Capricorn One, the first manned space flight to Mars, lifts off without any problems, but there's something going on behind the scenes that the public don't know about - there are no astronauts aboard the rocket. In fact, as the astronauts soon find out, the whole mission is a hoax designed to increase public morale. So far so good, but when a technician working at Mission Control begins to have suspicions, he mysteriously disappears; not before he has told his television reporter friend (Elliott Gould) who sets out to find the truth...
Remember that bit in Diamonds are Forever where James Bond crashes onto a film stage that is shooting fake moon landing footage? Well, director Peter Hyams script builds on that, making a large-scale conspiracy movie out of this simple, but effective, notion. This being made in the post-Watergate seventies, the movie has definite echoes of All the President's Men, even casting the Deep Throat from that film, Hal Holbrook, as the mastermind behind the whole plan, and with a tenacious journalist as the hero.
Capricorn One has appeal to all the conspiracy buffs who believe the moon landings really were faked, and even more so when the movie's concealmement is revealed. The authorities are not to be trusted, whether it's the Vice President who spends his time at the launch gazing at women through his binoculars as his wife sits beside him, or the secret services eliminating witnesses - yes, there are those famed black helicopters to heighten the tension. Cue scenes of Gould finding his car has been tampered with, or having drugs planted on him - everyone is in on it except the innocent public.
Hyams obviously likes to hear his actors talk, because there are lengthy stretches of dialogue, sometimes at the expense of the brisk pacing needed to sustain the excitement of the astronauts' escape attempt (and sending Gould out to a Western theme park just looks like unnecessary padding). The story celebrates the ordinary people, who manage to get one over on the government which cynically attempts to manipulate them - see the final chase sequence with Telly Savalas as an irascible pilot (great flying photography, incidentally). But the ending, which makes American heroes out of the people who have uncovered the plot, seems out of place after all that cynicism. Music by Jerry Goldsmith.
American director, writer and cinematographer, mostly of standard genre movies: action, sci-fi, thriller, etc. After a career as a TV newsman (he was a Vietnam War reporter) he moved into films, writing and producing T.R. Baskin. A couple of TV movies later, on the big screen he made Busting, Capricorn One, Hanover Street, Outland, 2010, The Presidio, a remake of Narrow Margin, Stay Tuned, Timecop, Sudden Death, The Relic, End of Days, The Musketeer and A Sound of Thunder.