Monday, July 6, 2009

Ultimate 9/11 Movies - The List - #2: CAPRICORN ONE

Capricorn One is a 1978 thriller movie about a Mars landing hoax. It was written and directed by Peter Hyams and produced by Lew Grade's ITC Entertainment production company for Warner Bros.

Although thematically Capricorn One is a typical 1970s government-conspiracy thriller with similarities to Hyams's subsequent film Outland, the story was inspired by allegations that the Apollo Moon landings were a hoax. This despite the fact that at the time the movie was made there WERE no (public) accusations of any such hoax... But who would be better placed to know of hoaxes than people in the movie business? Philip K. Dick touched on a similar issue in his novel DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP. Clearly, the Apollo Hoax had a genesis in some real and concrete rumor of at least one special effects man involved in the Apollo Hoax talking.

The setting is the late 1970s, and the first manned mission to Mars is on the launch pad ready to launch. NASA authorities including Dr. James Kelloway (Hal Holbrook) realize that a faulty life support system has doomed any chance of a successful flight, so for political and financial purposes they decide to fake the landing rather than cancel the mission.

Minutes before launch, the bewildered crew of Col. Brubaker (James Brolin), Lt. Col. Willis (Sam Waterston), and Cmdr. Walker (O. J. Simpson) are removed from the capsule and flown to an old abandoned United States Army Air Corps base deep within the desert. The televised launch proceeds on schedule, but the public is unaware that the spacecraft (Capricorn One) does not have a crew.

At the remote base, the astronauts are informed they will fake the television footage from Mars and it is their patriotic duty to participate. Initially they refuse, but authorities imply their careers and the lives of their families are at stake if they do not cooperate.

The astronauts remain in captivity for a period of several months and are filmed "landing on Mars" within a studio located at the base. The conspiracy is known to only a select few NASA officials, until alert technician Elliot Whittier (Robert Walden) stumbles across a bizarre technical anomaly i.e. television transmissions from Mars made by the crew are being received by ground control before the spacecraft telemetry arrives. This should not be possible. The most logical explanation for the anomaly is that the TV transmissions and spacecraft telemetry are coming from two separate locations, and the location of the TV transmissions is much closer to earth than Mars. Whittier is confused by the anomaly and wishes to investigate further, but is told not to worry about it by his employer. Even so, Whittier feels sufficiently uneasy to share his concerns with journalist friend Robert Caulfield (Elliott Gould) at a local bar, but before Whittier can fully set out his concerns, he mysteriously disappears.

As Caulfield discovers that all evidence of his friend's life appear to have been erased, he becomes suspicious and begins investigating the Mars mission. Attempts to silence Caulfield by trying to kill him are made, but Caulfield survives. Meanwhile back at the abandoned military base, the astronauts begin to suspect that if the conspiracy is to be successful, they will eventually have to be eliminated. The astronauts' suspicions become reality when their empty capsule burns up during atmospheric reentry and they are declared dead to a mournful nation. The captive astronauts immediately stage a daring escape and attempt to evade military forces in order to expose the conspiracy. Stranded in the desert, they try to make their way back to civilization while being pursued by a pair of helicopters.

In the end, Brubaker is the only crew member to avoid capture, Willis and Walker are captured and presumably murdered. Caulfield's investigation leads him to the desert, where he finds the military base and the set, and with the help of a cropduster pilot (Telly Savalas), he manages to rescue Brubaker before the men in the helicopters can capture or kill him.

The film ends with Caulfield bringing Brubaker to the astronauts' memorial service, exposing the conspiracy in dramatic fashion in front of dozens of witnesses and live national television.

Two novelizations of the film were written and published by separate authors, a rarity in the business of such books. The first was written by Ken Follett (written under the pseudonym Bernard L. Ross) and published in England, the other written by Ron Goulart and published in the United States.