Capricorn One

SUB-GENRES: Thriller
DIRECTED BY: Peter Hyams
WRITTEN BY: Peter Hyams

PEW PEW: It’s a very good seventies thriller with a great uncover-the-mystery value, but don’t expect a modern, high octane rollercoaster ride.

CAT FOOD: There’s an exceptional amount of food for thought as we witness first hand what fellow humans might be willing to sacrifice for the betterment of mankind’s technological advancement.


Here we have a very good picture that’s unfortunately been mostly forgotten. I suppose its release in the wake of more exciting and technical films kind of hinders Capricorn One’s memorability, but in retrospect, the film holds its own in a somewhat unique corner.

These are the stakes: Three astronauts preparing to be launched on a manned mission to Mars are swiftly evacuated from the shuttle’s cockpit after it is discovered that a micro-malfunction would render them dead if they were to go through with the launch. Little do we know, since the shuttle and rocket would launch without any signs of harm to its human occupants, the director at NASA (Kelloway, played by the absolutely gifted Hal Holbrook) has planned to let the shuttle launch without its crew.

All dressed up and nowhere to go: The crew of Capricorn One soon find themselves mysteriously under lock and key.

We soon find out that, in order to preserve ratings and precious funding for the space program, Kelloway and his people have devised a clever way to stage the Mars landing on Earth (via hidden studio that has perfectly simulated Mars’ terrain). Despite the disappointment and moral stance of the astronaut crew, it’s all fun and games and everything goes off without a hitch. Most of the people at NASA and the general world populace believe that Brubaker (played by James Brolin) and his crew mates (Sam Waterston and a pre-“that big thing” O.J. Simpson) have landed on Mars and are on their way back to Earth. Everyone goes to great length to make everything seem legit.

But here’s the kicker, when the shuttle returns to Earth, it destructs upon attempted landing and the world mourns the deaths of three astronauts who were not on board… So now Kelloway has three astronauts in captivity who need to be rendered dead as soon and as quietly as possible.

Kelloway and his people have gone to great lengths to secretly recreate Mars on a sound stage on Earth.

We are treated to a somewhat thrilling game of cat and mouse as the three astronauts try their damnedest to evade capture, prevent their murders, and tell the world what has happened. I say somewhat because it is the seventies, and in my opinion most of that decade lacked a sense of originality and succinctness. Scores weren’t as exciting, action was essentially just grappling, throwing, and fisticuffs, and films relied too heavily on endless chases involving giant “penises with wheels” and roaring engines — none of this particularly thrills me unless produced in a post-seventies way, with more focus on sharp editing, pulse-pounding score, and other things that actually get the adrenaline flowing.

A secondary storyline involves a journalist (the brilliant Elliott Gould rounds out a fantastic lead cast) who has been tipped off by a friend that something about the astronauts’ story isn’t on the level. The scenes in which the great veteran Telly Savalas must combat Gould’s life-threateningly fluffy hair on an old cropduster are particularly amusing.

I absolutely love the scenes in which Savalas battles Gould’s “god damn head.”

The way everything is wrapped up is also inventive, succinct, and quite satisfying.

Cable TV pitched Capricorn One at me when I had nothing to watch one evening a long time ago and I ended up falling in love with it very quickly. Imagine my amazement when I found a single copy in a VHS bargain bin in the days before DVD and Blu-Ray were the standards — my history teacher was not impressed, by the way, when I mentioned the film might serve to illustrate how easily the moon landing could have been contrived (BTW, I am most certainly NOT a denier of Armstrong and Aldrin’s historic landing). She responded roughly with ‘That piece of garbage? That bargain bin saw you coming…’ It certainly did, and I’m proud to say that Capricorn One also soaked me for a DVD copy as well!


View Capricorn One Trailer

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