Capricorn One looks like a movie about astronauts, but it’s really a paranoid political thriller from the seventies, along the lines of All the President’s Men or Three Days of the Condor. If you’re one of those conspiracy theorists who thinks the Apollo 11 moon landing was faked, this movie is for you. Here, it’s a manned mission to Mars that’s manufactured by malevolent militarists; as it turns out, the Mars rocket has a lethal flaw, and rather than risk the publicity nightmare of a deadly mission failure, NASA convinces the three astronauts (James Brolin, Sam Waterston, and O.J. Simpson) to send fake transmissions back to Earth from a secret studio.
But muckraking journalist Elliott Gould soon gets wind of the scam, and the burn-up of the actual (empty) capsule upon re-entry means the astronauts must die to preserve the hoax. At which point, the thriller mechanics begin, as the astronauts find their biggest threats are earthbound ones they weren’t prepared for. Incredibly, the filmmakers sought and received NASA cooperation for this movie, including the use of realistic spacecraft and props. Guess that sorta disproves the movie’s point, that to NASA there was any such thing as bad publicity.
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