Saturday, 19 February 2011

Rant/Review: Capricorn One and the state of the modern media.

This was originally posted to the Empire Online website in 2006

WARNING - this is as much a rant on the state of modern media, and a call to arms, as it is a review. If you are in the least bit cynical, or have the attention span of a 3 year old, stop reading now.

Upon running a search of the review forum, I must admit to being rather surprised to discover that no-one had yet posted a review of this classic 70's movie. Simply out of ignorance, most people assume it is science fiction (as indeed did I before watching it), although some will have an idea of the central premise. That is off-putting to most, perceiving it as slow paced, pre-Star Wars hokum (as the majority of 70's sci-fi indeed was). It actually premiered the year after Star Wars, in 1978. A shame, as the shift in the market which that film brought meant that, however you marketed this movie, it was never going to receive the attention it ought.

In the modern era of overhype and overexposure, it's almost a given that you will know the "big" twist before going into a movie. You have to seek out little-known films from several years BI (Before Internet) to truly experience that thrill. Either that, or you have to be a 7-year old with a very conscientious film-buff Dad (or Mum). I did not have that Dad (though I hope to be him someday), and I am not 7; I tracked this film down myself, remembering whisperings of it being actually rather good.

The film kicks off as you might expect, with a thoroughly immersive and realistic portrayal of the long countdown to the launch of the mission Capricorn One. The real central conceit of this film, however, it's raison d'etre, only gears up about 45 minutes in. And it's a belter - I remember someone on this very forum totally ruining the main premise/big twist of Soylent Green for me (another oft-forgotten 70's classic) by quoting the crucial line in their signature. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I watched Soylent regardless, and still loved it, yet I couldn't help but wonder how much more I would have enjoyed it if I hadn't read that one quote from Big Chuck.

So, you'll have guessed by now that I'm not going to tell you much about this film. I'm really not spoiling anything, however, by telling you that this film is about Capricorn One, the first manned mission to Mars. There are many films which clearly owe a debt to this movie, from the obvious, say Apollo 13, to the downright surprising (I would argue that Clear and Present Danger owes as much in tone and pacing to Capricorn One as it does to the Tom Clancy novel). It is staggeringly broad in ambition, both thematically and in terms of genre, and yet does not stumble in the way that so many other grandiose 70's flicks have (I'm thinking Planet of the Apes which, although fun, is frustratingly trite). The film is also scarily actual in many aspects, which is remarkable considering it has just hit 30. It does, however, have a rather unsatisfying ending, especially given what the film has been building towards for the previous 90 minutes.

Elliott Gould, perfectly cast here, takes the lion's share of the good dialogue, and has several scenes of quick-fire banter with various characters throughout the movie, albeit a little stilted on occasion. OJ Simpson's breakthrough role is nary an extended cameo: The number of lines he delivers over the course of the movie does not break into double figures. Nonetheless, his performance is rather better than you might expect from an ex-American football player. I will also tell you that this film incorporates, in its closing scenes, some of the most staggering feats of stunt flying and arial photography I have ever seen.

I know this is a bitty commentary on the film, not really a review, but to break the film down in any normal manner would be to give too much away and ruin it. I hope only to encourage you to watch it, and in so doing recognise that voyage of revelation which you can only experience when you haven't been spoilt.

I used to be a great reader of online movie websites. AICN, EmpireOnline, Chud, Cinescape, etc. I signed up to the new version of this website within 15 minutes of it going live. My fellow veterans will have noted that my use has dwindled dramatically in the last 9 months or so. Why? Because I'd forgotten what it was like to enjoy a film, instead of pre-empting, or even worse, knowing the film before I even set foot in the cinema. I have been enjoying films so much more since I stopped.

And so it is that I urge you, my fellow fans/buffs/geeks. Turn away from the websites. Discover films from your friends, your parents, your local Videosynchratic. Go and watch the films which you wouldn't normally think were for you, but have been talked up by people you trust. Because there is nothing more satisfying and fantastic than being surprised by a movie. These sites aren't just spoiling the movies - they're spoiling your love for them. 

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