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Peter Hyams
Elliott Gould, James Brolin, Brenda Vaccaro, Sam Waterston, O.J. Simpson, Hal Holbrook, Karen Black, Telly Savalas
Writing Credits:
Peter Hyams

The mission was a sham. The murders were real.

What if one of the greatest space adventures was really a hoax? When the head of NASA's manned Mars mission discovers that the capsule meant to carry the astronauts will suffer a catastrophic failure, he forces them to participate in a hoax by broadcasting their "Mission" from a studio built in an abandoned air force base. Over many months, the astronauts are forced to film broadcasts on their progress. All is going well until they learn that the only way for the hoax to be maintained is for them to die upon re-entry. Their only chance for survival is to make a desperate attempt to escape. Throughout this period, an investigative reporter gets wind of the fact that something is amiss and slowly puts together the pieces of the mystery.

Box Office:
$5 million.

Rated PG

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 123 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 10/14/2008

• Audio Commentary with Director Peter Hyams
• “Flights of Fancy: The Politics and Paranoia of Capricorn One” Featurette
• Theatrical Trailer


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Capricorn One: Special Edition (1978)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 12, 2009)

Good old DVD - it helps fulfill those childhood dreams! Okay, it's a serious stretch to say that viewing Capricorn One has been a lifelong fantasy of mine - if that were the case, why'd it take me decades to do so? Nonetheless, it's a movie that I wanted to see as a kid. For forgotten reasons, I never did, and it's nice to finally get a look at it all these years later.

Was it worth the wait? Well, no, but I didn't expect it to be any sort of classic. Capricorn definitely isn't a great film, but it provided a moderately entertaining look at government deception.

The film came out in 1978 when the US continued to deal with the cynicism left over from the Watergate affair. That factor seems key to the existence and mild success of the movie, as it would have been out of place a few years later during the jingoistic Reagan years. However, the late Seventies was a perfect time to depict government cover-ups and general evil, and Capricorn makes for an interesting snapshot of that period.

Capricorn actually found its roots in the cult belief that the government faked the moon landings, and the film explores these possibilities. It shows a manned mission to Mars that has to be aborted because of a technical problem. However, because of the precarious funding position in which the film's NASA finds itself, the powers-that-be determine it would be more productive to fake a successful mission than to suffer the setbacks caused by a real failure.

This part of the premise surprised me, for I'd always thought that the film’s landing was always supposed to be a fake. The fact the staged landing substitutes for what should have been real dilutes some of the negative sentiment toward the government, as the movie’s story would have seemed nastier if the whole project had been a sham from the start. This way we get a little more sympathy for some of the baddies - as represented by Hal Holbrook's mission director - and in a way, it seems less plausible. The conspiracy appears weaker when we learn the faking was a last ditch effort to save the program.

Of course, this phony mission doesn't sit too well with the three astronauts who were supposed to go to Mars. We have James Brolin as the rock-jawed, courageous leader, Sam Waterston as the wise-cracking buddy, and O.J. Simpson as... well, as the black one; they didn't bother to give the Juice much of a character. Much of the film documents their reactions to this little escapade, especially how they deal with telling the truth about it.

However, it turns out the astronauts aren't really the focal point of the movie. Instead, we see a lot more of Elliott Gould as a reporter who suspects something's up and who tries to get to the bottom of it. Essentially, he plays Woodward and Bernstein all wrapped into one, though his investigative skills don't seem awe-inspiring. It's odd to remember that Gould was quite a big star in his day, and that factor probably led to his role being dominant. There should have been a greater balance between Gould and the three astronauts – they suffer from woeful character development - but Gould gets the lion's share of the work. (Granted, his character doesn't grow or show us much either; the movie's much more concerned with the conspiracy than with its participants.)

With films like End of Days and Timecop under his belt, director Peter Hyams long ago established his credentials as a serviceable but unspectacular director. He performs in a similar capacity here; nothing about his leadership aids the film, but he seems to do little to harm it either. Hyams' movies generally appear to seem to run on auto-pilot. They're so middle of the road that they look like anyone could have directed them.

Probably the only semi-standout part of Capricorn comes from the climax. I won't discuss it in depth because I don't want to ruin it, but Hyams stages a pretty exciting and fun sequence that ends the film on a strong note. Well, it almost does so; the movie's denouement was painful to watch, but the action that led to it worked well.

Part of the reason for that - surprisingly - is due to a small turn by Telly Savalas. I always found him to be rather annoying, and he remains irritating here, but that quality helps the role, and Savalas makes his comic relief cameo very entertaining. Who woulda thunk it?

