Deadly Movies Reviews | Capricorn One (1978)
On the eve of the 40th anniversary of humanities greatest achievement; landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth, Deadly Movies takes a look at one of cinema’s greatest space conspiracy movies.., Peter Hyams’ Mars bound film Capricorn One. This is one of those films whose light bulb moment in development, that green light instant, that big sell concept is easy to spot. A camera tracks Colonel Charles Brubaker (played with angry aplomb by the great James Brolin) as he descends down the ladder of the Martian Lander.., Neil Armstrong style. The camera then pans back to reveal not only man’s triumph of conquering the first manned flight to Mars and the dusty orange Martian landscape, but shockingly that said landscape is housed not on Earth’s distant cousin but in a NASA built TV studio. Herein lies the crux and the rouse; in a panicked attempt to save face due to late technical difficulties, NASA has decided to fake the entire Mars landing. An obvious cheeky bit of baiting based on the conspiracy theory that man and Apollo 11 never did take one giant leap back in the summer of ‘69.
Now astronauts Col. Brubaker (James Brolin), Lt. Col. Willis (Sam Waterston), and Cmdr. Walker (O.J. Simpson) are pissed to say the very least. But with some gentle persuasion based around national pride and security.., oh and the fact that their families may or may not survive the night, they agree to go ahead with the hoax, filming fake broadcasts from aboard Capricorn One as well as the fake Martian landing. Meanwhile the actual spacecraft is up in space by itself looking for Elvis or something. The plan therein is to watch an empty command module splashdown in the Pacific while the astronauts are taken aboard a nearby US warship for a fake heroic reveal to the world. Oh but there’s a shit your pants problem with this plan, the command module has burned up on re-entry meaning that in the mind of the media, the watching world, and the families, the astronauts have just died at a thousand miles per hour live on television. Now of course sleazy NASA guys have a bit of a problem, the world (including the US President) believes the astronauts are dead whilst you have them safe and secure in a desert bunker.
Cue the astronauts trying to escape, the shady NASA guys hunting them down 70s helicopter style, and plucky (young?) reporter Elliot Gould smelling a hoax in the air and a hot scoop in his lap. This is where the film starts to go a little on the wonk. James Brolin on the run, burring himself in the sand and killing snakes with his bare hands before eating them for dinner is awesome. However the semi comical performances form Gould as the brave reporter on the trail, Telly Savalas’ scene chewing crop duster, and David Doyle’s Edward G Robinson impression are a real distraction and ill-fitting with Brolin’s ultra serious and totally believable representation of a man running for his life with the weight of history on his shoulders. And don’t believe anything you read about a fantastically bizarre performance from Savalas. TV’s Kojak turns up for an unimportant bit part and Hyams would have done better to tell him to shut his mouth, or at least stick one of those lollies in his cake-hole that he so famously spent most of the 70s sucking on.
Yes it’s got an uber cheesy finish that perhaps cuts short a few minutes early, but the base and concept is all here and is as solid and entertaining as it is thought provoking. You really do sit there as the credits role and wonder what if? And it’s this that is Capricorn One’s greatest attribute, that and Brolin’s ‘don’t fuck with me’ kick ass turn that is scarily reminiscent of Christian Bale’s best work. So does it offer any insight into the possibility of man’s greatest hoax? No not really. The film, although clearly based on the Apollo 11 conspiracy theory, doesn’t a) make any mention of the Apollo missions, or b) make any reference to NASA faking space missions in the past. If anything the events of Capricorn One are presented as the one off misguided efforts of one man that cleverly (or cowardly depending on how you look at it) expunges NASAs involvement from the entire ugly business.