
L.Ron Hubbard reportedly sent a signed copy of Battlefield Earth to John Travolta in 1985, no doubt he was hoping that Travolta would influence some higher ups in Hollywood to make the book into a movie.
For 13 years, on and off, Travolta tried to push the movie idea on various directors and film companies, but failed, likely due to his poor run of films in the late 80’s. Travolta regained some stature in the early 90’s however, and in 1998 a company finally said yes to the idea.
Major Hollywood players such as actors Forest Whittaker and John Travolta, Star Wars art director Roger Christian and Director J.D Shapiro signed on to the project. In early development, the movie looked like it was shaping up to be a good, profitable movie.
Obviously the movie bombed. That isn’t the most interesting part of this story though. The really interesting part is David Miscavige’s (the head of Scientology) involvement in the movie. Publicly, Miscavige has denied any involvement in the movie or its development but former Scientology members Mark Rathbun and Mike Rinder shed some light on his involvement.
Rathbun in an interview called Battlefield Earth “DM’s [David Miscavige’s] baby, from day one”. According to Rinder and Rathbun, Scientology was deeply involved in the film’s development. Rinder and Rathbun visited Miscavige’s office daily to review daily cuts of the film over the several months of the movie’s development, and Miscavige called and critiqued director Shapiro’s directing via phone every single day.
Rathbun alleges that Miscavige brown nosed Travolta, he claims to have overheard a phone conversation between Travolta and Miscavige after Miscavige had seen the final cut of the movie where Miscavige lauded Travolta saying that “You have no idea what this is going to do for Scientology”, “LRH [L.Ron Hubbard] would be so proud of you” and “This is going to be a blockbuster”. So Miscavige seemed to actually think the film was pretty great in the beginning.
The day the film was released, the critics panned it and Miscavige immediately went into damage control and denied any involvement in the project. In the same interview, Rinder alleges that Tom Cruise once asked Miscavige “Hey Dave, what’s with that Battlefield Earth, man? it’s the worst PR in the world!” to which Miscavige replied “Man, I swear to god if I had anything to do with that it wouldn’t have went anywhere. It never would have seen the light of day.” Rathbun and Rinder also allege that Miscavige claimed Travolta’s ‘poor ethics’ were the reason that the film failed while talking to Cruise.
The story of the movie bombing is interesting, but the inception of the project and future denial of said project by Miscavige gives us all an insight into the church’s PR. Whether Miscavige was protecting the church or his own pride, the movie was an utter failure.