The Concession Stand

Friday, September 21, 2018

“Battlefield Earth”: Xenu’s Revenge


During Battlefield Earth’s production, pretty much everyone realized that things weren’t going well and that the production was being made on the cheap; everyone but John Travolta, that is.


Travolta still felt that the movie would succeed and that it would spur a rush of “new meat” into the Scientology orgs. Scientology had hoped for the same result as well. Bookstores would be flooded with new copies of Battlefield Earth and a new “Golden age” of Scientology would be the result. The church, however, tried to downplay its attachment to the project. The book, while written by L. Ron Hubbard, had nothing to do with Scientology, they claimed. The money would go to Author Services, not Scientology. These statements were true, though misleading. Battlefield Earth wasn’t specifically about Scientology, though it was supposed to be how the future would be like without Scientology. The proceeds from the book would go to Author Services, though Author Services was wholly owned by Scientology. While Scientology was originally viewed as a harmless group of crazies, it took on a more sinister reputation by 2000. Thus the studio was eager to sweep the Scientology connection under the rug.


For better or worse, the film premiered in 2000 in a gala opening on Hollywood Boulevard. A who’s who of celebrity Scientologists and other Hollywood Stars turned out for the premiere. It was probably the last time that John Travolta felt positively about the project. Critics would uniformly pan the film, declaring it to be one of the worst ever made. Originally, Scientology bought out showings of the film to juice the box office receipts. After a colossal failure of an opening weekend, even Scientology bailed from supporting the movie. It seemed that only Travolta would hold out hope for the film’s prospects, insisting that a sequel would be produced long after everyone else had written the movie off as a box office bomb.


Even the toy tie-ins were second class- the action figures were allegedly from another movie with new heads screwed on. Battlefield Earth would eventually become legendary- but for all the wrong reasons.

 


Thursday, September 20, 2018

“Battlefield Earth” A Max Bialystock Production?



Just when it seemed like Battlefield Earth the film would never see the light of day, in walked Franchise Pictures. Franchise Pictures specialized in taking passion projects, streamlining the budgets, then releasing the films that nobody thought could be made. Since John Travolta was desperate to adapt Battlefield Earth into a movie, this was a perfect project for Franchise. Franchise brought the cost of the film down from an estimated $100 Million to $75 Million. With John Travolta signed onto the project and investing his own funds the picture got a speedy green light.

Are YOU the guy who talked me into this?

It wouldn’t take the cast and crew long to see that it seemed like every expense was being spared. The film was shot in Canada at a bargain rate. The special effects and costuming seemed cheap. The film was bizarrely shot using Dutch angles, supposedly for artistic purposes. In actuality, the Dutch angles were used to save money on sets and costuming.

Doesn’t this make me look taller and this film more expensive?

Even worse, the script was clunky and outdated. John Travolta chewed the scenery and acted like he was playing a dastardly villain from an old fashioned chapter play. It was obvious that he was desperately trying to make this all work. He wouldn’t realize until later that this was all just a massive scam. Franchise Pictures would purposely select passion projects because it could get big stars for discounted rates. This also led to less scrutiny from the big star who was just thrilled to be making their dream project. Outside investors, excited to be getting A-List talent for relatively nothing, would pony up the needed funds. After all, a $100 Million project being made for $75 Million was guaranteed to succeed. Franchise Pictures would then skimp on everything. For example, Battlefield Earth was sold to its investors as having a $75 Million budget. Franchise, however, most likely spent much less than $50 Million on the film, skimming the rest of the money for itself. The company would later spiral into bankruptcy, but would Battlefield Earth become the big hit that John Travolta and Scientology wanted? Stay tuned!







Wednesday, September 19, 2018

“Battlefield Earth”: Welcome Back, Barbarino


John Travolta’s career- and Scientology’s prospects- diverged in the late 1980’s. Travolta became box office Poison, pretty much not getting any work after 1985. While Scientology would lose its founder, its successful yet misleading Dianetics volcano ad campaign would route a ton of interested people into its orgs. The granting of a religious tax exemption in the United States would send the atomic age religion into the stratosphere. It seemed like the time was right for a mainstream Scientology film, though the only person in Hollywood who seemed interested in bringing Battlefield Earth to the screen was in no position to do it. That would change in 1989.

Signing up for Scientology? Might as well throw your money in a volcano!

With the help of fellow Scientologist Kirstie Alley and the voice talents of Bruce Willis, John Travolta would regain his blockbuster star status with the sleeper hit Look Who’s Talking, a film in which he would take second billing to a talking baby. While Look Who’s Talking would give him the hit he needed, 1994’s Pulp Fiction would cement his resurgence, giving him a bit of indie cred and alerting the world that he was back on top. At this point, Travolta could make any project get a green light just by signing onto it. How would he choose to use this recovered power? To finally try to get his passion project made. By this time, Travolta realized that he was too old to play Jonnie “Good Boy” Tyler and was aiming to play the villainous Terl. Travolta desperately told anyone who would listen that Battlefield Earth would be “better than Star Wars” and referred to it as “Pulp Fiction in the year 3000.”

In Mexico, they call Scientology ‘Locos Pendejos’

While most every studio was willing to make just about any film John Travolta wanted to be in, they wanted nothing to do with Battlefield Earth. Travolta allegedly enlisted his fellow Scientologists to flood studio executives with letters about how amazing a Battlefield Earth film would be. The creepy campaign had the opposite of its intended effect.  By 1995, however, Travolta’s star power would be too much for Hollywood to ignore. MGM signed him to a deal in which Battlefield Earth would finally get produced. Or so he thought. MGM  got cold feet and sold the project to Twentieth Century Fox who eventually shelved the project for the same reasons that caused MGM to eventually pass on it. The project was seen as being too expensive, too outdated and too insane. In 1998, the project’s fortunes would change. Upstart production company Franchise Pictures would pick up the project and give it a green light. Finally, Travolta’s dream would come true. Or would it?

