Howdy all you Supercultists out there on the interwebz! I’m Bad Movie Professor Cameron Coker (BS in “Scientology” with a minor in “lawsuits”) and I’ll be posting my hype-tacular speeches every week along with some long lost speeches from past Supercult Shows!
This week Supercult has been forced to either take a 16-hour bus trip with our hygienically challenged cousin, or watch Battlefield Earth…and we can’t decide which…
In the year 3000, Man is an endangered species. It has been 1000 years since Earth was conquered by the brutal alien species known as the Psychlos. What is left of humanity lives as slaves or ekes out a living in primitive tribes on the outskirts of civilization, but all is not yet lost. When the human tribesman Jonnie is captured and enslaved by the Psychlo security chief Terl, Jonnie hatches a plan that will not only free him from bondage, but take back the planet as well! Prepare for battle…Battlefield Earth!
Released in 2000, Battlefield Earth is an American sci-fi action film based on the first half of L. Ron Hubbard’s 1982 novel of the same name. That’s right folks. No point keeping that little factoid a secret. This is a Scientology movie. Here are a few interesting facts about the novel, Battlefield Earth:
- The first half of the novel follows the human tribesman Jonnie and his fight to retake Earth from the evil Psychlos and use their own advanced technology to defeat them once and for all!
- The second half of the novel involves a lot of paperwork to save the earth from a bunch of intergalactic bankers who want to repossess the Earth for unpaid debts.
- Battlefield Earth is the first (and hopefully not the last) book to ever have a soundtrack composed for it by the author. The album is called Space Jazz and it is fantastic.
Hubbard had often suggested that film versions of his novels were in the works. The crazier part is that he was being incredibly serious. Two films were envisioned, one for each half of the Battlefield Earth novel. Veteran screenwriters were hired, the film rights were sold, promotional contests were organized, auditions were held, and a 30-foot high inflatable figure of the film’s villain was erected on Hollywood Boulevard in 1984! Then the project collapsed and Hubbard died in 1986, presumably of overdosing on thetans or something.
That might’ve been it if it weren’t for John Travolta, a long-time Scientologist and hard-core fanboy of Hubbard and his novels. Travolta had sought to make a film of Battlefield Earth for many years, but for some strange reason was unable to obtain funding from any major studio for the film. Apparently people had concerns about the film’s script, its financial prospects, its connections to scientology, and of course, the fact that John Travolta was involved. As one studio executive put it, “On any film there are ten variables that can kill you. On this film there was an eleventh: Scientology. It just wasn’t something anyone really wanted to get involved with.” The film was eventually picked up in 1998 by now defunct indie production company Franchise Pictures which specializes in rescuing star’s stalled pet projects. While Franchise has produces some notable cult classics like The Boondock Saints and The Whole Nine Yards, the majority of its products failed at the box office. The average Rotten Tomatoes score for their films is 35%, but more on Franchise and its issues later.
Travolta signed on as co-producer and contributed millions of dollars of his own money to the production. Not to mention Travolta stars as the evil Psychlo, Terl, alongside Barry Pepper as the hero Jonnie, Forest Whitaker as Terl’s right hand man Ker, and Kim Coates as the tribal hunter Carlo. Travolta originally saw himself as Jonnie, but by the time the movie was actually made Travolta felt he was too old to play the role and shifted focus to the villain. Franchise films specialized in producing films on the cheap, hiring actors at reduced rates, filming in cheap locations, and cutting corners wherever possible. Production costs were set at $75 million and producers were optimistic. Producer Elie Samaha, co-founder of Franchise Pictures, said “My projected numbers on Battlefield Earth are really conservative. I’m already covered internationally, and there’s no way I’m going to lose if the movie does $35 million domestically. And Travolta has never had an action movie do under $35 million.”
As the film was entering post-production a copy of the script was circulated with the altered title, “Dark Forces” by “Desmond Finch”. Comments included, “a completely predictable story that just isn’t written well enough to make up for its lack of originality,” and “as entertaining as watching a fly breath.” When Battlefield Earth was released the film garnered scathingly bad reviews and even worse word-of-mouth leading to a dramatic fall off in grosses. The film earned 85% of its entire domestic grosses in its first 10 days and flat lined thereafter ultimately earning just under $30 million worldwide.
Critics called it ugly, campy, disjointed, tedious, poorly acted, and every bit as bad as its reputation with a clumsy plot, derivative special effects, a leaden pace, and “Plan 9 from Outer Space for a new generation.” Roger Ebert described it as “like taking a bus trip with someone who has needed a bath for a long time. It’s not merely bad; it’s unpleasant in a hostile way. I watched it in mounting gloom, realizing I was witnessing something historic, a film that for decades to come will be the punch line of jokes about bad movies.” John Stewart described it as “a cross between Star Wars and the smell of ass.” One especially contentious point about the film was its use of tilted camera angles and its unusual color scheme. Depending on who you ask the camera is tilted in nearly every frame of the film. Providence Journal said, “Battlefield Earth’s primary colors are blue and gray, adding to the misery. Whenever we glimpse sunlight, the screen goes all stale yellow, as though someone had urinated on the print. This, by the way, is not such a bad idea.” To put the final nail in the coffin though, Quentin Tarantino and George Lucas both said they liked it.
Battlefield Earth swept the 2000 Golden Raspberry Awards winning all but 1 of the 7 awards it was nominated for including Worst Picture, Worst Director, Worst Screenplay, Worst Actor for Travolta, and Worst Screen Couple for “John Travolta and anyone sharing the screen with him”. It went on to win additional Razzie awards for Worst “Drama” of Our First 25 Years in 2005 and Worst Picture of the Decade in 2010. Battlefield Earth is not only considered one of the worst films of all time, but also one of the biggest box office bombs…which makes it all the more hilarious that Franchise Pictures used it and other films as a vehicle to defraud investors. Remember when we said we’d get back to Franchise Pictures? Here we are at last.
The colossal failure of Battlefield Earth prompted the FBI to look closer at Franchise. Just a few months after the release of the film the German-based production company Intertainment AG, who had helped fund a large part of the production, filed a lawsuit against Franchise alleging that they fraudulently inflated their budgets. Franchise’s bank records showed that the real production costs of Battlefield Earth totaled only $44 million, not $75 million as declared by Franchise, meaning that not only was the remaining $31 million simply pocketed by Franchise, but that when Intertainment AG agreed to foot about 40% of the film’s production costs they were actually agreeing to foot about 90% of the costs. Intertainment won the case and was awarded $121.7 million in damages, $77 million of which producer Elie Samaha was personally liable for. As a result of the box office losses, the court fees, and the negative influence of the fraud judgement Franchise Pictures filed for bankruptcy in 2004.
Battlefield Earth has a 2.4 on IMDB and a score of 3% on Rotten Tomatoes. It ruined a few careers, bankrupt an entire company, and probably didn’t help the Church of Scientology all that much either. When Travolta promoted the film before release he referred to it as Star Wars but better and the Schindler’s List of sci-fi films, but after seeing it in the theatre, he decided to never add Battlefield Earth to his job applications. We at Supercult however, can’t wait to put this film front and center on our website.
Get ready to take back the planet!
The Supercult show is proud to present, Battlefield Earth!