Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Stubs – Argo (1980)

Argo (1980) Starring: Ken Taylor, Cora Lijek, Robert Pender, William J. Daugherty. Directed by  Robert Baker,. Screenplay by Barry Geller and Mary Ann Boyd, Based on the novel, Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny. Produced by Robert Sidell and John Chambers Run time 95 minutes. Canada. Color. Science Fiction, Action, Adventure, Fantasy

Some may be surprised to learn that Ben Affleck’s Argo (2012) was not the first film with that title. There was a Hungarian film in 2004, a short from 2006 and a science fiction film from 1980, that we will be discussing.

Hollywood is always looking for trends to follow. That is as true now as it was back in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. With the unexpected mega-success of Star Wars (1977), everyone became interested in making the next big space adventure. While every major studio tried to get in on the act, so did a lot of independent producers as well. John Chambers, a former make up man and his producing partner Robert Sidell, bought the rights to Robert Zelazny’s Lord of Light and hoped they, too, could get in on the action. Even though their Studio Six production company was based at the Gower Studios in Hollywood, the film was made from money collected by foreign investors and made as a Canadian film.

The novel Lord of Light was written as a series of independent chapters, each telling a distinct story about the lead character, Sam, and his long battle against the established gods of the world. The chapters are not told in chronological order either, so for this to be made into a movie, Barry Geller and Mary Ann Boyd, the screenwriters, certainly had their work cut out. Under the direction of Robert Baker and starring a cast of relative no names, the film shot on locations around the world, including some sequences in Iran, even though that country was at the time holding several U.S. embassy employees as hostages.

When the film opens, Earth has already been destroyed. Its survivors are the crew of an old spaceship, the caretakers of civilization’s technologies chosen. Our story opens on an earth-like planet in a city resembling ancient India. The crew, who once called themselves First Colonists, have used technology to enhance themselves with godlike psychic powers and have enjoyed technical immortality for the past 1000 years. Mankind’s descendants live in primitive squalor subjugated by the rule of those who now call themselves the Gods. But no one knows who they really are or what kinds of powers the really have.

Originally many of them were archeologists, engineers, scientists. Our hero, Sam (Ken Taylor), was the head of the hydroponics gardens on the starship. But when they reached the new planet all of the crew were turned into warriors, where Sam and Kali (Cora Lijek) became champions. With the weaponry which enhanced their individual psychic powers, the First Colonists, as they called themselves, carved out a new civilization with new rules. As with most futuristic stories, the First Colonists built a computer-controlled utopian city named Heaven, designed by Vishnu (William J. Daugherty), who’s old job was Director of Information Technology. Now he was known as The Preserver. The Starship Commander (Tom Ahern) became Brahma and his chief henchman, (David Marmor) Shiva.

William J. Daughtery as Vishnu.

After being together with Kali for hundreds of years Sam decides to leave Heaven – and Kali—and live on Earth as Prince Siddhartha, ruler of his own country. Kali was more interested in gaining “heavenly” power and was promoted to chief Goddess of Destruction. The new gods used the structure of the ancient Hindu Pantheon, clothed their advanced weaponry in primitive trappings and set up a religion similar to Earth’s ancient Hinduism to control the populace.

Cora Lijek as Kali in Argo (1980).
Unwilling to have anything to do with them at first, Sam finds himself implacably drawn into battling the tyrannical forces of the Celestial City to free an enslaved world. Now he and his forces are arrayed against his former love Kali, the Goddess who would still want him to fight by her side, and Yama (Robert Pender), Lord of Death, and the entire Pantheon of Heaven. 

The City of Heaven, originally found by the First Colonists.

Sam is the dreamer, master strategist and schemer. He is the trickster, the liar; he becomes Manjusri, the Buddha, Lord Kalkin, and the Binder of the Rakasha Demons, all to oppose Kali, Brahma, Shiva, and all the forces of Heaven. He is the renegade god who fights to change the course of an entire civilization, and upon whose shoulders rests the future of the entire world.

After a major battle he is killed but brought back to life by Yama who aligns with him after being spurned by Kali himself. The final arena awaits as Sam gathers all the creatures of an ancient planet to fight the armies of Heaven one last time...

Sam has to become the synthesis of all that he once was unwilling to be. In the end he will be recognized by all as the true leader, the Redeemer, the Lord of Light . . .

Reviews at the time were not favorable. Film critic Danny Manning, writing for The Ridgefield Press, called the final film a “mess … a combination of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf,” “The Lion in Winter,” and "Dune," set in the ancient Indian Pantheon of Hindu Gods.” He wrote that he didn’t think the film would play well in Middle America.  The film, which briefly made the rounds of minor festivals, never did find a U.S. distributor and was only briefly available in the U.S. on VHS, never making it to DVD or digital. The numbers from overseas were not very good and it is believed the film, budgeted at $35 million, lost money. Chambers and Sidell never did produce another movie.

I would have to agree with Manning’s assessment. The film is unwatchable and really not worth spending your time looking for it. Trust me, you’ll never find it, no matter how hard you look.

Trophy Unlocked wishes you a very happy April’s Fools Day.

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