Written and Directed by Peter Hyams
Starring Elliot Gould, James Brolin, Sam Waterston, Hal Holbrook, O.J. Simpson, Karen Black
Tagline: The most important event in our nation’s history . . . what if it never really happened?
Trivia: NASA cooperated with the production, despite the negative depiction of the agency in the film.
Companion Film: Wag the Dog
Capricorn One imagined a fictional scenario to support the public myth that the Apollo missions to the moon were faked. Even earlier this year a fabricated interview with Stanley Kubrick appeared online suggesting the director staged the moon landings (according to the documentary Room 237 it was why Kubrick made The Shining). After a decade of government lies and scandals in the 1970s, Hollywood capitalized on the new conspiracy theory obsessed culture.
Capricorn One opens with the supposed launching of the first manned mission to Mars. In a twist the astronauts are pulled off the pad at the last minute and taken to an undisclosed location. They are forced to live on a movie set based on the Martian landscape after they are informed their mission was a publicity stunt orchestrated by NASA.
An intriguing premise for sure, unfortunately a cool premise cannot sustain a two hour movie. The script oscillates between comedy, thriller, action, and satire. And the performances mirror the confusion of the script. Gould, a staple of 70s cinema, is never believable as an investigative reporter. He seems to be in a different movie entirely, unsure if he should be funny or serious. The three astronauts played by Brolin, Waterston, and Simpson are devoid of any personality whatsoever. Holbrook alone shines as a deceitful NASA official.
Released in the latter stages of the 70s, Capricorn One reflected the malaise of the Carter era. Despite my criticisms, I cannot say I didn’t enjoy the film. The shifting tones and comical transitions are baffling in an entertaining sort of way. I also think Capricorn One would be a great project for a remake, set in our truth averse digital age.