The central premise of a large-scale cover-up is played deadly seriously, but the sub-plot of an investigative journalist (Elliott Gould) who smells a rat is mostly played for laughs. There's also enough action here to please a mainstream audience.
While the faking of an entire space mission fails to be convincing, (there are simply too many loopholes), what remains chilling are the lengths the government will go to in hushing it all up. Everyone is expendable. The inspired use of two impersonal helicopters, seemingly communicating like airborne robots, symbolises a military organisation with a mission to eradicate all remaining clues. One character completely disappears with a believable, elaborate cover-up to replace any memories that he ever lived in his apartment.
Having grown up with the Moon missions live on TV, the idea of it all being faked is a non-starter for me. As a family, we visited Cape Kennedy (as it was called in 1973) and again, renamed as Cape Canaveral, in 1978 (ironically on the same holiday I first saw Capricorn One in a Miami theater). I remember the scene in the film, a long trackback that revealed the surface of Mars as a movie set, getting laughs in the cinema. It's a neat idea for a conspiracy thriller and a welcome change from the Kennedy-assassination plots, but even back then it was ludicrous.
While a silly runaway car stunt now fails to excite, mainly due to the amount of sped-up footage, the high speed aerial chase is one of the best there is. A dizzying helicopter pursuit, brilliantly photographed with superb stunt-flying. In the cinema you could easily feel airsick as the aircraft dive over the edges of the canyons. Jerry Goldsmith's pounding score is one of my favourite movie soundtracks. His music easily makes the action twice as dramatic.
I was wary of characters played by Hal Holbrook after this film. Here he's a bare-faced liar who still wants to be your friend and, dammit, I trusted him.
James Brolin, back when he headlined movies (Westworld, The Car, The Amityville Horror), is great - he looks like an astronaut. But so do Sam Waterston and O.J. Simpson. The cast is almost too good, Karen Black and Telly Savalas deserve bigger roles than very funny cameos. Brenda Vaccaro (Death Weekend, Airport '77) is excellent as an astronaut's wife being kept in the dark, giving even her quietest scenes an edge.
Hopefully the US Special Edition DVD of 2008 looks better. Which would make it a quadruple dip for me...
Snappy TV trailer here on YouTube - no spoilers (note that the film is actually 2.35 widescreen)...