A Story About Scientology…And A Movie

5 Dec

ACTRESS LEAH REMINI has been making the publicity rounds lately, talking about her new A&E show about Scientology. Its reminded me of my own brush with the religious cult when I was a kid.

I don’t talk about it much but around 1973-75 I went to some sort of Scientology-run daycare/after school thing in Davis, CA. It was around that time my Mom, newly separated and just starting to fall down the abyss of severe manic depression, was looking for something, anything, to stop the fall. For a moment Scientology was it.

When my grandmother essentially rescued us and brought us to Long Island I remember her and my mom arguing a lot about Scientology – that it’s a sham, the lingo (“don’t give me that ‘clear’ garbage!”), the money that was spent, etc. I remember hearing talk about L. Ron Hubbard, “being clear,” Dianetics, and audits.

The memories are hazy, and I don’t recall anything really terrible happening, though I think it did ultimately influence my continued skepticism of all religions, dogmas and evangelical arm-twisting. Looking back on all of that whenever Scientology is in the news only serves as a reminder of how sick my mom was and how difficult we had it. Needless to say, Scientology didn’t help her.

I’m also reminded that there was another Scientology-related incident in my past…

I saw the movie Battlefield Earth the weekend it opened, May, 2000.

For those not familiar, Battlefield Earth is a sci-fi action movie starring John Travota, along with Forest Whitaker and Barry Pepper. It’s generally regarded as one the worst movies of all time, and for good reason, it’s a bad movie with convoluted plot. Based off of the novel of the same name by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, it was brought to the big screen by Travolta, who of course is an adherent of Scientology. It was essentially a vanity project for him as he was a huge fan of the book, describing it “like Pulp Fiction for the year 3000″ and “like Star Wars, only better.”

The movie had bad buzz about it even before it opened and it’s…pretty bad. Go to Wikipedia for the full description if you like but the short synopsis that the375px-battlefield_earth_screencap movie takes place in the year 3,000 where an alien race called the Psychlos enslaves humans on earth to mine gold and do manual labor. The convoluted plot has Travolta’s character Terl, the Psychlos security chief of Earth, banished there, as a punishment for…I’m not exactly sure why  he’s stuck on Earth, actually. He devises a plan to buy himself off of the earth assignment by using humans to mine gold, and…I’m getting a headache. It had a ton of special effects yet the costumes and make up looked ridiculous (Travolta and Whitaker, above).

The movie was a very expensive ($75 million budget + $20 million in marketing costs) flop, panned by critics and that added to the bad word-of-mouth about the film which started growing long before it opened. It bounced around a couple of studios before filming started, different deals fell apart, it’s production company that had the rights to the film went bankrupt, and the Scientology connection made a lot of Hollywood brass wary.  Though there really wasn’t any mention or really anything Scientology-related in the film it did open on the 50th anniversary of Hubbard’s book which started it all for him, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. Indeed, it became one of the he biggest, most expensive flops of all time. It opened on over 3,000 screens on May 12, 2000, but only did $11.5 million, falling 67% the second week and only doing $1 million at the box office in week three.

Rotten Tomatoes gave it only a 3% score. The movie critics savaged it. Rita Kempley of The Washington Post commented: “A million monkeys with a million crayons would be hard-pressed in a million years to create anything as cretinous as Battlefield Earth. This film version of L. Ron Hubbard’s futuristic novel is so breathtakingly awful in concept and execution, it wouldn’t tax the smarts of a troglodyte.”The The New York Times said: “It may be a bit early to make such judgments, but Battlefield Earth may well turn out to be the worst movie of this century” saying it is “Plan 9 from Outer Space for a new generation”. In the UK film critic Jonathan Ross said: “Everything about Battlefield Earth sucks. Everything. The over-the-top music, the unbelievable sets, the terrible dialogue, the hammy acting, the lousy special effects, the beginning, the middle and especially the end.” The Hollywood Reporter summed up the film describing it as “a flat-out mess…” that had a “massive narrative sinkhole.” Damn!

So needless to say, it’s a bit embarrassing to say I saw it on opening weekend. I had heard that it was bad, and I knew all about the Scientology connection to the movie. However, it  should definitely be noted that it not that brief, youthful dalliance with Scientology that influenced me to go see it!  It was actually a neighbor, who is a big sci-fi fan. I did go to the matinee on a Saturday, however, so at least I can say I didn’t pay full price!

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