”Battlefield Earth” is the most controversial movie of the summer. Which may seem strange, because on the surface it’s a fairly straightforward sci-fi epic: The year is 3000. A sinister race of strip-mining nine-foot-tall aliens, the Psychlos, have conquered the planet. Travolta is Terl, their cackling high-rise chieftain, with dreadlocks in his hair and ”breathing tubes” in his nostrils. Pepper plays Johnny Goodboy Tyler, a young hunter trying to save a lost Rocky Mountain tribe of humans.
So what’s the controversy? Travolta is a Scientologist, and ”Battlefield” is based on a 1982 novel by L. Ron Hubbard, the religion’s late founder. Which leads some critics to hint that ”Earth” amounts to Scientologist crypto-dogma, allegedly packed with subliminal messages. ”That’s all just silly propaganda,” says Christian. ”If a Jewish producer hires a Jewish writer and a Jewish director, does that mean we’re going to get secret messages that are converting us to Judaism?”
Religion aside, ”Earth” remains Travolta’s ”absolute passion,” the director says. Sounds like it: The star endured a roasting-hot summer shoot in Montreal while wearing head-to-toe padding. But Pepper’s convinced that the heat from skeptics will cool down as soon as the movie’s out. ”I really can’t wait till those same people see the movie,” he says, ”because they’re going to be blown away.” They’d better be, because Terl’s already planning a sequel.