Capricorn One (1977)

When Q attempts to market a “serious” movie to me, I’m usually very disappointed. Especially when that movie purports to be space-themed; I’m used to my space science fiction being goofy and low-budget. No Gravity or Interstellar for this gal, please! So when he told me Capricorn One was, ahem, serious, I tried my best to get out of watching it. But, as you’d think I’d have learned by now, Q usually knows what he’s talking about, and Capricorn One, as serious as it is, is definitely well worth your time!

O. J. Simpson and Sam Waterston wanna know, what's the big idea?!

O. J. Simpson and Sam Waterston wanna know, what’s the big idea?!

Fifty seconds before lift-off to Mars, the astronauts of Capricorn One are instructed to leave the shuttle. Fifty seconds later, the shuttle takes off – without anyone inside. Astronauts Brubaker (James Brolin), Willis (Sam Waterston) and Walker (O.J. Simpson) demand to know what the hell is going on.  Kelloway (Hal Holbrook), a NASA bigwig, sits them down at a table and tells them they’ve been removed from the shuttle because at the last minute, it was discovered the company who built the life support systems majorly skimped; the fellas would’ve been dead in three weeks.

So, why not just cancel the mission for today, fix the problem, and resume at a later date? Well, when the president tells you not to botch another mission or else Congress is going to defund the Mars program entirely, the last thing you want to do is admit to another botched mission! Instead, wouldn’t you create an elaborate hoax to convince the President, and the millions of Americans who adore you, that you’re on Mars? After all, it’s really important to keep Americans interested in NASA and its various exploratory programs.

Mars on Earth.

Mars on Earth.

Never quite sure if they should, or can, keep up the charade for very long, the astronauts do it anyway. After all, their families’ lives have been threatened if they don’t follow through with the plan. The blissfully ignorant American public eats it up, except for one guy, the troublesome reporter Robert Caulfield (Elliot Gould). But he can’t get anyone to take his ideas seriously. How can he and three little astronauts take on the American government?

I was just so impressed with this movie. Not only is it serious, it’s also over two hours! This is usually a fatal blow to any movie’s potential, but never did Capricorn One start to feel long in the tooth. It had me on the edge of my seat up through until the very end. And, even though we never set foot in space, it’s a great adventure worth going on. Boy, that sounds cheesy; I guess I just can’t hide my enthusiasm for this movie. Maybe it’s just because I distrust everything and everyone and really dig movies about paranoia and vast conspiracies? Yeah, well, okay, it might be that.

Telly Savalas and Elliott Gould in the next installment of Adventures in Crop Dusting!

Telly Savalas and Elliott Gould in the next installment of Adventures in Crop Dusting!

But this movie has much more to offer than a plateful of paranoia; it is extremely well-paced, and everyone (well, almost everyone; I’m looking at you O.J.) turns in a great performance. Waterston is a right smart-ass, and as usual a complete joy to watch. And Gould, well, god dammit Elliott Gould is just as good in this as he is in The Long Goodbye. Look for David Huddleston (The Big Lebowski from The Big Lebowski) as a real peach of a Congressman, and a hilarious turn by Telly Savalas as a renegade crop duster!

I have to say, I’m pretty surprised this movie wasn’t more positively received, and even more surprised I’d never heard of it until Q pulled it off one of the shelves. It’s totally legit! It’s a lot of fun to watch; certainly not a bad way to spend an evening. The only thing that seems like its missing is Tom Skerritt. For some reason I just feel like he should’ve been in this movie… but shouldn’t he be in every movie?


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