June 24, 2005 — -- An angry Tom Cruise took on a reporter who asked if "War of the Worlds" resonated with him because Scientologists believe in extraterrestrials.
"That's not true," Cruise told the reporter Wednesday at a press conference with director Steven Spielberg to promote the new film. "It has no resonance whatsoever. There's absolutely no relation to that whatsoever."
Cruise, who is a devoted member of the Church of Scientology, was so stunned that he questioned the reporter's credentials. When told that the reporter worked for the Boston Phoenix, he asked, "Is that a good paper? Really?"
While only Cruise himself can explain what motivated him to star in the film, religious experts say that space creatures do play a role in the Scientology belief system.
Still, it's not so easy to find E.T. references on the Church of Scientology's official Web site and informational material, and some who question the church's legitimacy say that's done to keep from scaring away new members.
"It would be more shocking to recruits to find that the link between science fiction and Scientology is so strong," says professor Stephen Kent, a sociology professor at Canada's University of Alberta, who has written extensively about Scientology and been critical of its practices.
Kent has never been a member of the church, but says he's studied church materials that are not widely circulated. The religion was founded by L. Ron Hubbard, after the 1950 publication of his wildly successful book "Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health."
To advance in the studies of Scientology, church members must take classes, and the information taught is largely proprietary. "There is a series of documents where you'll learn how Hubbard visited other planets, and even heaven," Kent says.
Kent has not yet seen Cruise's new movie, but he says the space invasion story bears some similarities to the Scientology teachings of the "Marcab Confederacy," which he says is described in a church document as a group of planets. It is a vast civilization that has spaceships, but is worse off than Earth in many ways, Kent says.
The church's Web site says Scientologists believe the human soul is eternal and, after death, it's reincarnated.
Kent and others say that Scientologists also teach the story of Xenu, a galactic warlord from 75 million years ago, who buried billions of people from other planets in Earth's volcanoes. The souls of these space creatures constantly interfere with humans, and one of the missions of Scientology is to help shed these spirits, critics claim.
Hubbard wrote several science fiction books, including "Battlefield Earth," which John Travolta, who also practices Scientology, turned into a movie.
James Randi, a paranormal investigator, believes that the Church of Scientology is trying to separate itself from science fiction, as it seeks more mainstream recognition around the world. "We have names for people who go around telling fantastic tales about UFOs," says Randi, who has studied the growth of Scientology as it relates to the growing belief in UFOs and extraterrestrials. "So they're playing that part of the story down."
The glossary on the information section of the church's Web site makes no mention of extraterrestrials.
But another glossary also found on the site explains the concept of "space opera." Outside Scientology, this term is sometimes used to describe science fiction soap operas. But according to this glossary, "space opera" is Scientology's concept of how, over the course of millions of years, human reincarnation has been influenced by space creatures.
"Space opera has space travel, spaceships, spacemen, intergalactic travel, wars, conflicts, other beings, civilizations and societies, and other planets and galaxies. It is not fiction and concerns actual incidents," the Church's Web site states.
Ed Parkin, a spokesman for the Church of Scientology International, declined to comment on Cruise's statements at the press conference Wednesday because he was not in attendance, or to comment on Scientology's teaching on extraterrestrials.
"Mr. Hubbard's 40 million words of writings and lectures on Dianetics and Scientology contain a record of everything he encountered in his research, including many observations on the origins of life in this universe," Parkin said in an e-mail.
"That research has been available to people in books and lectures for decades and stands on its own without any further comments from me," he said.
While Cruise sees no connection between his religion and his new movie, he told reporters that believing in alien life isn't unusual.
"I think it's supreme arrogance to think we are the only life form in the entire universe," the 42-year-old actor said.
Spielberg -- who earned his title as Hollywood's most successful filmmaker thanks in part to such supernatural wonders as "E.T. the Extraterrestrial" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" -- agreed with his star.
"I can't imagine anyone believes we are the only intelligent or biological life form in the entire universe," he said.