March 13, 2018 – I have watched this film numerous times over the years, but never wrote a review of it until now, because a fellow critic happened to make unwarranted disparaging remarks about it.
His criticism is that it isn't believable. It is true that “Capricorn One” isn't believable. For one thing there never was a manned mission to Mars. Also it is based on a totally ridiculous conspiracy theory, like “Loose Change”(2005) “JFK”(1991) “Room 237” (2012) and “Operation Avalanche” (2016).
In fact, this whole subject of conspiracy theory films came up because I recently saw “Operation Avalanche” (conspiracy theory about fake moon landings, recommended to me by the same critic who made the disparaging comments about “Capricorn One”). While it is not bad for a film school project in the annoying found-footage format, the documentary extras on the disk about how it was made are far more interesting than the film itself, which is quite lackluster in terms of its narrative and acting.
Oddly enough, “Operation Avalanche” includes some references to the conspiracy theory mentioned in “Room 237,” which links legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick to a supposedly faked moon landing video.
On the other hand, “Capricorn One” is very entertaining in terms of its story and acting, mainly because it is not trying to convince anyone of a real life conspiracy. It is just a science fiction movie meant to entertain and amuse its audience. It also is a big time movie with name actors, including Elliot Gould and Hal Holbrook. Perhaps the real reason I like “Capricorn One” is that I am a journalist, and a journalist, Robert Caulfield (played by Elliot Gould of “MASH” and “Ocean's 13”) is the hero of the story. A journalist named Robert — what's not to like?
There are some other things about this movie that make it significant, other than it being very entertaining. For one thing, it is the first movie on this subject (released in 1977) to come out after the moon landing conspiracy theory started to spread. As such it was influential in the further popularization of the moon landing hoax conspiracy theory. The success of this independent film got Peter Hyams noticed in Hollywood as an up and coming director. There is an odd connection between “Capricorn One” and Stanley Kubrick, who directed “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Peter Hyams would later direct the sequel to that Kubrick film, “2010.”
Even more odd connections: both Robert Walden (who plays a NASA scientist who discovers evidence of a conspiracy) and Hal Holbrook (who plays a top NASA administrator) also appeared in “All the President's Men” (1976) about yet another conspiracy (a real one this time) and coverup that is uncovered by journalists. Robert Walden also played a journalist for years on the “Lou Grant” TV show. Another odd connection, I also personally interviewed Hal Holbrook about his stage portrayal of author Mark Twain when I was working as a newspaper reporter.
In “Capricorn One,” NASA scientist Elliot Whitter notices something fishy about the radio readouts during the Mars mission and notifies his superiors. He mentions something about this to his friend Robert Caulfield, then suddenly disappears in the middle of a pool game between the two at a bar. All traces of Whitter vanish along with him. Then Caulfield notices a strange reaction by an astronaut's wife, Kay Brubaker (played by Brenda Vaccaro of “Going Home”) to something her husband Charles Brubaker (played by James Brolin of “Traffic”) says to her from the spacecraft as it nears earth on its return from Mars.
Caulfield jumps to the conclusion that the Mars landing was faked and that Brubaker was trying to send a secret message to his wife about the conspiracy. Investigating the story, he gets framed, put in jail, fired, and people try to kill him. None of this stops the intrepid Caulfield, however, as he races to save the astronauts, who will be killed as part of a coverup which includes destroying the crew capsule upon re-entry into Earth's atmosphere.
There is a thrilling aerial chase sequence when a crop dusting biplane (piloted by a colorful character played by Telly Savalas, best known as TV detective “Kojak”) is chased by two military helicopters. Other colorful characters include David Huddleston, who plays a particularly obnoxious Congressman, and David Doyle, who plays a cheerfully overbearing, film savvy editor who fires Caulfield. None other than famed criminal O.J. Simpson plays one of the three astronauts on the Capricorn One mission. The other two astronauts are played by Brolin and by Sam Waterston (“The Killing Fields”).
The slightly rumpled TV reporter Robert Caulfield in this movie reminds me a lot of my very favorite fictional reporter, Karl Kolchak (“The Night Stalker” — 1972 TV movie, followed by a related TV series) played by the wonderful Darren McGavin. Kolchak was the essence of a wisecracking, smart, slightly shabby, down-on-his-luck reporter, always looking for the big story that will get him noticed. By the way, “The Night Stalker” is one of the best vampire films ever made.
The best thing about this movie is that it is light, never really taking itself seriously, despite the people who disappear, or are killed to cover up the conspiracy. There is a lot of wisecracking in the film by several characters, and the whole vast conspiracy would obviously collapse under its own weight, just like the JFK assassination conspiracy, 9/11 false flag conspiracy and moon landing hoaxes would have fallen apart if they were real. “Capricorn One” is not some phony documentary or cheap “found footage” movie. It is just a light, entertaining science fiction film. It rates a B.
Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.