Sunday, December 18, 2016

Capricorn One

   Boy this is a weird movie. Weird in a good way though. It's melodramatic low-tech (non)sci-fi the way only the 70's could've produced. The movie is a big conspiracy thriller mainly starring James Brolin, Elliot Gould, Sam Waterson, and O.J. Simpson. It's not as silly as some 70's sci-fi efforts, but it's also not as vaingloriously self important either. To put the icing on the cake, it's not technically sci-fi at all. Go figure, right? Nevertheless, Capricorn One is a star-studded oldie worth checking out.

   The story is a riff on the conspiracy theory that the moon landing was faked, it smartly shakes up the details so that the plot revolves around a trio of astronauts being forced to go along with a fake Mars landing. However, things go awry when the pod they're supposed to be in on the trip back home, burns up on re-entry. Leaving the world thinking they've died. Now the conspirators have to make that deception a reality, thrusting our protagonists into a dangerous game of cat and mouse.

   While Brolin, Waterson and The Juice play the astronauts, Elliot Gould plays an eager reporter who ends up stumbling onto a trail of clues that threaten to uncover the conspiracy. I'm a sucker for conspiracy movies. People are disappearing, shadow organizations control everything, you can't call the cops, the government is always in on it, and someone is always on the run. I love the investigative angle, as well as the survival aspect. Capricorn One delivers heartily on both fronts.

   The astronauts are stoic figures, humanized by the families they might not get to see again. The action sweeps them up in a series of daring escapes, dangerous stunts, and a grueling struggle to stay alive in a barren stretch of no-man's-land. Gould's character, on the other hand, faces all the Big Brother threats, as someone who's onto the conspiracy would. His brakes are cut, his informants are 'disappeared', and unseen gunmen take shots at him when he least expects it. The astronauts don't know him, but if he manages to stay alive, he's their own best chance at survival.

   Recent interest in trips to Mars has put the big red planet in the public's eye in a big way, and movies like The Martian have certainly helped. I know that it's a several year journey there, and another several years back, so the implausibly rushed timeline of this movie's bogus Mars journey bugged me. However, it serves the plot well and doesn't upset too much. If one were so inclined it could be read into as an actual plot point, as the conspirators play to an uninformed and gullible public.

   Nevertheless, if you can get over that, and suspend disbelief, you'll find an exceptionally serviceable thriller here, aided in no small part by a bombastic score, courtesy of genre veteran, Jerry Goldsmith. If there's any other drawbacks, it's probably the stiff acting from O.J., and an absurdly dated finale. The resolution of the story is perfectly fine, but the actual technical way the final scene was edited and manipulated was laughably bad. The movie also lacks a definite sense of closure and it bugged me well after the credits rolled. Ah well...

   I can't put my finger on exactly why, but this movie was exceptionally watchable. It wasn't a movie trying to make a big statement. It could've been a heavily cynical one, criticizing the media and the modern mode of information. It's really not. It just uses the idea that what we're seeing might just be bullshit as a leaping-off point for it's story. It doesn't take a stance on the matter one way or the other. The movie is plain about who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. It was simplistic, and that was refreshing.

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