Capricorn One (1977)
Capricorn One (1977)

Genre: Drama and Thriller Running Time: 2 hrs. 3 min.

Release Date: June 2nd, 1978 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Peter Hyams Actors: Elliott Gould, James Brolin, Brenda Vaccaro, Sam Waterston, O.J. Simpson, Hal Holbrook, Karen Black, Telly Savalas, David Huddleston




n January 4th at NASA’s Capricorn Control, the press and other select onlookers eagerly await as astronauts work their way into a shuttle headed for Mars. Congressman Hollis Peaker (David Huddleston, playing a superbly slimy politician) and his wife, along with the Vice President of the United States, are also in the stands, binoculars at the ready, preparing to witness a historic event. Led by Colonel Charles Brubaker (James Brolin), Commanders Peter Willis (Sam Waterston) and John Walker (O.J. Simpson) complete the trio of brave men about to launch into space. But then, quite suddenly, they’re ushered out of the vessel and into a helicopter. “There’s no time to explain!”

As the 30-second countdown gets underway, it’s evident that something is terribly wrong. “If there was any other way …” explains Dr. James Kelloway (Hal Holbrook), who presents the unfortunate information that the three astronauts will not be going on the mission. As it turns out, the life-support system was already determined to be insufficient; they’d have never made it to the red planet alive. So instead, Kelloway escorts them to a super-secret building in which the lander and the surface of Mars have been recreated – a film set that will host faked footage of the expedition. All they need to do is participate in television transmissions – and go along with a colossal lie.

“You don’t really think you’re gonna get away with this.” Fascinatingly, politics is a major component of the premise; where billions of taxpayer dollars are involved, unscrupulous characters arise, intent on subverting the situation toward their priorities. Everyone has disparate goals when it comes to what should be a nationwide accomplishment. As a result, corruption wins out – and a massive conspiracy unfolds. Of course, the level of secrecy required for such a scam is impossible to contain, lending to a NASA tech’s (Robert Walden) scrutiny and suspicions by reporters Robert Caulfield (Elliott Gould) and Judy Drinkwinter (Karen Black).

The stakes are high; threats are brandished and lives are in danger. More than the moral implications of lying to the world are the repercussions of revealing the truth (one too big to realistically cover up). Although this could be something of a vindication for moon-landing deniers, the script is clever enough to shape itself as a thriller more than commentary on the monetary value of international deception (and rivalry) or local political machinations. Indeed, thanks to writer/director Peter Hyams, the second half of the picture transforms into something of an actioner, shifting from the tensions of paranoid players to murder attempts and chase sequences.

The score by Jerry Goldsmith also helps significantly as survivalist methods alternate with investigative journalism – the kind that includes warning shots and disappearing inquisitive snoopers. Curiously, the ruse is up almost too soon; a large enough chunk of the remainder of the film dwells on masterminding an escape plan, which stretches out the suspense. Familial interactions and work-related issues (one of which is sharply comedic but wholly unnecessary, the other of which allows Gould and Black to trade barbs like updated roles from “His Girl Friday,” demonstrating Hyams’ knack for hysterically sarcastic dialogue) put a pause on the adventure, though they’re useful for demonstrating vivid imaginations and incredibly perceptive people deciphering clues from cryptic references. But they’re not enough to stifle the entertainment value – as well as the nail-biting (and ludicrously well-timed) finale (unresolved as it needs to be).

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10