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Copyright (c) 1999 NOW Magazine
Scientology's biggest star comes to Canada to make a movie that will bring
church's values and villains to a theatre near you
By ENZO Di MATTEO
Members of the Church of Scientology were in Yorkville this past holiday
weekend, questionnaires in hand, to collect opinions about the church from
It's been a difficult couple of years for Scientology, which is trying to
polish its fringe image as it awaits word from Revenue Canada about its
application for charitable status.
But positive PR may be coming to a theatre near you. Screen star John
Travolta, Scientology's most famous promoter, has embarked on a film
adaptation of Battlefield Earth, the doomsday sci-fi thriller penned by the
church's messianic founder, L. Ron Hubbard.
Travolta's name (he's starring and producing) is sure to bring box-office
success and raise the profile of Scientology, not to mention boost the sale
of Hubbard's books. He's recently been voted the number-one box-office
attraction in the world.
It'll be a much-needed publicity boon for a church under siege both here and
abroad for the cult-like hold it's been accused of exerting on its followers
and for harassing those who publicly criticize Scientology. In Germany, for
example, Scientology is banned, and critics market condoms labelled "99 per
For his part, Travolta has downplayed the religious aspect of his latest
megabucks film project. It's just a movie, he told a press conference during
shooting in and around Montreal last week. He says there's no connection
between Battlefield the sci-fi novel and the controversial self-improvement
Not surprisingly, that's not how critics, among them longtime former members
of the church who have read the book, see it.
To them, Battlefield -- and indeed, every part of Scientology -- is steeped
in Hubbard's otherworldly notions of humans as an endangered species
occupying a planet on the precipice of doom.
"It's a recurring theme telling you that only L. Ron Hubbard and the
teachings of Scientology can save you," says one former disciple.
A reading of Battlefield, a 1,000-page epic written by Hubbard in 1980,
uncovers the threads of Scientology's teachings.
"Giant, gas-breathing" invaders known as Psychlos (code for psychologists
and psychiatrists) have taken over Earth, and Hubbard lays blame for the
decay of western civilization squarely on their shoulders.
In Battlefield, Jonnie Goodboy Tyler -- Hubbard's alter ego -- enlists the
aid of a band of tough Scots "in a final, daring challenge to the invisible
Psychlo power." At stake is the future of humankind.
Hubbard's fascination with science fiction and fantasy didn't confine itself
to the telling of apocalyptic tales. It extended to the roots of the
church's otherworldly teaching, most unusually in Scientology's legend of
Xenu, a tyrant who is supposed to have ruled the world some 75 million years
It was Xenu, the legend goes, who unleashed the evil spirits that attached
themselves to humans and haunt us to this day.
"Every religion has a cosmology, a creation mythology," says Al Buttnor of
Scientology in Toronto. "In Christianity, you have 'God created the world in
seven days.' In Scientology, it's clear where Mr. Hubbard stands.
Unquestionably, there have been other societies before us and other
societies in the universe. I don't think we're alone."
Amid the other hoopla surrounding Battlefield, Author Services, Inc. (ASI),
the Hollywood, California-based arm of the church that owns the rights to
all Hubbard's works, has just launched ASI Magazine, a tabloid-size
periodical devoted to promoting Hubbard's non-fiction works. ASI sold the
rights to to Battlefield to Franchise Pictures.
Franchise publicist Pamela Godfrey isn't saying how much the company paid
for the rights or whether any royalties from this latest Travolta venture
will go to the church. "It's something that generally is not put down for
public information," she says.
ASI, too, is coy about whether film royalties will go to the church.
A fax response sent to NOW from ASI director of public affairs Hugh Wilhere
avoids any mention of royalties. But the fax goes on to state that ASI "is
donating its share of the profits from the film to charitable organizations
that direct drug education and drug rehabilitation programs around the
Scientology itself runs drug rehab clinics, the best known of which is
However, ASI boasts in its magazine -- which was released at about the time
Travolta began shooting Battlefield -- that its production divisions embrace
"every function from (the) supervision of foreign publishing, fiction
publishing and non-fiction publishing to audiovisual and even big-screen
movies" of Hubbard's work.
The church has shown itself to be very protective of its intellectual
property and copyrights, so much so that in the U.S. it has quickly launched
multimillion-dollar lawsuits against those who've posted even the church's
own materials on the Internet without permission.
The strong feelings that surround Scientology even extend to the Battlefield
set in Montreal, where non-unionized actors are being employed as extras
even though the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists'
(ACTRA) collective agreement says the first 15 actors on any shoot must be
Robin Chetwynd, a chief administrative officer with ACTRA in Toronto, can't
understand why that would be. "The collective agreement is quite clear on
the number of background performers required each day of filming," he says.
But it seems they play by a different set of rules in Montreal.
Raymond Guardia, ACTRA's rep there, says members in Montreal have been more
reluctant to take on work as extras. "That has changed, I believe, and we
have now reached a point where, frankly, we intend to aggressively catch
Don Carmody, the film's executive producer, first denies the use of
non-union talent. He then explains that it's been hard to find very tall,
"grotesque-looking" actors to play the evil Psychlos, or thespians who look
like "malnourished" humanoids, as required by the script.
"There may not be that many ACTRA members who are interested in working as
extras who are either seven feet tall, gruesome-looking or look like they're
Publicist Godfrey, meanwhile, promises a fast-paced action adventure, a
veritable screen spectacle.
"It's going to be very exciting. The director and the special effects people
are producing some very new and visionary things."
NOW AUGUST 5-11, 1999