Did man really walk on the moon or was it faked, a false landing created in a secret studio somewhere? That is one of many popular conspiracy theories and back in 1977 writer and director Peter Hyams gave us a movie built around a similar theory with "Capricorn One". Here we have a mission to Mars which is faked, with three astronauts forced to make out they walked on Mars or else their families will be killed. It is a terrific idea which mixes conspiracy with thriller and whilst some directional choices sadly make it a little cheesy "Capricorn One" is still exciting.
"Capricorn One" opens as people gather for the launch of a mission to Mars, we watch as family and politicians as well as the press gather at the observatory platform whilst astronauts Brubaker (James Brolin - Westworld), Walker (O.J. Simpson) and Willis (Sam Waterston) board the spacecraft ready for lift off. Except at the last minute they are ordered to leave and under a shroud of secrecy are jetted off to an out of the way abandoned airfield where they are met by Dr. James Kelloway (Hal Holbrook). Due to political pressure NASA can't afford for a failed mission and with cost cutting leading to faulty equipment the men in suits want the astronauts to fake the first landing on Mars in a mocked up studio and if they don't agree well their families are in danger. Despite not being happy the astronauts go along with things except between journalist Robert Caulfield (Elliott Gould - MASH) smelling a rat and an issue with the actual mission things don't go as anyone plans.
The first half of "Capricorn One" is all about the conspiracy, that the men in dark suits would fake a NASA mission in order to keep their funding. Whilst it sets up the story with the actual astronauts being unwilling participants in the lie this is very much the classic moon landing conspiracy with the abandoned hanger in the middle of nowhere made to look like the surface of Mars. And for those who enjoy these conspiracies that element of possibly they could fake a moon landing presents itself nicely especially as we have those in the actual mission control centre oblivious to the trickery.
But this set up leads to some classic thriller elements as not only do we have journalist Caulfield prying and finding his life threatened every time he gets closer to the truth but we get the issue with the actual mission. Without giving anything away it means are 3 astronauts realise that to the world they are dead and so unless they try and escape they will be silenced permanently. And this combines nicely with the initial set up as we have mystery, action and drama as they try to escape and go on the run.
On the whole "Capricorn One" works and the casting be it Elliott Gould as the persistent journalist or James Brolin as astronaut Brubaker is very good. In fact whilst Brolin and Gould are the stars of the movie they are often outshone by Hal Holbrook who as Dr. James Kelloway has to force the astronauts to comply. But there are issues, really only a couple starting with an excruciatingly corny car incident where Caulfield finds his car has been tampered with and then there is the excruciating painful slow motion sequence which is so cheesy that it sadly spoils the movie.
What this all boils down to is that "Capricorn One" is an entertaining conspiracy theory which combines classic thriller elements with a conspiracy about men going into space. Despite now being 25 years old it is still remarkably entertaining and whilst spoilt by some poor directional choices on the whole it is well worth a watch.