Posted by Florian Wardell | 0 comments
Movie of the month: Capricorn One
I loathe conspiracy theories. They’re so pretentious, and they leave more questions than answers. The ironic thing is that these theories basically tell you to not be naive and gullible, but if you believe in them, you’re exactly that.
The one theory that really gets on my nerves is the moon hoax. Sorry guys, but the most important moment in mankind’s history isn’t fake. Today’s research possibilities created by the rise of the internet leave no room for excuse, and still doubting that Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon is simply ridiculous. What works one way also works the other, and conspiracy theorists have been using the net extensively to syndicate their ideas, but thank god the Mythbusters are here. Don’t believe everything you read on the web (especially if it’s in a youtube video comment).
But what has this to do with the movie review? Well, one of my favorite movies of all times, as I explained in my “Moon” review last month, is “Apollo 13″. I love the realism, the cast, the tension, the impression of distance and weightlessness that emanes from it. I love science fiction, but what I love even more are movies about high tech stuff (space, airplanes, submarines) that is actually real (or that could be real).
On my quest for similar movies I found “The Right Stuff”, which I love, and… that’s it. “Space Cowboys” is fun but absolutely unrealistic, “2001″ is gorgeous but crazy, Armageddon is crap, “Mission to Mars” started off great but a lousy ending ruined it, and I could ramble on and quote a dozen of movies that just don’t come close to what I was looking for. By the way, if you’re reading this and know about a movie that I would like, please send me an email.
I did, however, find a movie surprisingly similar to “Apollo 13″: The story of three Saturn V astronauts fighting to stay alive, three men that should have traveled to another celestial body but didn’t because of unforeseen events. Also, the global 70′s aesthetics also reminds of the Apollo era. And surprise, the movie is (indirectly) about the moon hoax. Good enough for me to give it a shot.
Capricorn One is the story of what should have become the first manned mission to Mars. When the head of NASA discovers that the capsule meant to carry the astronauts will suffer a catastrophic failure, he forces the three astronauts, minutes before launch, to participate in a hoax by broadcasting their ‘Mission’ from a studio built at a now abandoned air force base. Over the many months of the mission, the astronauts send broadcasts to Earth on their progress towards Mars, their first Mars walks, and their journey back. The hoax is sophisticated: camera tricks slow their movements down to simulate Mars’ lower gravity, whole sets are constructed and the capsule is set to deviate from its course at reentry and land 200 miles off target to allow enough time for the astronauts to reenter the space craft until the recuperation team arrives. A well oiled plan, but disaster stikes at the end of the “mission”: the capsule burns off in the atmosphere, leaving the astronauts who should be dead in a very unpleasant situation. They soon discover that the only way for the space agency to secure the secrecy of their hoax is to kill them and that the only way for them to survive is to let the world know what really happened: they run for their lives. Meanwhile, a journalist (played by Gould) is getting suspicious and every clue he uncovers seems to result in an attempt on his life.
For the sake of not spoiling, I’ll leave it there.
Now that you know about my love for moon hoax theories, you must imagine how skeptic I was when I first watched Capricorn One. I thought it would just be one of many conspiracy nut-jobs, but it had a spaceship on the cover, which meant I had to watch it.
To my surprise, the film tackled the hoax concept in a very clever way, and not one time during the movie did I have the feeling that the director, Peter Hyams, actually believed in the moon hoax theory. He just found the idea interesting and decided to make a thriller out of it. The cast is excellent (a true 70′s who’s who with Gould, Brolin, and even O.J. Simpson), but the real star of the film is Bill Butler, the Director of Photography. What he releases on your screen is an artful array of cinema: the pull back,and cross pan shots of the in-studio Mars terrain; the terrifying out-of-control car Gould is trying to avoid being pulverized in; the quiet terror of Hal Holbrook’s office as he takes his telephone calls; those insect-like and their menacing choreography; the dark dread in the cave as Brolin, hiding from the pursuers, confronts a nasty viper; the stark, dry brittleness of the desert that Brolin, Waterston, and Simpson must challenge; the strain and exhaustion of Waterston as he scales the dry mountain side to escape his fate, but in vain. But most of all it is the exciting, jolting aerial ballet of the helicopter and bi-plane chase, that I loved. The icing on the cake of Butler’s images and Hyam’s well written script is the pounding, driving score by Jerry Goldsmith: It’s a beautiful mix of percussion, plucks of strings and short orchestral punches, it gives a sense of impending doom, fear, conspiracy, and paranoia.
But the film also gave me some “Hollywood hates physics” moments: the inexcusable mistake was the Mars lander, the identical copy of an Apollo Lunar Module. The LM was designed as a true spacecraft – no aerodynamic design was needed to land on the Moon since the Moon does not have an atmosphere. A lander designed for Mars, however, would have to cope with a substantial atmosphere and would therefore look considerably different from that portrayed in the film. Also, several times a date is shown on the screen when the camera enters the mission control room. At the same time a voice stating the number of days and hours since mission launch can be heard. The dates on the screen don’t correspond to the number of days said to have passed between them.
At last but not least, during the whole flight, and especially during the scenes from the “Martian surface”, the astronauts are shown conversing with Mission Control in real time. While this was possible during the Apollo moon missions, with a round-trip light speed/radio wave travel time of 2.5 seconds, on a Mars mission any transmissions to Mars would take 12.5 minutes to get there, and another 12.5 minutes to return to earth. So anyone in Mission Control speaking to a crew member on Mars would not receive an answer for at least 25 minutes, making the kinds of conversations shown in the film impossible.
The verdict? You don’t need to agree with the film’s subject to enjoy it. A good movie that will get you thinking, with great dialogs and breathtaking action sequences. Despite its few flaws, it found a place on my hard drive. Oh, and watch out for the scene in the desert where the knife isn’t handed out to O.J. Simpson.
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