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Capricorn One (1978)
Rated PG

Starring: Elliott Gould, James Brolin, and Brenda Vaccaro

Rating:
***
out of
*****

Astronauts Charles Brubaker (James Brolin), John Walker (O. J. Simpson), and Peter Willis (Sam Waterston) are sitting on the launch pad, poised to become the first men to travel to Mars, when they're pulled from their command module and taken to a remote location in the desert. When they are briefed on what's happening, they're told by Dr. James Kelloway (Hal Halbrook) that they would have never survived the flight to Mars. They're told that government budget cuts had allowed a low bidder to be in charge of their ship's life support system. Rather than allow them to die in space, the government has rescued them. However, the favor will cost them. The crew has to pretend that the mission is going on as scheduled. Which means one of the biggest moments in the history of mankind will be faked to preserve the illusion that America can still deliver on a promise of a hopeful future. Should the astronauts refuse to participate, their families will be killed.

Robert Caufield (Elliott Gould), a journalist, receives a tip that something strange is going on inside NASA and begins investigating. He knows he's on to something when someone tries to kill him and his contact inside NASA disappears as if he never existed.

Before "The X-Files" made government-sponsored conspiracy mainstream entertainment, 1978's Capricorn One delivered a cover-up tale that, for the most part, stands the test of time even though it was made over 30 years ago. Many of the film's elements seem relatively fresh: public apathy towards the space program, government manipulation of the media, and so on. If it weren't for the obvious visual cues like shoulder-width collars, obsolete computer technology, orange-walled apartments, and horribly gaudy furniture, it wouldn't be too hard to convince yourself the story was current.

Despite its interesting premise, the problem with Capricorn One is that writer/director Peter Hyams doesn't know what to do with it. Does he want to make a mystery? An action movie? A talky drama? What he does is take elements of all three and put them in a blender, producing a talky action movie featuring a mystery where the audience already knows whodunit (and why.)

Capricorn One still remains watchable in spite of itself. You'll keep watching because you'll want to know how it will end. Unfortunately, the conclusion brings up more questions than answers. Perhaps the remake -- currently scheduled for release in 2010 -- will mine the concept for its true potential.

Trivia: One of the stunt helicopter pilots, Frank Tallman, claimed this film was the most dangerous film he'd ever flown for. He was killed in a crash soon after filming finished. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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