Who wouldn’t want to be badgered about making a film by these people?



 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

“Battlefield Earth”: Terl Strikes Back


To understand why making a film based on Battlefield Earth was so important to L. Ron Hubbard, one must just go back to his early years of writing for Science fiction pulp novels. The books were seen as the lowest form of entertainment at the time, printed on paper that was only meant to last long enough for someone to read it once. Hubbard was literally paid by the word and could barely eke out a living writing them. He doubtless fantasized about being taken seriously and possibly seeing one of his novels being turned into a feature film. Science fiction was typically never given a serious look by the major studios and thus became a fixture of Hollywood’s Poverty Row.

Hubbard’s catchphrase of ‘Holy Xenu!’ never quite caught on.

Unappreciated for his voluminous science fiction output, Hubbard parlayed his more bizarre ideals into Dianetics, which became a space age self-help fad in the 1950’s. After seeing huge growth for a couple years, this money-making scheme quickly died out and went bankrupt. Hubbard eventually won back control of Dianetics and turned it into what is now Scientology, allegedly after being challenged to create a new religion. While Hubbard would gain huge success and acclaim with his newly invented religion, he would always long for the bigger success that always seemed to elude him. The success of Star Trek and Star Wars would cause him further distress; after all, they were obviously partly inspired by the type of pulp science fiction he was writing years before in relative obscurity. When the work of pulp rival Philip K. Dick began getting reassessed and adapted into films, Hubbard slid further into depression. That’s when he decided that he could show these young people how it was done and gain more adherents to his religion by writing the ultimate science fiction book that would lead to the ultimate film.

Terminix tries to go ‘virus’ to attract the youth of today.

After the book was published, Hubbard desperately tried to gain buzz about his book. He sent an autographed copy to his most fervent Hollywood follower- John Travolta- to get him interested in the book. Travolta desperately wanted to get the book made into a movie and his interest finally attracted attention. Hubbard’s Author Services, Inc. signed a contract with a Hollywood production company to turn the book into two feature films with mid-level budgets of $15 Million each. Ken Annakin, famed director of classic films such as Swiss Family Robinson, was signed to help adapt the book. A giant inflatable “Terl” was placed on Hollywood Boulevard to excite the public about the planned Battlefield Earth franchise. It looked like Hubbard’s dream would finally come true.

At least Ken Annakin’s dream came true.

However, despite the inflatable Terl and the contest setup to award a set visit to a lucky winner, the project collapsed. By 1986, John Travolta’s career had crashed and burned. Saner heads prevailed in realizing how ridiculously hard it would be to translate Hubbard’s crazed and dull writing onto the big screen. Scientology itself lost interest after its successful (and fraudulently inaccurate) commercials promoting Dianetics provided it with a huge increase in membership and money. Hubbard would eventually spiral downward, passing away that year. Battlefield Earth would go into hibernation- awaiting an uptick in the career of its biggest (and only) Hollywood fan- John Travolta.

Sorry about that, John- I thought you were acting in this picture. So I guess I’ll have a Tab.








Monday, September 17, 2018

“Battlefield Earth”: In the Beginning...


While the “passion project” film can sometimes result in something special, it can most often be the root cause of a box office disaster. A creative person blinded by the desire to see a pet project come to fruition will overlook its weaknesses no matter how big they are. One of the biggest examples of this was 2000’s Battlefield Earth.

Battlefield Earth- A Saga of the Year 3000 and a perfect doorstop.

Battlefield Earth, the book, was written by the infamous L. Ron Hubbard. Hubbard was a Sci-Fi pulp author and noted fabulist who turned his pulpy novels into an atomic age self-help system known as Dianetics which then evolved in a tax evading full fledged religion known as Scientology. In the early 1980’s Hubbard had become a hermit, hiding out from process servers seeking to serve court documents related to his controversial religion. It was during this time that Mr. Hubbard decided that the key to overcoming the bad publicity surrounding his religion was to return to his Sci-Fi roots and write a massive book that would show the world what would happen if it didn’t embrace Scientology. The dystopian novel could then become a major motion picture that would spread the word of his space age belief system.

Wait, people really thought my crazy Sci-Fi novel Dianetics was a self-help book?

Hubbard, however, hadn’t written a non-Scientology book in decades and had become increasingly paranoid. Additionally, his previous Sci-Fi books had been written back when his pay was determined by the word. As a result, Battlefield Earth was ridiculously long and filled with blatantly obvious symbolism. The book landed with a thud, propped up by Scientology, who purchased most of the copies at bookstores to inflate its sales. Nobody in Hollywood was interested in the book. Nobody in Hollywood except for John Travolta.

Wait, this *isn’t* a crazy scene from my next picture?

L. Ron Hubbard had sent a copy of the book to Travolta, who had become a Scientologist in the 1970’s. Travolta originally saw himself as playing the subtly named lead protagonist Jonnie “Goodboy” Tyler. In interviews, Hubbard wrongly suggested that there was much interest in the film coming from Hollywood and that he might direct or produce the film. Hollywood, however, had been reluctant to even consider a film based on a book written by Hubbard and tied to Scientology. Travolta’s star power was seen as being more powerful than Hollywood’s skepticism about the commercial prospects of an overly long film tied to Scientology. At the end of 1983, however, the film’s prospects seemed to improbably improve.