Capricorn One (1977) — The greatest conspiracy to ever put me to sleep

“I take this step in the journey of peace for all mankind.”

Justin’s rating: Who knew grand conspiracies could be so boring?

Justin’s review: While government conspiracies can and do happen, I don’t really truck with the conspiracy loons who see men in black and Roswell aliens around every corner. The advent of the internet’s helped to stir the crazies up in every nook and cranny of society, each touting their personal favorite false flag or cover-up operation. In 2021, it’s almost quaint to hear someone get worked up about the theory that the U.S. government faked the moon landings.

But I guess that sort of conspiracy theory was a lot more fresh back in 1977, when the most recent moon landing was only five years old. Capricorn One emerged as a product of a time when Watergate proved that people in power could — shocker — lie to cover their own butts. So why not the space program?

Instead of the moon landing, Capricorn One takes us to Mars. With the Apollo program. Maybe technology was more advanced back then? Just as the first manned mission to Mars is about to take off, a government agent orders the three-man crew (James Brolin, Sam Waterston, and O.J. Simpson) off the rocket and smuggles them to a secret base. There the trio is told that NASA knew that the contractor that built the life support system did a terrible job and that if they allowed the men to go into space, they’d be dead in weeks. But instead of scrubbing the mission — which would tank the space program — they’re now going to fake it while an empty rocket heads to Mars and back. To ensure the astronauts’ cooperation, the government threatens to kill their families.

The crew reluctantly goes along with it, but small hints that something isn’t quite on the up-and-up trigger the suspicion of a reporter (Elliott Gould). As he starts to investigate, the returning capsule very publicly burns up upon reentry, putting a wrench in Fake NASA’s plan to re-insert the crew into the spacecraft. Now the three men are liabilities — and they know it.

It’s a captivating concept, which was the only reason I broke my “Don’t see scifi movies made before 1980” rule. It’s a ludicrous situation that requires a vast conspiracy of conscience-free people who are fully on board with lying to the public, threatening American lives, and setting up a fake Mars landing film set for the news. Of course, this is exactly what some people think really happened with the actual moon program, so maybe the movie is a not-too-subtle way of pointing out how ridiculous this would be if carried out to its logical conclusion.

While the premise is interesting, the execution is… well, it’s very 1970s blockbuster cinema. That is, it’s slow, it’s plodding, and it’s bloated. Everyone gives long speeches just to eat up screen time, and whatever tension wants to emerge is undercut by a lack of good pacing. You’d think seeing astronauts hijacking a plane and going on the run across the desert would be the meat of this movie, but no, it’s kind of presented with the same aplomb as a National Geographic special. I swear, there were commercial breaks.

Gould was the only actor who woke me up enough to care, and that mostly for his dry, witty dialogue with various characters (including a crazy crop duster pilot). Unfortunately, he’s underused until Act Three, meaning that there was a whole lot of blandness before that.

I feel like I got suckered into this thinking that this movie had anything to do with science fiction and was handed a rather dull thriller instead. You can keep both your conspiracies and Capricorn One; neither interest me.

Didja notice?

  • I think the real conspiracy is that anyone thought that a manned flight to Mars was possible in the Apollo program with Apollo spacecraft
  • “Go jump yourself?” The ’70s was so dirty in a wholesome way.
  • Hearing the astronauts narrate their actions gets so old fast
  • The president’s speech is so, so bad, guys
  • Hey, you fellas know that the evil NASA people can hear everything you’re saying, right?
  • At least astronauts try to escape with style — in a lear jet
  • This is a good movie if you like snakes and scorpions

One comment

  1. The 1977 film The Incredible Melting Man opened with contemporary astronauts having made it to Saturn.

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