Rebel Wilson starred in Cats. Picture: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images
Rebel Wilson starred in Cats. Picture: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

There’s a new ‘worst film ever’

Battlefield Earth has long been called the worst movie of all time.

The overblown, cheap space flick from 2000 with laughable dialogue and an alien John Travolta, made just $US29.3 million on a $US73 million budget and, until Adam Sandler's Jack And Jill in 2012, held the most Razzies ("honouring the worst of cinematic under-achievements").

But 20 years later, its screenwriter says there is a new top flop.

"I watched about 10 or 15 minutes of Cats, and unfortunately, it might beat out Battlefield Earth," J.D. Shapiro told The Post of the movie-musical with creepy cat-human hybrids. "To regular people, Cats was f***ing disturbing."

Judi Dench in the movie Cats. Picture: Universal Pictures
Judi Dench in the movie Cats. Picture: Universal Pictures

This week marks an inauspicious anniversary for the writer, who in 2010 boldly wrote a column in The Post apologising for having helped make the reviled science fiction movie.

Shapiro, who counts Robin Hood: Men In Tights among his credits, reveals that interference from MGM and other outside forces derailed his vision.

Almost nothing of what the writer contributed to the screenplay, he said, remains.

"It wasn't as I intended - promise," Shapiro wrote. "No one sets out to make a train wreck. Actually, comparing it to a train wreck isn't really fair to train wrecks, because people actually want to watch those."

That mea culpa proved a breakthrough moment for the writer, who after Battlefield Earth was in symbolic "movie prison," writing scripts under silly pseudonyms such as Sir Nick Knack. Now, he had his peers' respect.

"I had no idea the response it would get," he said of the candid op-ed. "Ninety per cent of it was very positive from people in the business that I was actually willing to talk about the realities of what happened with the movie. When I look back, I'm proud of the fact that I wasn't afraid to tell my truth."

John Travolta in the film Battlefield Earth.
John Travolta in the film Battlefield Earth.

Shapiro's truth was so wild, it was almost unbelievable.

For newbies, Battlefield Earth is based on the 1982 novel by L. Ron Hubbard, the controversial founder of Scientology.

One of Hubbard's 250 works of fiction, Battlefield Earth is set in the year 3000, when enormous aliens called the Psychlos (played by John Travolta and Forest Whitaker) have taken over the planet and enslaved all humans. It's up to one earthling named Jonnie Goodboy Tyler to start a revolution and save mankind.

Critics hated the 800-plus-page novel. But it had an influential fan - Travolta.

"I have a special affection for this book," the actor and famous Scientologist told the New York Times magazine in 2000. "Hubbard was a great writer, and I had an idea of the movie's potential, a fantasy in my mind that lasted for years."

Shapiro had been hanging around the Celebrity Centre, Scientology's base camp in Los Angeles, trying to pick up chicks, and got looped into the project when they realised what his profession was.

John Travolta holding a piece of merchandise from Battlefield Earth.
John Travolta holding a piece of merchandise from Battlefield Earth.

Karen Hollander, the president of the centre, asked if he was interested in adapting any Hubbard books for the screen, and soon he was having dinner with Travolta, who dreamt of starring in Battlefield Earth.

The actor, however, wanted Shapiro to commit to the project before reading the book, telling him it was the "Schindler's List of sci-fi".

Unable to turn down Danny Zuko, the writer began working on a draft. Mike Marcus, then the head of MGM, loved his vision and didn't mind his many deviations from the novel. But then notes started pouring in from the studio and "John's camp," which Shapiro took to mean the Church of Scientology, altering the story and tone beyond repair.

"I called up Mike Marcus and said, 'Is this a joke?,'" Shapiro said. "These notes are gonna kill the movie."

Shapiro wouldn't budge, and was fired from the project the next day. Different writers hopped on over time and slavishly followed the studio's directions. ("Pencils," Shapiro derisively calls his replacements.) MGM lost interest, and the movie eventually wound up at Fox.

Shapiro got his first glimpse of the flick during the coming attractions before a different movie at the cinema.

"It's the first preview - any footage - I've seen of Battlefield Earth," he said. "And I'm like, 'What the f **k?'"

John Travolta and his real life wife Kelly Preston in Battlefield Earth.
John Travolta and his real life wife Kelly Preston in Battlefield Earth.

He had envisioned the final product would look more like Braveheart and less like a Kiss concert with Bob Marley wigs.

"I literally sunk in my seat, not that anyone in the theatre would've known I was associated with this movie," Shapiro said.

Today, since sharing his experiences about working on the epic Hollywood disaster, the writer and stand-up comic said the black sheep of his resumé leads to countless memorable confrontations. Not long ago, he was speaking to an accomplished fellow writer at a party in LA.

"Well, I wrote the worst script ever," Shapiro said to him. "You didn't write the worst script ever," the partygoer shot back. "You didn't write Battlefield Earth, come on!"

The man paused, and realised who he was talking to.

"Hey! This is the a**hole who wrote Battlefield Earth!"

 

This article originally appeared on The New York Post and was reproduced with permission

 

 

 

Originally published as There's a new 'worst film ever'


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