Capricorn One (1977)

(On DVD, September 2017) I’m not that fond of anything bolstering moon landing hoax conspiracy theories, and Capricorn One (despite technically being about a faked Mars landing) is one of the codifiers of that particular delusion. But let’s not blame a glum seventies thriller for contemporary idiocy—and let’s recognize that the film, one of veteran writer/director Peter Hyams’s first popular successes, still has a modest kick to it. Much of Capricorn One’s first half is a procedural thriller explaining why and how a Mars landing would be faked, and the reasons why the astronauts would go along with it. Then, landing successfully faked, it switches gears to a more familiar conspiracy thriller, keeping a trio of desert chases for its third act. The conspiracy itself doesn’t make a lot of sense (although it is good for a few vertiginous moments, such as the lengthy shot that gradually pulls away from a helmet to encompass the studio in which everything has been broadcast) but the film does get better with its thrills as it goes along. Highlights include a first-person runaway speeding sequence through a city that feels viscerally dangerous, and an extended air chase sequence toward the end that rivals anything produced since then. Hyams is a canny filmmaker, and it shows through a film that occasionally feels as gripping as it must have been back then. There are also a few good actors: Hal Holbrook is remarkable as a man who ultimately has to fake everything in order to keep his dream alive, whereas Elliott Gould is in fine form as an unlikely action hero. (For more of Gould as a dashing lead, have a look at the rather good Canadian-made thriller The Silent Partner, also released the same year.)  O.J. Simpson and James Brolin also show up as astronauts, even though they’re severely underwritten. While Capricorn One could have been tightened up considerably, it’s decently enjoyable as it is. I’m not asking for a remake, though.

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