Is it weird that I actually found this movie to be MORE bizarre than Derek’s other choice Mr. Nobody? In theory, this seems like a fairly straightforward 1970s-style paranoid thriller, but it gets pretty goofy, in ways that I didn’t expect but enjoyed.

The first manned mission to Mars is all set to blast off when the trio of astronauts is pulled from the ship and taken to a secret warehouse with a studio set up where they’re supposed to pretend they landed on Mars, since NASA wasn’t really ready for a manned mission to Mars but needs a major success to inspire Washington to keep funding them. All goes well with the faked Mars landing until the shuttle is on the way back to earth and, well, loses its heat shield and disintegrates, making the very much non-disintegrated astronauts a bit of an untidy loose end. Meanwhile, journalist Robert Caulfield (Elliott Gould) smells a rat and investigates what’s going on from the outside.


The film is part political thriller, part conspiracy theory thriller (playing off faked moon landing conspiracies), part survival thriller (James Brolin vs. a rattlesnake, in more ways than one), part action thriller, part ethical dilemma drama, part inspirational space travel drama, part investigative drama, and…you get the idea. It is SO MANY THINGS and it keeps changing which thing it wants to be and changing tones right along with it, and I really enjoyed all of that a lot. You gotta be willing to go along with a movie like this, and thankfully, I’m always happy to follow this particular kind of goofiness wherever it goes.

Elliott Gould is probably the biggest name in the cast, and he brings his patented bemused persistence to his journalist role. I enjoyed that he’s not actually that competent a journalist – he tries to convince his editor that something screwy is going on with the Mars mission, and his editor is basically like, who do you think you are, Bernstein and Woodward? He also has a weird relationship going on with Karen Black – kind of flirtatious, but also competitive, and also kind of frank: “Do you want to jump me?” “Yes.” And by the way, the amount of effort this film goes to in order to avoid profanity is pretty hilarious. At one point government agents break into Gould’s apartment and he’s like “you mothers” in a merely mildly annoyed voice. Cracked me up.


Then you’ve also got O.J. Simpson as the token black guy astronaut (3 guess who’s the first one the government agents catch up with). I frankly didn’t place him when I first watched, though when I looked up the cast list, I realized that was why he looked so familiar. Then there’s the cropdusting pilot who apparently thinks everybody (except him) is a pervert. That’s near the end, and it’s also where the movie would seriously go off the rails for anyone not on board with its disregard for tonal integrity. As far as I’m concerned, tonal integrity can go jump off a cliff. This was too much fun to care.

Stats and stuff…

1978, USA
written and directed by Peter Hyams
starring Elliott Gould, James Brolin, Sam Waterston, O.J. Simpson, Hal Holbrook, Karen Black, Brenda Vaccaro

I’m ranking all my Challenge films on Flickchart (as I do all the films I see), a movie-ranking website that asks you to choose your favorite between two movies until it builds a ranked list of your favorites. Just for fun, I will average out the rankings and keep a running tally of whose recommendations rank the highest. When you add a film to Flickchart, it pits it against films already on your chart to see where it should fall. Here’s how Capricorn One entered my chart:

Capricorn One beats Outrage
Capricorn One beats The Descendants
Capricorn One loses to Judgment at Nuremberg
Capricorn One loses to The Haunting
Capricorn One beats Homicidal
Capricorn One beats Waitress
Capricorn One beats The Cure
Capricorn One beats Watchmen
Capricorn One loses to Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol
Capricorn One loses to Murder My Sweet
Capricorn One loses to Looper

Final ranking #688 out of 3596 films on my chart (81st percentile).

It is now my #1 (and only) Peter Hyams film, my #5 Elliott Gould film, my #20 Crime Thriller, and my #4 film of 1978.

Capricorn One was recommended by Derek Armstrong, a friend from the Flickcharters group on FB. Averaging together this #688 ranking with my #182 ranking of his other film, Mr. Nobody, gives Derek an average ranking of 435.

A few quotes…

Lt. Col Peter Willis: Hey, Dr. Kelloway. Funny thing happened on the way to Mars.

Jim Kellaway: I think it’s worth it. I’m not even sure of it. I just think it.

Jim Kellaway: It’ll keep something alive that shouldn’t die. Before you all begin to moralize, you take a look around. You look at what we’ve done and who much more we can do. You look at what we’ve meant to this country. Nobody gives a crap about anything anymore. People have closed their garages and triple-locked their doors. They hide under their beds, they’re even afraid to turn on their television sets for fear of what they might find out on the evening news. There’s nothing more to believe in.

Charles Brubaker: This is really wonderful. If we go along with you and lie our asses off, the world of truth and ideals is, er, protected. But if we don’t want to take part in some giant rip-off of yours then somehow or other we’re managing to ruin the country. You’re pretty good, Jim. I’ll give you that.

Charles Brubaker: If the only way to keep something alive is to become everything I hate, then I don’t know if it’s worth keeping it alive.

Judy Drinkwater: Just change your approach.
Robert Caulfield: What approach would you like?
Judy Drinkwater: How about something like ‘I would like to jump you’?
Robert Caulfield: Think that would work?
Judy Drinkwater: Stands a better chance than wanting to share a meaningful life together.
Robert Caulfield: I would like to jump you.
Judy Drinkwater: Go jump yourself.

Charles Brubaker: We… are dead. We are dead.
Lt. Col Peter Willis: Shit. I was such a terrific guy.

Robert Caulfield: You wouldn’t know sincerity if it ran over you.
Judy Drinkwater: Not if you were driving it.

Robert Caulfield: Look, when a reporter tells his assignment editor that he thinks he may be on to something that could be really big, the assignment editor is supposed to say: “You’ve got forty eight hours, kids, and you better come up with something good or it’s going to be your neck!” That’s what he’s supposed to say, I saw it in a movie.

Walter Loughlin: Listen to me and listen good. I don’t like you, Caulfield. You’re ambitious. You think the way to get ahead is to come up with the scoop of the century. Woodward and Bernstein were good reporters, that’s how they did it. Not by telling me they’ve located Patty Hearst three times like you did or that brilliant piece of investigative journalism you pulled off by finding an eye witness to the second gunman in the Kennedy assassination. The small fact that the man had been in a mental institution at the time never deterred you, not ‘scoop’ Caulfield. Now most reporters are like me. They are plodders. They spend a lot of their time checking little things… like *facts*. They cover mundane stories like wars and trials and hearings. You never seem to have enough time in your busy schedule to stoop so low as to cover a story. You occupy your time with tips from people who never existed. Driving your car into water and claiming it wasn’t your fault. Getting shot at by unseen gunmen. Now I really hate to interrupt your meteoric career with something so plebeian as a legitimate story. However, a train load of propane gas had the bad taste to derail near Galveston and there’s a whole town that just might blow up. So it would be just really peachy of you if you would join your film crew that’s waiting for you on the plane at this very moment while we speak.
Robert Caulfield: That was some speech.
Walter Loughlin: I thought so.

Walter Loughlin: You’re fired! Oh, I love how that sounds. I love that so much I’m going to say it again. You’re fired. You’re through. Oh, I love it!

Albain: Twenty five dollars to dust a field, but you ain’t got no field because you ain’t no farmer, which means you ain’t poor and I think you’re a pervert!

A few more screenshots…