Despite its prominently featuring outer space and aliens, Battlefield Earth is widely considered one of the worst movies of all time. It has a 2% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes putting it just inches ahead of the likes of Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever; Wikipedia, for its part, gives Battlefield Earth face time in its must-read “List of films considered the worst [ever made]” article. That’s authority.
This past weekend, the first screenwriter for Battlefield Earth, J.D. Shapiro, took to the pages of the New York Post not to defend the movie, but to apologize for his part in making what he called “the suckiest movie ever.”
Now, Shapiro’s no slouch, he did write the screenplay for Robin Hood: Men in Tights. So what went wrong?
According to Shapiro, one major player was the whole “Scientology” thing — the film was an adaptation of a thousand-page L. Ron Hubbard novel of the same name, and had backing from a number of powerful Scientologists, including star John Travolta. Shapiro says that he first got wrapped up with the Scientology scene not out of any deep conviction, but because he had read an article somewhere saying that the main Scientology center in L.A. was a great place to meet women.
So how did the film get sabotaged? Shapiro says that he turned in a good draft of the script and was urged to make a number of “ridiculous” changes, many of which came from John Travolta’s camp but were backed by the Church of Scientology:
My script was very, VERY different than what ended up on the screen. My screenplay was darker, grittier and had a very compelling story with rich characters. What my screenplay didn’t have was slow motion at every turn, Dutch tilts, campy dialogue, aliens in KISS boots, and everyone wearing Bob Marley wigs.
I got studio notes that were typical studio notes. Nothing too crazy. I incorporated the notes I felt worked, blew off the bad ones and did a polish. I sent it to the studio, thinking the next I’d hear is what director is attached.
Then I got another batch of notes. I thought it was a joke. They changed the entire tone. I knew these notes would kill the movie. The notes wanted me to lose key scenes, add ridiculous scenes, take out some of the key characters. I asked Mike where they came from. He said, “From us.” But when I pressed him, he said, “From John’s camp, but we agree with them.”
I refused to incorporate the notes into the script and was fired.
A little self-serving? Maybe, but what did you expect? It’s still a revealing and funny read (though no real dirt on the inner workings of Scientology), and well worth checking out.
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