Capricorn One (1978)
April 24, 2016 1:26 PM - Subscribe

A NASA Mars mission won't work, and its funding is endangered, so they decide to fake it just this once. But then they have to keep the secret...

Empire: An excellent, if forgotten, late seventies conspiracy thriller which takes the existent fable of the faked moon landing and runs with it. Certainly, you have to forgive the whacking great lumps of far-fetchedness. Shadowy political trickery is one thing, fabricating an entire NASA mission is near impossible to credit. Get over that and it’s a whole lot of fun watching Hal Halbrook’s — who played supergrass Deep Throat in All The President’s Men — wicked scheming unravel thanks to the gutsy work of Elliot Gould’s tatty hack.

It is he, one of the seventies great unrecognised joys, who gives the film its ironic fizz, as if it is almost parodying the seriousness of the eras moody suspicions. As he pieces together the factual anomalies, tipped off by his soon-to-die insider buddy Robert Walden, and dodges various attempts on his life (the most immediate form of verification) the film spins into life. The second half is pure chase movie, a race against time as the trio of heroic spaceman escape their desert prison and are gradually hunted down. That they are played by James Brolin, Sam Waterston and O.J. Simpson, who gets to drink from a dead snake, tells you just what era this film harkens from.

NYTimes: At movies like this I tend to regress. I'm once again 16 years old when I was quick to point out to adults all those contradictions they'd learned to ignore. For example, how are the three astronauts spirited away from Cape Canaveral in a jet while at least a million people in the immediate vicinity are watching? Why is a medallion, used by one of the astronauts to slip the hinge in their desert prison, later found by the nosy reporter some yards away on the Mars television "set," which has been used to fake the television coverage of the Mars landing? Why . . . but does anyone care?

Den of Geek: Both Hangar 18 and Capricorn One have supposedly happy endings in which the heroes survive and the truth of the massive conspiracies is revealed to the general public. But that’s where things stop. We get no sense of what the implications or repercussions to that news might be. Did the enraged masses panic and riot? Were there mass suicides? Were government officials hanged in the town square?

Of course in this paranoid, conspiratorial age learning once and for true that the moon landing was a hoax and the government has an alien craft in its possession would likely elicit little more than a shrug.

The Dissolve: Capricorn One and other movies brought 1970s paranoia into science fiction


Movie via DailyMotion
posted by MoonOrb (11 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Capricorn One was the well-deserved funeral dirge of the Apollo program, and it was in many ways brilliant. Holbrook was magnificent, and even O.J. was well used by the script. It wasn't so much that we thought Apollo had been faked, as we had been faked-out by the promise of a spacefaring future that was obviously not going to materialize. At the time Capricorn One came out we had no manned launch capability at all; we had burned Apollo to the ground and the Shuttle was having all kinds of trouble, being essentially a poorly thought out boondoggle not to get into space until the 1980's. All of us who believed in space exploration were O.J., making that heroic climb up an impossible cliff without rigging or safety equipment only to find the black helicopters waiting for us at the top.

I don't think anyone could rationally call the ending happy. Almost everyone died and it was obvious a probably homicidal shitstorm was about to ensue. But a more modern movie would have gone on for another half hour laying that all out. In the 1960's and 70's Hollywood was content to let us imagine it for ourselves.
posted by Bringer Tom at 2:56 PM on April 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

I hated this movie when I saw it when I was 14 or so, probably when it first aired on HBO but I haven't seen it since. My pedantic teenage self couldn't get past the ridiculous premise that they could use Apollo era hardware to get all the way to Mars to be able to enjoy any of the later thriller aspects of it. The fact that I've hated every other Hyams film that I've ever seen has kept me from revisiting this one.
posted by octothorpe at 3:46 PM on April 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Sounds like this is totally due for a remake.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:46 PM on April 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Jerry Goldsmith's score for this film is one of his best. Hearing it on the Dailymotion link brings back all kinds of good memories of my childhood.
posted by In The Annex at 5:22 PM on April 24, 2016

All of the Misters Streisand in the same place!
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:26 PM on April 24, 2016 [6 favorites]

Seconding the praise for Goldsmith's score.

I was 15 when this came out and I saw it in the theatre. It's kind of a guilty pleasure to this day. But even when I was 15, the Telly Savalas character seemed a bit much. Maybe he's a distant relative of Col. "Bat" Guano ...
posted by pmurray63 at 5:51 PM on April 24, 2016

One of the pieces I read when I was putting this post together suggested that an ideal remake would be in the form of a mini-series, and I have to agree with that. This could make a fantastic mini-series.

This movie had so many things going for it and it nevertheless managed to miss the mark somehow. I enjoyed it anyway, but it's hard for me to say it was "good."
posted by MoonOrb at 5:55 PM on April 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

My favorite thing about this when I was a kid was suddenly going a-ha! and getting the metaphorical level on which they're actually on Mars, being hunted by hostile martians.

It's really driven home by the maneuver the helicopters do at about 40 seconds into this clip. They're very inscrutable and alien looking to begin with, when you think about it. And why in the world would helicopters need to do that? Unless they're not machines at all but Martians!
posted by Naberius at 7:45 PM on April 24, 2016

I was in the fifth grade when this movie came out. I read the novelization by Ron Goulart. In school we had a classroom assignment that we were each supposed write a letter and send it somewhere, requesting something. I wrote a letter to Mr. Goulart telling him how much I enjoyed the book, and asking for his autograph. Several months later I got a very nice reply from him, explaining how it wasn't really his story and that he was just given a screenplay to adapt into book form. He then went on to suggest I check out his new novel, The Wicked Cyborg. I need to stress again here that I was in the fifth grade. I *really* enjoyed his new book, which was essentially a sexual farce about an erotic robot. Ten-year-old me became a huge Ron Goulart fan, all because of this crazy conspiracy movie. It's one of my fondest childhood memories.
posted by Lokheed at 2:07 AM on April 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

I love this movie, it is one of those perfect 1970s conspiracy movies, whatever plot holes people might pick at. The whole idea of the three astronauts wandering in the desert is just wonderful. The bit where OJ climbs the cliff and the helicopters are there is superb, your heart just sinks when he gets there and sees them. And Hal Halbrook is marvellous, his scheming and deviousness is nicely played.

The hoaxed Mars stuff is fabulous, it just adds to the Fake Moon Landings idea, but on a different level. Interesting that Holbrook tells the astronauts about the fuck up and how they would have died if they had gone to Mars, given what happened 8 years later.

This is one of those films where over analyzing it will cause it to fall apart, but suspend your disbelief and indulge in its conspiracy world and it is a whole lot of fun.
posted by marienbad at 7:14 PM on April 27, 2016

Interesting that Holbrook tells the astronauts about the fuck up and how they would have died if they had gone to Mars, given what happened 8 years later.

Reality is such a drag, what with showing that stage a massive fake and cover-up represents the less awful way to handle learning about a dangerous flaw.
posted by phearlez at 1:32 PM on April 29, 2016

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