Overall, I like Capricorn One to a modest degree. It provides a decent little conspiracy thriller that stands as a fairly middle of the road movie. It clearly could have been more exciting and compelling with another director, but it also could have been worse. Plus, how can I dislike a movie that provides the sole joint venture between Gould and Brolin, the only two men on the planet who ever married Barbra Streisand? Even if I hated the movie, I wouldn't be able to bring myself to savage it; isn't that association with Babs punishment enough? (Talk about bad karma! What horrors did those guys inflict in past lives to deserve such a fate?)

The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B-/ Bonus C+

Capricorn One appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although the transfer faltered at times, it usually looked pretty good.

Most of the erratic elements stemmed from sharpness. At times, wide shots tended to be a little soft. However, the majority of the flick demonstrated positive delineation and seemed positive. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering materialized, but I did see some mild edge enhancement.

Source flaws never became a concern. Grain remained within acceptable limits for a movie of this one’s vintage. Print defects remained minimal. I saw a handful of specks and marks, but nothing more substantial materialized.

Colors appeared fine. The movie went with a generally natural palette that looked decent. At times the hues appeared a little heavy, but they usually remained within appropriate levels, and they often looked quite good. Blacks were dark and tight, while shadows showed nice clarity. At no point did the transfer excel, but it was good enough for a “B”.

As for the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Capricorn One, it provided a mixed bag. The soundfield itself demonstrated ups and downs. While the mix showed a broad spectrum, it could be too active at times. For instance, music often cropped up from the surrounds as well as from the front, and stereo delineation seemed erratic. Sometimes the score showed nice imaging, but other times the use of all five speakers made the stereo presence tentative and without great definition.

Effects were more accurate. They showed up in the correct spots and blended together pretty well. My only complaint there also stemmed from overactivity. The surround usage tended to be too strong, and this became a bit of a distraction. The elements add some life to the affair but they didn’t feel terribly natural at times. Still, a lot of the track showed good imaging, so the positives outweighed the negatives.

Audio quality also came with its share of issues. Speech varied from reasonably natural to hollow and edgy. Most of the dialogue seemed fine, and the lines remained intelligible, but they could be rather rough at times.

Music lacked distortion but seemed a bit too bass-heavy. That wasn’t a major concern, but I thought the score could’ve been brighter and more dynamic. Effects showed decent range along with some flaws. Louder elements suffered from moderate distortion, but most of those elements appeared pretty clean and clear. The problems were enough to knock down my grade to a “B-“, but I thought the track was relatively good given its age.

Unfortunately, I was unable to compare the picture and audio quality of this 2008 Special Edition with the original DVD from 1999. I watched the old disc many years ago, and I was unable to locate a copy so I could do a new comparison. I’d be shocked if the 2008 DVD didn’t offer significant improvements over the old one, at least in terms of visual quality. The 1999 disc was non-anamorphic, and based on my review, it sounded considerably messier than this one. I wish I could’ve made a direct comparison between the two, but even without an update to the old review, I’m still pretty sure that the 2008 disc offers the superior presentation of the film.

A few extras complete the set. The primary attraction comes from an audio commentary with director Peter Hyams. He offers a running, screen-specific discussion that looks at music and effects, script and story, the film’s origins and development, cast and performances, attempts at authenticity, sets and locations, and the movie’s reception.

Though Hyams tells us he hadn’t seen the movie since its initial release, he manages to cover Capricorn pretty well. Hyams occasionally sags, but he usually remains informative and interesting. Heck, he even addresses the elephant in the room: OJ Simpson’s presence in the movie. This is a consistently positive track.

In addition to the film’s theatrical trailer, we find a featurette called Flights of Fancy: The Politics and Paranoia of Capricorn One. The 17-minute and 15-second show features remarks from Hyams, USC History Department chair Dr. Steven J. Ross, and Skeptic Magazine publisher Dr. Michael Shermer. “Fancy” examines the “space race”, the cynical climate of the early-mid 1970s, beliefs that no one ever landed on the Moon, how Capricorn reflected its era and its reception.

“Fancy” gives us a pretty nice look at the factors that influenced Capricorn. Of course, it rips through the historical issues in a superficial manner, but it still manages to cover things in a reasonably satisfying manner. It provides a solid little examination of the social elements of the film.

Capricorn One offers a moderately compelling thriller that fits well in the mildly paranoid tenor of its times. Other than its terrific premise, nothing about the film stands out in a positive way, but nothing seems especially weak, either, and the entire piece appears acceptably entertaining. The DVD provides erratic but generally positive picture and audio as well as some useful supplements. Nothing here excels, but this is a pretty good package.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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