Photo: Warner Bros.
You know "Argo" -- that's the movie that's probably going to win Best Picture on Sunday. But do you know "Argo," the movie -- or at least the script -- that inspired the daring (and bizarre) true-life rescue mission depicted in Ben Affleck's CIA thriller?
CIA operative Tony Mendez masterminded the rather unorthodox operation designed to rescue six U.S. diplomats from Tehran during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis: a small group of CIA agents would go "on location" (and thus, behind enemy lines) posing as a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a science fiction epic (emphasis on "epic," as you'll soon see) called "Argo." The mission was successful ... and, arguably, couldn't have been done if Mendez hadn't found the perfect cover story: an actual unproduced screenplay.
Joshua Bearman, the journalist who wrote the 2007 Wired article that served as the basis of Affleck's film, recently shed some light on this would-be Hollywood blockbuster.
"'Argo' was the name Tony [Mendez] gave to a script that was in turnaround and sitting in a pile at [makeup artist John] Chambers' house," said Bearman in an interview with BuzzFeed. "That script was called 'Lord of Light' and had been adapted from a successful Roger Zelazny science-fantasy novel of the same name. A small-time self-starting dreamer who called himself a 'producer' -- isn't that how it always starts? -- named Barry Geller had optioned Zelazny's book himself and raised money to get the project started. He hired Jack Kirby to do concept art and Chambers to make the alien masks." Kirby, by the way, was played by Michael Parks in the Ben Affleck "Argo."
The Jack Kirby drawings portray a gonzo sci-fi pop trash fever dream, sort of a mix between "Heavy Metal," "Stargate" and a theme park designed by a billionaire madman. This Geller fellow was beyond delusional -- practical sets like the "Royal Chambers of Brahma," the "Pavilions of Joy," the "Hostel of Hawkana" and especially the jaw-dropping "Terminal of the Gods" helicopter port would've cost about a trillion dollars to bring to life.
And speaking of theme parks, that was apparently part of Geller's plan, too -- and what made for the project's ultimate demise.
"The whole project fell apart when Geller staged a press conference in Aurora, Colorado, where he announced his intention to film 'Lord of Light' there, and then use the sets to create a theme park, called Science Fiction Land," said Bearman.
Yes, Kirby made a drawing of Science Fiction Land, too. It kinda looks like fun, actually.
We'll probably never see the "Lord of Light" movie, even in this day and age where the entire thing could be made on a computer. But the project's strange origins -- and subsequent legacy -- are set to be the subject of a documentary, "Science Fiction Land," which has received funding through a Kickstarter campaign.