- Gareth Crook
Capricorn One (1977)
All systems are go, all lights are green. God I love Capricorn One. The pinnicle of the space obsessed films of the 70s. We’re off to Mars! Well that’s the plan at least. “There’s an emergency, follow me” shouts some bloke in a suit and the astronauts are out of the shuttle and in a chopper. But still “All systems are go, all lights are green”. Capricorn One is in the air, headed for space... Charles ‘Bru’ Brubaker (James Brolin), Walker (O.J. Simpson) and Willis (Sam Waterstones) are not. They’re off to see Dr Kelloway (Hal Holbrook), who tells them that the space programme isn’t exciting anymore, is feeling the squeeze from government and can’t afford any screw ups. Clearly them not floating in space is a screw up, but it’s intentional. Y’see the mission was doomed, Kelloway knew 2 months ago, but doesn’t want that secret to get out. He wants the mission to ‘look’ like a success. Asking Bru and his team to act out the landing in a makeshift TV studio or their families are toast. So they’re in, for the good of the programme, the country, their families. Of course keeping this secret isn’t going to be easy and one young operative at Houston isn’t convinced everything is as it should. Which is spot on as they’re really buggering about in a studio bathed in red light. It’s great conspiracy style fodder. It’s slick stuff too, 70s slick. Enter Robert Caulfield (Elliott Gould) a reporter who knows the unconvinced Houston operative, that’s about to share his theory, just before he disappears! Now this is why I love Capricorn One. It’s not about the fake Mars landing or even the cover up, it’s the danger. This thing is too big. They’re in too deep. It’s got that tone of a 70s thriller. A little bit B-movie, but gripping nonetheless. Especially when Houston reads that the heat shield has failed on re-entry and the astronauts ESGs are flatlining. Three dead astronauts... that are still breathing on earth. All lights are definitely not green and it’s not good news for Bru, Walker and Willis. They’ve been properly stitched up. Astronauts on the run! This is my favourite bit really. It could be about anything, not just an aborted space mission. It’s simply about a secret, a powerful one, that powerful people want to keep. The combination of Caulfield snooping around whilst the astronauts try to stay alive is fantastic, dramatic and thrilling. The three would be spacemen splitting up to maximise the chances of escape, in the desert they’ve crash landed in after nicking a NASA jet and now find themselves terrorised by two delightfully humanised army helicopters, who look at each other as though they’re conversing. It’s superb! Okay it’s pretty simple and a lot of the details are awfully convenient, but it’s great stuff. Gould is brilliant, but the whole cast works wonderfully, even O.J. There’s some great smaller roles too, like Caulfield’s Assignment Editor played by David Doyle who nearly steals the show with one 2 minute scene. Caulfield’s persistence pays off, as does Bru’s endurance. Then Telly Savalas turns up as an angry crop duster for good measure. Did I mention it looks amazing? It looks amazing. Nobody would make anything like this now. It’d be deemed to shallow and formulaic. It’s wide eyed full colour dialled up exciting 70s cinema at its very best. Solid casting, great dialogue, rousing score, some lovely camera work and epic scenery. An absolute blast!