Capricorn One

Year: 1978
Production Co: Associated General Films
Studio: Warner Bros
Director: Peter Hyams
Writer: Peter Hyams
Cast: Hal Holbrook, James Brolin, Elliot Gould, O J Simpson, Sam Waterston
You could make any sort of movie about faking space missions, and this came years before the X Files-inspired late 90s zetigeist of fake moon landing theories, so I had no idea it was such an enduring idea.

Blink and you'll miss one of the strongest themes of the film as Hal Holbrook explains to the shocked astronauts that a provisioning problem with a private contractor has hobbled the entire mission. The company that was providing the life support systems botched their bid, a mistake on the part of the mission that would have led to all three men suffocating to death when barely part of the way into space.

It also asks a much more personal question in the debate - how would such a cover-up affect the dignity and humanity of the upstanding men who'd been tasked to do it?

It's the post-Apollo period and the American public just aren't terribly interested in space exploration anymore. As such, NASA's budget has been cut and a manned Mars mission hangs in the balance.

After the fanfare of the prelaunch the three astronauts (Brolin, Simpson and Waterston) are safely strapped into the rocket before a dark-suited figure appears and ushers them out, whisking them away under strict secrecy to a secret base where their mission commander (Holbrook) explains the situation.

Committed to the faulty parts, the misison had no chance but to go ahead for fear the government would cut it altogether. Instead, NASA intends to stage the whole thing, having the astronauts broadcast from a purpose built soundstage for the fake landing and return to Earth apparently off course, giving the ringleaders time to drop their lander off in the middle of the ocean.

The three are deeply conflicted while kept virtual prisoners, pretending to their country and their eager families and children that they're heroes while they sit in a hangar waiting for their next cue. Unable to take it any more they break out of the base and steal a light plane but, light on fuel, have to land in the middle of the desert, taking off in different directions to try to make it back to civilisation and expose the truth.

At the same time, a cynical reporter (Gould) calling in his last few favours stumbles across the story and as he gets closer to the truth the danger mounts. Things turn darker when it's discovered that the cover story will be that they burned up on re-entry, meaning that the corrupt mission leaders mean to silence them so they can never tell the truth.

Like the best example of both the screwball comedy and conspiracy/paranoia movie era, the dialogue is one of the films' best aspects. Watching sad sack Gould trying to seduce a fellow reporter is a joy to watch, reminiscent of Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant in His Girl Friday.

It isn't heavy on either action or thrills, but it's a wonderful premise made even better by the realistic treatment it receives in both scripting and design.

Bizarrely the slo mo final scene lets much of the former quality down. There's no resolution or fallout and it's reduced to an uplifting reunited families theme and deserved so much more.

Being remade by remake whore John Moore as I write this, who will no doubt make it an effects extravaganza full of car chases and gunfights.

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