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Scientology Crime Syndicate http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/pages/000429/4016060.html

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Saturday 29 April 2000

Is Travolta ducking tough critics?

He's catering to TV and radio, avoiding press reporters on movie tour

BRENDAN KELLY
The Gazette

Last summer, John Travolta held a press conference here to say how much he loved Montreal.

But apparently that love does not extend to the city's newspapers. The Hollywood star will be back in Montreal today to promote the pricey sci-fi epic Battlefield Earth, which was shot here and in the Quebec countryside last year, but he will do interviews only with television and radio stations.

Travolta will chat live on local rock-video network MusiquePlus for 45 minutes beginning at 2 p.m. Then he will sign copies of the new movie-tie-in edition of the novel Battlefield Earth - written by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard - at the downtown Chapters store at 5:15 p.m.

But Travolta is not talking to any newspaper reporters in Montreal, and he didn't talk to any yesterday in Toronto. Representatives of Warner Bros, the studio that is distributing Battlefield Earth, say Travolta's 20-city promotional tour consists solely of TV and radio interviews.

That's because television has become the medium of choice for the marketing departments of the Hollywood studios and music multinationals, because its coverage tends to be less critical than print reporting.

On TV, directors, actors or pop stars can deliver their message - usually along the lines of "please go see the movie or buy the album" - without much editorial interference. It is harder to maintain that level of control with newspaper coverage.

Pop idol Enrique Iglesias was recently in town for a promotional visit that also consisted of TV and radio interviews. But that tack is more common with singers, since radio remains the key sales vehicle for recording artists.

It is more unusual for actors to shy away from print journalists, which is one of the reasons observers speculate that Travolta might be avoiding tough questions on Scientology. Travolta is one of the highest-profile practitioners of the controversial faith.

Scientology's founder is also the author of the book Battlefield Earth, which is why the film is considered one of the summer's most controversial blockbusters.

Some critics suggest Battlefield Earth is full of subliminal Scientology messages.

The film, which opens across North America May 12, stars Travolta, Barry Pepper, Forest Whitaker, Kim Coates and Montrealer Sabine Karsenti.

Battlefield Earth is set in the year 3000, when the vicious Psychlo race has taken over the planet and the few surviving humans work as slaves in remote strip mines.

Travolta plays Terl, the 10-foot-tall Psychlo security boss with long dreadlocks and a nasty temper.

Chris Houston, the Chapters marketing manager organizing the book-signing this afternoon, said the Scientology angle is probably why Travolta won't be chatting with print reporters.

"Maybe he's nervous about print media and feels he's less in control of the final product," Houston said.

In an interview, a spokesman from Warner Bros insisted it is merely a timing issue.

"This is not unusual: 75 per cent of the press junkets are TV only," said Mary Sinclair, director of advertising and publicity for Warner Bros Entertainment in Toronto.

"It's just maximizing the time we've got."

Others, including print journalists, see it as a disturbing trend that is making it harder for newspapers to gain access to Hollywood stars.

Many U.S. film critics grumbled last year when George Lucas favoured TV interviews over print encounters to talk about Star Wars -- The Phantom Menace.

Lucas, known as a film-maker obsessed with control, felt television was a less dangerous medium than newspapers.

"They get a large bang for their buck out of TV," said David Novek, a veteran film publicist.

"On TV, you don't have too many probing questions. TV is more of a personality-pusher.

"TV has become so important. That's the way movies are sold today, on TV and on the Internet."

- Battlefield Earth opens May 12 in Montreal. John Travolta will be signing copies of the L. Ron Hubbard novel Battlefield Earth at Chapters, 1171 Ste. Catherine St. W., at 5:15 p.m. today.

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