What Hit Us?

Long Before "Asteroid," moviemakers made their mark on Colorado. A guide to some high and low points.

* Larger Than Life, Bill Murray's recent elephant opus, was shot for a few days last summer in Loveland at Johnson's Corner, one of the last family-owned truck stops in the country. Employees appeared as extras in the film.

* A soon-to-be-released TV remake of The Shining, starring Rebecca DeMornay and Steven Weber, was shot partly in Congress Park and partly at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, the original inspiration for Stephen King's tale of a demented resort caretaker.

* Centennial: the fictitious setting of Centennial, a sprawling 26-hour mini-series based on James Michener's novel about the settling and development of a Colorado town. The project aired in twelve segments that ran from October 1978 to February 1979. Its $25 million budget was four times that of Roots. The cast was a who's who of rising stars and fading legends. Just a few: Raymond Burr, Andy Griffith, Sally Kellerman, Barbara Carrera, Timothy Dalton and that old mini-series stalwart Richard Chamberlain.

* Snowfield: Phantoms, a Dean Koontz thriller starring Peter O'Toole, recently finished filming around Georgetown, which played Snowfield--a town where everyone has strangely vanished. Producers turned down Westword's offices as the set of a newsroom in the film, saying they weren't realistic enough.

In addition to Phantoms, scheduled for release later this year, look for:
* Warriors of Virtue, a locally produced action-adventure movie about five martial-arts-fighting kangaroos. Scheduled for release in May.

* Going West in America: Shot last March in the mountains and on the streets of Five Points, this Dennis Quaid-Danny Glover thriller should make theaters before 1997 is out.

* During the filming of Cat Ballou (1965), crew members recalled star Jane Fonda arriving straight from Paris, mad that she couldn't find any French food in Texas Creek, about 25 miles west of Canon City, while Lee Marvin nursed a hangover by alternately swigging wine and cold milk on a ninety-degree day.

* Mr. Majestyk (1974), from an Elmore Leonard novel, starred Charles Bronson as a Vietnam vet trying to be a peaceful farmer in Colorado. The peace doesn't last: During the filming, Bronson apparently was offered pottery by some children in La Junta, where the film was shot; he threw the pottery to the ground and broke it.

* The Disappearance of Aimee (1976), a TV movie starring Bette Davis and Faye Dunaway, was shot in Denver. (The real-life story of evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson took place mostly in California.) During a church-sermon scene, Dunaway shouted at one lackadaisical extra, "Why aren't you listening to me? Look at me, LOOK at me!!"

* The climax of Denver and the Rio Grande (1952) involves two trains colliding on the bridge just west of Canon City.

* Two stuntmen leaped 900 feet off the bridge for Fast Getaway (1990), a direct-to-video chase flick starring washed-out teen star Corey Haim.

In the late Eighties, Councilwoman Debbie Ortega proposed that the 16th Street Viaduct be sold to Hollywood impresarios looking to blow up a bridge.

It's not surprising that Colorado--the first state in the country to establish a film commission, back in 1969--would also be great at tooting its own horn:

* Canon City Record, 1911: "There is some thought that Canon City may become the movie capital of the country."

* Denver Post, June 15, 1915: "The big picture enterprises should have been located in this state instead of the rainy, murky action of California."

* Denver Post, August 15, 1940: "Denver will become the 'movie capital' of the world."

* Denver Post, February 1, 1953: Actress Janet Leigh fails to attend the 1953 world premiere in Denver of the Western The Naked Spur with James Stewart. Why? "She's busy on a picture in the customary and more prosaic Hollywood."

* To appease oversensitive Coloradans, the makers of The Naked Spur included a credit line at the end of the picture that read: "FILMED IN THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS OF COLORADO, U.S.A."

* Rocky Mountain News, August 28, 1955: "Colorado Becomes Top Movie Location Area."

* Denver Post, July 22, 1973: Running Wild, an inauspicious Western, was nevertheless "the first in a series of major motion pictures...to establish [western Colorado] as a center for motion-picture production."

* Denver magazine, October 1976: "Lady Hollywood has arrived in Denver, and it appears certain she plans to stay."

* Rocky Mountain News, February 24, 1983: "Colorado boosted as cinema center."

* Rocky Mountain News, September 24, 1988: "A major film production studio is planned for the Denver area."

* Rocky Mountain News, September 16, 1994: "Colorado, Stage of the Stars."

Colorado, Utah and New Mexico have been butting heads for decades trying to lure film companies. For years, New Mexico seemed to be the most successful, but now New Mexico film officials say their state is experiencing a film drought of late, with no major projects scheduled.

Utah, on the other hand, is raking them in. Leigh Vonderesch, executive director of the Utah Film Commission, says the state--which currently is home to two television series, Promised Land and Touched by an Angel--has eight more projects under way, all TV movies.

Colorado has no film or TV projects under way. Could Utah be stealing our scenes?

"For the last several years, Utah has been getting a lot of business, but I don't know that it's directly taken from Colorado," says Peggy Larson, head of Colorado Casting. "Maybe some of the business they're getting we could take from them. Other than the Salt Lake and that big Tabernacle, we have the same things as them."

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