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John Travolta's 18-year journey
Actor brings Hubbard's 'Battlefield Earth' to the big screen
ATLANTA (CNN) -- Much has been written about John Travolta's involvement in Scientology, the spiritual and philosophical organization founded by sci-fi author L. Ron Hubbard.
But Travolta was first introduced to Hubbard by a book, not his teachings, when he read the author's 1982 fiction best-seller "Battlefield Earth." Like the book's 6 million other readers, Travolta says, he loved the story of how humanity, led by hero Jonnie Goodboy Tyler, overcomes an alien race that has enslaved them and the planet at the turn of the year 3000.
Unlike other readers, Travolta was, you know, John Travolta, someone who could actually turn it into a movie.
But even for the man who was the disco king of the '70s, the where-is-he-now poster child of the '80s and the silver-screen comeback of the '90s, it took until the year 2000 for him to produce Hubbard's vision at the multiplex.
A 9-foot-tall bad guy
"I could never get a script right," Travolta says in a recent visit here to promote the film. "Cut to years later and I have this comeback, and I'm too old to play Jonnie, and it's time to play the villain."
Along with his producing duties, Travolta portrays Terl, a 9-foot-tall alien and chief of security for Earth. Terl, Travolta says, is a "comic villain" who is bent on a blind revenge against just about everyone he encounters when he finds out that his promotion off Earth has been denied.
"My character is always blackmailing, leveraging, taking advantage of others," he says.
"Battlefield Earth" is based on the first half of Hubbard's novel. It's the kind of special-effects, eardrum-blowing bonanza that has come to characterize summer fare. The Warner Bros. release doesn't hit theaters until Friday, and already there's talk of a sequel using the second half of the book.
It was directed by Roger Christian, who came recommended to Travolta by George Lucas. Christian worked with Lucas on the original "Star Wars" as a set decorator, and on "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace" as a second unit director.
'Blew me away'
When he saw the finished product, Travolta says, "it blew me away. We hit every note the reader loved, almost by survey."
So, are there any Scientology references in the movie?
Travolta, traditionally reluctant to discuss his Scientology beliefs, shrugs off the question. But he points to a theme that is prevalent throughout the action-adventure, and it sounds like one of Hubbard's guiding principles.
"Jonnie's tribe (is) led to believe that every star in the sky is kind of a god or something," Travolta says. "And Jonnie is saying, 'Look, that may not be the case here. We may have to do something ourselves to fix this situation, because right now nothing's helping us.' That was one of the middle themes, you know."
The release of the film comes at a busy time for Travolta. Though the project has been his "baby" for 18 years, his wife, actress Kelly Preston, last month gave birth to Ella Bleu, the couple's second child and first daughter.
"We're a pretty happy household right now," he says.
"Battlefield Earth" is a production of CNN Interactive sister company Warner Bros., a Time Warner property.
Summer comes early to the cineplex
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