Argo's fake movie started out real, and was supposed to include a theme park in...Aurora?

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Science Fiction Land could have been huge. Proposed in 1979, the idea was to build a huge theme park in Aurora with a holographic zoo and a 1,000-lane bowling alley attended by robots. The park was to also serve as the set of a $50 million sci-fi flick called Lord of Light. The movie never happened, but the script went on to star in a CIA scheme to rescue six Americans in Iran -- the story told in the new Ben Affleck flick Argo. Except Argo doesn't get it completely right.

The underlying facts are true: In November 1979, six Americans escaped from the U.S. embassy, evading capture by the Islamist militants who would hold 52 of their co-workers hostage for 444 days. They hid at the houses of Canadian diplomats and managed to get word of their whereabouts to the White House. U.S. officials were afraid they'd be discovered and executed as spies, so they enlisted the CIA to rescue them. The job fell to a man named Tony Mendez, who'd worked in the division of the CIA that tried to blow up Fidel Castro's cigars, and he hatched an elaborate plan: He'd disguise the six Americans as a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a Hollywood movie in Iran.

(For more on what really happened, read this excellent 2007 Wired story, "How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran", by Joshuah Bearman, a former staff writer and editor for Westword's sister paper LA Weekly.)

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CIA archives, via kickstarter.com
Mendez turned to Oscar-winning makeup artist (and CIA collaborator) John Chambers for help. They needed a movie script to pull off their ruse, and the story goes that Chambers, who'd been hired to do the makeup for Lord of Light, suggested using that script. Thanks to a series of scandals and indictments of the project's key players, it was looking like the ambitious movie would never be made. Mendez thought the script was perfect. He didn't change a thing except the title, which he switched to Argo.

In the Ben Affleck re-telling, however, the CIA and Hollywood operatives comb through a pile of scripts and come upon one for a B-type sci-fi movie called Argo. There's no mention of Lord of Light or Science Fiction Land or Aurora, Colorado -- an omission that a new documentary appropriately titled Science Fiction Land aims to remedy.

The film's creators are currently trying to raise $50,000 through Kickstarter to continue work on the documentary. With just a few days left, they've raised more than $39,000.

"Even before Argo came along, we were fascinated with the ways all of the characters in the (documentary) film feel about myth-making and storytelling and the line between fantasy and reality. And then Argo comes along and it's yet another Hollywood interpretation of the story," says director and producer Judd Ehrlich. "It's been fictionalized and dramatized. A lot of people view it and they're like, 'That's history.'

"For us, it's like another layer to this insane story."

Continue for more on Science Fiction Land.



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2 comments
Ted Campbell
Ted Campbell

As a townie and sci-fi fan, i don't know how i only first heard about this days ago - but i'm looking forward to reading this tomorrow at work...

michael.roberts
michael.roberts moderator editortopcommenter

@Ted Campbell Enjoy, Ted -- and thanks for the post.

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