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Cinemalphabet: C is for Capricorn One

September 30, 2010

Capricorn One is an unintentionally campy mess, which probably sees itself as The Parallax View of sci-fi films. It’s not. Like most campy flicks, the premise – surprise! they’re faking a Mars landing! – all but guarantees there will be heaping amounts of lulz piled high on the plate in Vegas prime rib buffet portions. But don’t let this deter you. Capricorn One is a film that cannot be ignored. In fact it refuses to be ignored. It is the Alex Forrest of campy sci-fi films; requiring that not only it be drowned in a bathtub, but if by chance it rises you’ll have to shoot it as well.

Billed as a “speculative thriller” – speculation as to the amounts of hippie happy they were smoking – Cappy One asks far too much of its audience, specifically to suspend disbelief long enough to accept Dr. Steven Kiley, Jack McCoy and OJ Simpson as astronauts . There was nothing Kiley could prescribe, nothing McCoy could prove in court nor enough Hertz rental cars Simpson could hawk to salvage this intergalactic wreckage. The plot had more bald patches than six year old’s Barbie. If you want believable space cowboys you wrangle in your Scott Glenns, your Ed Harrises or your Danny Glovers. You do not put a foxy Brolin at the helm of any piece of electrical equipment more complicated than, say – a toaster oven.

And what of this freeze dried jiffy pop container cum spaceship filmed on what appears to be The 25,000 Pyramid soundstage? That’s right, folks, shake that bad boy over an open flame and POP – you’ve got astronauts! Unless they’re filming in Lanavision I’m just not sure how the public was supposed to be fooled. As for asking the actors pretending to be astronauts to pretend to be going to the moon, well it’s enough confusion to take the glossy luster right out of Brolin’s Barry Gibb blowout.

A musical interlude created by moi set to the Sandy Frank Song:

capricorn 1 capricorn 1 nothing is wrong, i’ve got a pistol in my pocket that says you’ll go along!
capricorn 1 capricorn 1 we’re all team players on capricorn 1


Vincent Canby’s surprisingly generous 1978 reviews provides this food for thought:

The stuff that comes in between is humorless comic-strip stuff about a conspiracy so widespread that you finally realize that the only people in the country who don’t know about it are the three astronauts, a minor space employee, one unreliable television reporter, an eccentric crop-duster, owner of the lovable biplane, and the members of their immediate families.

But hold the phones!

We’ve got not one hubby o’ Babs, but TWO. Yes, Carmine said there would be one hubby, but once again, here there are two.

Elliott Gould plays an earnest reporter – as evident by his choice of neckties – who clearly feels this is his Watergate. A reasonable assumption given the presence of Hal Holbrook, who shut it down as Deep Throat in All the President’s Men, though he’s not playing that character here. The rest of the cast reads like the opening credits of The Love Boat: Brenda Vaccaro, David Huddleston, David Doyle, Karen Black and Mr. Who Loves You, Baby? himself – Telly Savalas as the aforementioned crop duster. If you’re asking what the hell does crop dusting have to do with a faked mission to Mars; you are not alone.

Turns out, not much.

Writer-director Peter Hyams – who later would further his space explorations in 2010: The Year We Make Contact – isn’t entirely an awful writer or director, though honestly, I haven’t seen much indicating he’s a good writer or director either. That said, I admire the moxie and the level of skill required to create a film that never wavers in its cheesiness. It’s as cheesy today as it was the first time I saw it nearly twenty years ago! I just wish upon realizing the whole thing had gone to hell, he’d opted to really emphasis the camp. I mean he had to know it was riddled with unintentional hilarity, unless unlike the viewing audience he was actually fooled.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. September 30, 2010 12:03 pm

    Ooooh this sounds awesome! I love when there are so many unexpected elements in a movie that combine to just make it so campy and bad. I’ll definitely be checking this one out. Loved your post on it.

    If you wanted a legitimately good “C” science-fiction movie from the 70’s, have you ever seen Colossus: The Forbin Project? Very cool film, and I read in an interview somewhere that it’s Joel Hodgson’s favorite, so it’s relevant to your MST3K video there!

  2. September 30, 2010 12:42 pm

    @Alex – I think you’ll like it. It’s actually pretty enjoyable, despite the cheesiness. Peter Hyams is so ambitious and I do love that about him. He did managed to make a film I really love – Running Scared and I did like other things by him like 2010: The Year We Make Contact. Despite his love of sci-fi, I find his talents are better utilized in Running Scared, which was such a great film that I was surprised to discover that Hyams had directed it!

    Colossus: The Forbin Project?

    I want to see this ASAP. It’s been on my “to-do list” for a long time. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. September 30, 2010 1:18 pm

    I love watching this movie because it takes itself so seriously. And for Savalas’ great Slim Pickens imitation.

  4. September 30, 2010 3:03 pm

    @Redlami – it’s a totally earnest film.

  5. IrishUp permalink
    October 1, 2010 10:42 am


    Read it outloud to my mom’s – with the appropriate warning not be eating or drinking anything; she has bad asthma, that shit might ACTUALLY kill her!

    Do you suppose that Capricorn One is taken seriously by these people (h/to ASarah)?

  6. IrishUp permalink
    October 1, 2010 10:44 am

    erg, apostrophe & edit fail.

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