Ben Affleck's Argo surprised some film critics by taking home the Best Drama and Best Director awards at the Golden Globes last Sunday. The movie tells the little-known, mostly true 1970s story of how CIA agent Tony Mendez rescued six American embassy workers hiding from the Islamist militants who had taken 52 of their co-workers hostage in Iran. To do it, Mendez disguised the six as the Canadian film crew of a science-fiction movie called Argo and then ushered them home on a commercial flight.
But there's an even lesser-known story behind the tale, one that's left out of the Affleck version. The fake movie that the fake film crew was supposedly making was a real screenplay — and it was slated to be filmed at a massive theme park called Science Fiction Land, to be built in Aurora.
In the Affleck telling, Mendez finds the script for Argo in a pile of cast-offs; it's described as a Star Wars rip-off full of aliens and spaceships. In real life, the script was called Lord of Light, and it was based on Roger Zelazny's best-selling 1967 novel of the same name and written for the silver screen by an eccentric named Barry Ira Geller, who imagined building Science Fiction Land at three times the size of Disneyland, complete with a 38-story Ferris wheel, a holographic zoo, a 1,000-lane bowling alley attended by robots, security guards equipped with jetpacks, a heated dome, and fourteen Las Vegas-style dinner theaters.
Geller assembled a team of well-known collaborators, including comic-book artist Jack Kirby, author Ray Bradbury, architect Buckminster Fuller, and a Vegas promoter and stuntman named Jerry Schafer. The plans were big news in Colorado in 1979, but within weeks, the project came to a screeching halt when it was revealed that Schafer had lied about having $400 million in financing and four Aurora officials were indicted for trying to use inside information to buy land adjacent to the proposed park.
A documentary, directed by Judd Ehrlich of New York City and titled Science Fiction Land, hopes to tell that part of the story. "I'm really elated," Ehrlich told Westword's Melanie Asmar last November after raising more than $54,000 on Kickstarter to finance the film. Launching the Kickstarter campaign at the same time Argo hit theaters "was a really effective way to get the word out there...that there is more to the story."
Since the Kickstarter campaign ended, Ehrlich says, he's spent much of his time packing and shipping the prizes promised to donors, including Science Fiction Land T-shirts, mugs and posters. He plans to use the money to continue filming, including some scenes in Aurora.
"It's really exciting for us that Argo is continuing its run," he adds. "The longer it stays in the public's consciousness and its mind, the more interest there will be in the real story."
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Read more about Science Fiction Land and see renderings at westword.com.
Scene and herd: And 2013 could be a big year (relatively speaking) for Colorado or Coloradans on the big and the small screen. Local boys Trey Parker and Matt Stone are launching their own studio, Important Studios, according to the New York Times, and could decide to make a movie version of Book of Mormon, their smash-hit musical.
Then there's East High grad Don Cheadle, who won the Golden Globe last Sunday for Best Actor in a Comedy Series, for his role as Marty Kaan in the Showtime dramedy House of Lies.
And don't forget The Lone Ranger, starring Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer, which was shot partly in and around Alamosa and Creede and should be coming out in 2013. A company hired by Disney, which is updating the classic characters of the Lone Ranger and Tonto from the books and TV series, sent out word nearly a year ago that it was looking for Asian and Native American men, as well as people with lazy eyes and "grizzled and wrinkled faces." Oh, and circus performers. Roll 'em.