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Capricorn One

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Posted 5th April 2009 at 10:40 PM by Sam@Cult Labs

Capricorn One

Capricorn One is a slice of 70s Sci-Fi paranoia in which Hollywood takes one of the ultimate conspiracy theories - that the moon landings were faked - and moves the action to a martian styled TV Studio. After a peak in popularity for the space programme in the late 60s, a decline in interest, a series of costly and embarrassing mistakes, and an public increasingly cynical about traveling to the stars when serious issues on planet Earth needed attending to, has left the scientists at NASA with a big problem. It's a problem that can only solved with a glamourous, flashy project that will hook the people back in. That mission is to put men on Mars, but despite billions of dollars in investment, on the day things go wrong and the astronauts are taken off the craft moments before launch, leaving an empty rocket to be fired at the red planet.

Scientists have discovered that the ship won't sustain the lives of the astronauts for the entirety of the flight, so they are whisked away to a seemingly abandoned base while the tape recordings of their training exercises are played to fool the world and convince everyone that the mission is still on course. They are told to help recreate the landing on a giant film set and also to lie to their families during a satellite broadcast. With the hopes and dreams of the world on their shoulders, the three spacemen start to fray around the edges but the fakery spirals out of control when the unmanned spacecraft breaks up on re-entering Earth's atmosphere.

Now officially dead, the astronauts know that is would only be a matter of time before the government spooks come and finish them off. Earlier in the film, a computer operator at the space centre discovers anomalies in a set of figures, which reveal that the transmissions from the Martian surface are coming from somewhere a little closer to home. This hapless geek contacts journalist Elliot Gould and disappears from the face of the Earth.

A hoax this big could bring down a government and there's too much to lose. The astronauts escape, splitting up to make their way across a scorched and inhospitable landscape, but the military are on their tails, pursuing them in helicopters until all but one are dead, left to be forgotten and picked over desert animals.

But can the last astronaut find his way back to civilization and reveal the truth?

Capricorn One is an effective conspiracy thriller which, despite a fairly flat made for TV look, has some inventive moments, in particular a deranged car chase that utilizes point of view camerawork in such a manic fashion that it could induce motion sickness in sensitive viewers.

Elliot Gould is sweaty and stressed as journalist Robert Caulfield while the always bizarre Karen Black turns up in all her 70s pomp for a rather pointless cameo. Still, it gives the viewer a nice break from the action, as staring at her reveals complex layers of weirdness. The longer she's on the screen, the more surreal and just plain odd she looks. Try it sometime.

Kojak star Telly Savalas stops by later in the proceedings, as a crop duster pilot, O.J. Simpson loses to the paper bag he's trying to act his way out and James Brolin is great as an Alpha male space explorer, but I did have to ask the question, with actors like these, could this be the most 1970s film ever made?

The film has competent acting and a nice line in authoritarian evil; it's perfect Sunday afternoon cheese and the 70s production values and at times overwrought score add to the fun. The music reaches a crescendo of schmaltz during the slo-mo final moments but the sillier aspects of the film never outweigh the gripping drama. Like many 70s Sci-Fi flicks, it reflects the downbeat feeling of the era, when the magical 60s bubble burst and fantastic cinema in Hollywood started to reflect the problems and concerns of the age. In this respect Capricorn One sits well with Rollerball, The Omega Man and Soylent Green, but it's an enjoyable second tier effort rather than a classic.
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