Capricorn One (1978)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

Escape from the Planet of the Apes


Soylent Green

Capricorn One

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Our rating: two LAVA® motion lamps.

Although O.J. Simpson's recent acting career has been limited to Court TV, there was a time when he appeared in fairly serious acting roles. No, we're not talking about the Naked Gun series... we're talking about films like Capricorn One.

I'm not a real Mars astronaut,
but I play one on TV.
Released in 1978, Capricorn One is the fictional story of a failed NASA mission to Mars and the subsequent cover-up. In it, Simpson and his fellow astronauts are removed from their Mars space capsule just before liftoff and spirited away to an old military base in the desert. There they are told that the Mars mission had to be scrapped due to a defective life support system. Because the space program is in danger of being cancelled, they can't afford any further delays or accidents, and so the officials in charge of the Mars project have decided to fake the first manned Mars landing.

Because exposing the hoax would ruin NASA's credibility beyond repair, the astronauts decide to go along with it. Although Brubaker (James Brolin), Willis (Sam Waterston), and Walker (Simpson) have their doubts about the hoax, they dutifully fake their time aboard the capsule and the landing as well. Everything goes well until the real (unmanned) capsule accidently burns up on re-entry. Oops! So the those in charge must hoax must decide what to do with the very much alive astronauts thought dead by the rest of the world.

Capricorn One obviously follows on the heels of the urban legend that the original moon landing was a hoax. The methods of faking the landing are similar to those said to exist in the moon landing "hoax": a sound stage in the middle of a desert with a realistic dust-and-rock landscape, a mock landing module, and astronauts bouncing around in slow motion to simulate lesser gravity. The most interesting twist on the standard scenario that this movie comes up with is the accidental destruction of the unmanned capsule.

Unfortunately, most of the acting is a bit wooden --including, not surprisingly, that of Hal Holbrook, who plays the director of the Mars mission. Although the first conversation between Holbrook's character and the astronauts is tense and passionate, it all goes downhill from there. The astronauts get weary and whiny, and the director becomes more and more sullen and frustrated as he tries to keep them from ruining the whole hoax during their televised mission segments.

Our astronaut pals.
Most frustrating, though, is the fact that the movie never really comes up with anything interesting to do with the astronauts after the director decides that they must die. After that point, this somewhat interesting movie becomes a totally standard 'sweaty guys on the run' movie, as the three astrounauts try to cross the desert to contact civilization, thereby blowing the cover-up wide open and leaving the conspirators no reason to kill them. Go, O.J., go! (Insert your own "white Bronco" joke here.)

This entails lots of watching people walk across a desert. Only Brubaker lasts any amount of time, and arrives in civilization (sort of), after a particularly drawn out scene in which he eats a snake. There he contacts a crop duster played by Telly Savalas, in his most annoying role ever. No really. If you can watch Telly for more than two minutes without screaming at the top of your lungs for his gory evisceration, you are a candidate for beatification. Honestly.

In any case, Telly is a crop duster, so he has a plane, and the bad guys have helicopters. So there is a really big chase that goes on so long that by the end, you don't care what happens, you just want it to end. Apparently the director felt the same way. The movie ends so abruptly afterwards, and with no regard for the audience's curiosity as to what the fall-out of this whole affair might have been, that we couldn't help but feel cheated.

Own it!

Review date: 05/14/1997

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