Pretty sure I'm not Larry Ellison
- Oct 7, 2018
- Reaction score
I liked Moonrise Kingdom, though I don't remember it very well, and really enjoyed Grand Budapest Hotel. It doesn't hurt that the latter is based loosely on Stefan Zweig; I should read more of his work.
This weekend I watched most of Capricorn One, a space-program thriller from 1978 written and directed by Peter Hyams (who also did Outland, Timecop, The Relic, and End of Days). I don't know if the concept of 'spoiler' applies to a movie that's over 40 years old anyway, but I won't give away much that the theatrical trailer didn't. The basic idea of the film is that NASA's first manned Mars mission has to be faked. The life-support system for the ship is faulty and would kill the astronauts within weeks of their takeoff. NASA is struggling along anyway, and the president has informed them that any screw-up will mean the cancellation of the program. So they decide to stage the landing on a set. The astronauts--James Brolin, O.J. Simpson, and a young Sam Waterston--don't know about this in advance; just before launch they are whisked away to the secret base and informed of the ruse (as is the audience) while their crew-less spaceship takes off. They grudgingly go along with the plot, though only after the NASA honcho played by Hal Holbrook switches from appealing to their loyalty to the space program and threatens their families if they don't cooperate.
Needless to say, things don't go as planned. A NASA engineer realizes there is something fishy going on in mission control and informs his friend, a reporter played by Elliot Gould. At this point, the script starts going off the rails. Rather than doing something sensible like transferring the engineer to some distant facility, the shadowy powers-that-be behind the stunt kill him and then erase any evidence of his existence. NASA claims they never heard of him and when Gould shows up at his apartment, he finds someone else living there, with all kinds of evidence that she's been the tenant for at least a year. None of which makes much sense, since it requires more and more people to be part of the conspiracy. Gould survives several assassination attempts in the course of the film, which also seems unlikely.
I won't say more about the plot, except to say that it combines forward motion and interest with increasing implausibility. The cast is pretty good, though many of the actors were more known for TV roles by the late 1970s than for films, I think. One thing that I found particularly jarring, as an old space-program nerd, was the lack of imagination that the film displayed towards the space vehicle itself. The launch rocket is just a Saturn-V, which is perhaps forgiveable (file footage and all that), but the capsule itself is just the Apollo rig, and the Mars lander is nearly identical to the L.E.M. None of which makes much sense. It's not like the film-makers couldn't have drawn on actual plans drawn up by NASA and others for what a Mars mission might be like.
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I'm pretty sure I've seen this on on TV at some point. The use of the LEM as a prop was just as jarring to me as well. It felt a bit low-effort, although I think it was because they got hold of a real LEM prototype to use as a prop, perhaps saving a few bob in the process. One wonders how much influence the studio itself had on that decision.