The non-documentary movie to see this weekend is Argo, a well-crafted new historical thriller starring and directed by Ben Affleck based on the true story of a rescue mission to extract six American hostages from Iran in 1980. The operation utilized a real science fiction screenplay in an effort to fake a movie production as cover. But that screenplay was not originally titled “Argo,” as the dramatization implies (creating something of a plot hole, if you want to get picky). That was what the CIA and its Hollywood collaborators renamed an existing adaptation of Roger Zelazny’s Hugo Award-winning novel Lord of Light.
The story of that script before it ended up in the hands of U.S. Intelligence officer Tony Mendez (Affleck’s character in Argo) sounds as fascinating as what happened after, and now we could get to see the whole history in a documentary called Science Fiction Land. The long-in-the-making film is currently raising funds via Kickstarter and will be directed by Judd Ehrlich (Magic Camp), who has been working on the project since 2006. Before that, starting in 2000, it was being helmed by former Errol Morris researcher Diane Bernard. It’s no sudden thing trying to capitalize on Affleck’s movie.
As you can see in the campaign video above, Science Fiction Land will chronicle the failed production of Lord of Light, which was scripted by Barry Ira Gellar, involved consultants Buckminster Fuller and Ray Bradbury, concept design work by comic book legend Jack Kirby (which also wound up used by the CIA) and the makeup artistry of John Chambers (John Goodman’s character in Argo). The ambitious space epic had an unheard-of budget of $50 million and ultimately was intended to lead to a giant amusement park in Colorado called Science Fiction Land, which would be constructed out of the film’s sets and feature such things as security guards with jet packs and a holographic zoo.
Then, moneymen on the project(s), namely stuntman-turned-producer Jerry Schafer, turned out to be con men — and maybe there was bigger corruption at play — and everything fell apart, thereby of course allowing for the CIA to buy the script. Interestingly, the collapse of Lord of Light happened in December of 1979 (read about it here), in the midst of the hostage crisis that had begun a month prior and only a month before Mendez used the now-fake movie for the mission. Chambers is the link and must have been quick to turn Gellar’s script around to Mendez. We’ll get the whole story in this doc if it’s able to come to fruition. I sure hope it does.
One thing worth noting is that other documentaries have been made before about the the mission depicted in Argo, only without the knowledge of the classified fake film crew aspect. Les Harris, who also produced the 1981 Canadian TV movie Escape from Iran: The Canadian Caper, made Escape from Iran: The Inside Story and 444 Days to Freedom.