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Richard C. Sarafian
Charles Brubaker is the astronaut leading NASA's first manned mission to Mars. Seconds before the launch, the entire team is pulled from the capsule and the rocket leaves earth unmanned much to Brubaker's anger. The head of the programme explains that the life support system was faulty and that NASA can't afford the publicity of a scratched mission. The plan is to fake the Mars landing and keep the astronauts at a remote base until the mission is over, but then investigative journalist Robert Caulfield starts to suspect something. Written by
Col Needham <email@example.com>
Capricorn One: a real Gem-ini of a movie. I'm Apollo-ed that it's not rated higher.
"Capricorn One" is one of the last great 70s thrillers, alongside "The China Syndrome", "The Andromeda Strain", "Coma", heck maybe even "The Exorcist". Perhaps taking their cues from Stanley Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey, Clockwork Orange, etc), all of these classics are presented with an artistic, slightly off-kilter, brightly creepy vibe that encapsulated the end of 60s flower-power optimism and the beginning of 70s cold cynicism.
Stylistic examples include wide angle shots and slow, mechanical camera movements that give the viewer a disturbing feeling of voyeurism or disconnection from humanity (à la "Open the pod bay doors, Hal." "I'm sorry, Dave, I'm afraid can't do that."). This quiet yet bone-chilling style is the opposite of MTV-type filmmaking which made heavy use of flashy, closeup, disorienting camera shots cut together so quickly that you feel like someone slipped some magic pixie dust in your Kool-Aid. No, the 70s classics, in particular "Capricorn One" and other films by Peter Hyams, instead give you long, deliberate shots from a distance, allowing you to absorb every bizarre detail that was meticulously laid out for you.
If you get bored easily, then this isn't for you. But if you're looking for a film that slowly reels you in without any gimmicks, carefully building momentum for the 1st hour leading to an explosive, roller-coaster finale, then look no further. It's best if you know nothing about the story, so I won't say anything about the plot except that it centers around a mission to Mars. But this is not a sci-fi flick, it's closer to a political thriller.
"Capricorn One" won't necessarily scare the pants off you like some of the other films, but the story will definitely keep you on the edge of your seat wondering what's going to happen. The director never telegraphs the ending, so you're never quite sure if things will turn out good or if it'll be a miserable tragedy. You have to ride it out to the very last scene.
Two things won me over immediately. First is the careful, artistic approach to cinematography which is evident in the opening scene: a slow rusty sunrise behind the colossal silhouette of the Capricorn spacecraft. Many other shots are as powerful, whether they're outdoors or indoors. Hyams frequently does a neat little trick where he establishes a shot and leaves the camera where it is but slowly, over the course of 2 minutes or more, moves the camera in or out of the action, creating a thick suspense.
The 2nd thing that won me over was something many thrillers overlook: HUMOR. There are some priceless scenes that had me rolling, and it's all due to the great script and lines delivered by great actors. Telly Savalas makes an appearance as a grumpy old airplane pilot, and his rapid fire volley of dialogue with Elliot Gould is like something straight out of a Cary Grant-Catherine Hepburn comedy. Another hilarious rapid-fire comedic scene is Elliot Gould arguing with his boss, played by David Doyle ("Bosley" on the original Charlie's Angels). Big laughs without disrupting the tension of the story. It takes a bold filmmaker to put such comedy in a serious film, and Hyams & his acting troupe succeeded brilliantly.
A final note that's worth mentioning: there's a scene where a snake meets with an unfortunate fate. While the snake is real (hats off to James Brolin for having the guts do the scene), the snake's stunt double was a dead carcass they had found. No snakes were harmed. So animal lovers as well as 70s thriller lovers, have no fear. Once you start watching "Capricorn One", nothing will make you Sat-turn the channel! (wow that was lame)
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