Peter Hyams plot is a devilishly clever one where he happily swipes more than an idea or two from writer Barry Malzbergs satirical exhumations of the space-program. Hyams amusingly states that he shipped the idea for Capricorn One around for several years but it was not until Watergate made the idea fashionable that was able to sell the script. Nowadays, the idea behind the film has slipped into the cultural zeitgeist and the idea of the Moon Landing being faked by television has become a commonplace belief amongst conspriacy theorists.
When it came out, Capricorn One attracted a good deal of disdain in the science-fiction community for its less than reverent attitude toward the space programme. Writer David Gerrold pompously claimed it [the film] belittles and demeans the highest aspirations of the mind ... devalues the integrity of science itself. Those of us who stood in our backyards on quiet summer nights, gazing up at the stars and wondering, hoping ... the makers of Capricorn One have taken our dream girl and portrayed her as a prostitute. Although this was an argument that was defeated by the fact that NASA co-operated with and even loaned equipment and space modules for the making of the film. Without feeling any of his dreams particularly tarnished, the author enjoyed the film. Indeed, rather than trashing its ideals, Capricorn One in fact seems to be lamenting the dream that inspired the space programme Hal Holbrook has a magnificent soliloquy early on in the film that languishes the loss of the dream embodied by John F. Kennedys original call to space in the face of 1970s budgetary cutbacks.
The dialogue is often beautifully written and the characterisations are spot-on. Hyams has this odd way of overlapping dialogue from one scene onto the next to provide haunting images like the image of the Lear Jet with the escaping astronauts aboard taking off overlapped by the Presidents funeral oration, or the pullback from the tv transmission to reveal the Martian landscape as merely a set. The standard thriller aspects with car and helicopter chases are less interesting. Here the absurdity of the set-up is not equal to the astuteness of plotting elsewhere the attempts to kill Elliott Gould become melodramatic, particularly in never explaining the agency behind this it seems somewhat absurd to be asked to believe that NASA has a team of assassins on hand to deal with situations like this. One keeps wondering why NASA simply did not expose the faulty contractor in the first place.
There is a substantial cast line-up. Among these lead actor James Brolin is stolid. O.J. Simpson, then just a pro-footballer and not having attracted the infamy he would a decade-and-a-half later, turns up as one of the astronauts. Telly Savalas has an awful piece toward the end as a cropduster pilot. There are also some nice performances tucked away, particularly from Brenda Vaccaro as James Brolins playful wife and David Huddleston as a deceptively smiling Southern Congressman. There is also an unusually good performance from Hal Holbrook as the NASA director who offers pained apologies at the same time as he commits to ruthless courses of action.