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Capricorn One Blu-ray review

Superb space conspiracy thriller from the late 1970s.

Capricorn One

The conspiracy theory that the 1969 moon landings were faked by NASA and the American government is cranked up a notch for this stylish, witty and ceaselessly entertaining late 1970s venture.

Capricorn One sees three astronauts taking a manned mission to Mars pulled out of the rocket at the last minute. It blasts off unmanned. They are taken to a studio and made to enact a Mars landing from earth, to dupe an expectant public and keep the dream of space travel alive. The astronauts are threatened into complying with the travesty which runs to the heart of NASA, where even the ordinary Houston operatives believe they are sending men to Mars. Yet how do you keep the lid on such a monumental lie? And when NASA announce the astronauts have been killed, isn’t their very existence a threat to national security?

Peter Hyams conspiracy thriller is a delightfully inventive movie that romps through its two-hour running time, taking the viewer on an exciting adventure along an unexpected route. As well as boasting a clever and imaginative script, Capricorn One is also very funny. The dialogue is full of witty one-liners, peppery put-downs and a healthy dose of self-referential parody. It also has a terrific cast. In short, Capricorn One has a lot going for it.

James Brolin (Westworld) plays the dashing astronaut Brubaker, and he excels as the matcho leading man, leaping through windows and killing snakes as he survives as a hunted man. The fine character actor Sam Waterston (The Killing Fields) plays Willis, the astronaut with a dry sense of humour, and he gets most of the best lines. The third astronaut is played by pre-infamy OJ Simpson, who is at his most convincing without dialogue. Thankfully his character is terse. Hal Holbrook is also excellent in this movie as the deeply conflicted Kelloway – the head of the Mars mission who will resort to murder before allowing the truth to out. You’ll have seen him as supporting characters in dozens of movies and TV series.

No conspiracy thriller would be complete without a plucky investigative journalist who never knows when he’s beaten (yes, it’s a cliché, but it’s all done tongue-in-cheek). Elliott Gould (M*A*S*H) is perfectly cast in the part, and just as you think the movie can’t be any more fun, he has scenes with the late Karen Black (Hitchcock’s Family Plot), and co-opts the services of an eccentric and potty-mouthed pilot – played with gusto by Telly Savalas (who loves you, baby? We do). With only fifteen minutes or so of screen time, Savalas creates a hysterical character that becomes one of the most memorable of the movie.

We won’t give away any more of the twists and turns, but we will say that Capricorn One is ingenious, and it takes audacious risks that pay off. It also manages to satisfyingly combine suspense with comedy. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but presents characters you care about.

Network is releasing Capricorn One looking mighty bright and colourful on Blu-ray. Despite the overwhelmingly American talent involved in the making of the picture, it was funded by British impresario Lew Grade.

Extras include a short contemporary documentary (around seven minutes) examining the themes of the movie, as well as extensive (thirty minutes) raw behind-the-scenes footage on location and in the studio.

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