KLAATU YOU (25)
June 17, 2020
One in a weekly series of enthusiastic posts, contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite pre-Star Wars science fiction movies.
CAPRICORN ONE | d. PETER HYAMS | 1978
The third-most interesting thing to me about Capricorn One, when I first saw it on television (probably a year or so after its 1978 theatrical release), was its matter-of-fact cynicism about America. Not only was our government willing to lie outrageously to the public, faking a mission to Mars by broadcasting doctored footage of astronauts on a sound stage — it was willing to murder those astronauts, and anybody else, to keep the hoax intact. I was maybe 11 years old, and I don’t think I’d encountered that sort of critique.
It was exciting! From the alarming theme music onward, Capricorn One screamed haywire thrills. A voice of authority narrates a successful space launch, even as we watch astronauts — James Brolin, Sam Waterston, and O.J. Simpson — being bullied out of their vessel, and hustled to a remote location against their will. Hal Halbrook, standing in for the government conspiracy, explains the mission had to be faked, because contractor ConAmalgamate (great name) made a defective life support system, and the political costs of actually cancelling were too high. The point of the huge lie is protecting an idea of truth: “Nobody gives a crap about anything anymore,” Holbrook exclaims. “There’s nothing more to believe.” Besides: “It’s gotten out of control — it’s too big!”
The second most interesting thing was the long sequence of the astronauts escaping into the desert and being hunted by government forces. (The most interesting thing to me at the time was the simple fact that the story was set in Houston — I grew up nearby, and in the 1970s Houston was never in the movies. I shrugged off the film’s implication that there was a mountain-studded desert within easy driving distance of the city.)
I reveled in those desert scenes — Brolin flicking away a tarantula, sucking down snake innards, etc. They made it easy to ignore how easily the astronauts had escaped (punching out one guy), and how odd it was that the ruthless government dispatched just two helicopters to track them down. The big climax scene happens at a memorial service for the astronauts that somehow attracts only about a hundred attendees, and has zero security.
“These people — they’re capable of anything,” O.J. Simpson, of all people, had declared just before the escape. I see where you’re coming from, Juice, but… are they? Today’s conspiracies assume a Deep State as effective as it is undetectable, pulling off elaborate false flag operations and operating twisted underground enterprises hidden in plain sight. The message of Capricorn One isn’t that unseen forces pull all our strings. It’s the presciently Reaganesque conviction that government can’t do anything right — certainly not a real mission to Mars, and ultimately not even a scheme to hoodwink its own populace. In the wake of Watergate and Vietnam, here was American power failing yet again. And that, somehow, was the happy ending.
KLAATU YOU: INTRODUCTION by Josh Glenn | Matthew De Abaitua on ZARDOZ | Miranda Mellis on METROPOLIS | Rob Wringham on THE INVISIBLE MAN | Michael Grasso on THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN | Gordon Dahlquist on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY | Erik Davis on DARK STAR | Carlo Rotella on THE OMEGA MAN | Madeline Ashby on KISS ME DEADLY | Adam McGovern on SILENT RUNNING | Michael Lewy on THIS ISLAND EARTH | Josh Glenn on WILD IN THE STREETS | Mimi Lipson on BARBARELLA vs. SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | Vanessa Berry on THE FLY | Lynn Peril on ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN | Peggy Nelson on SOLARIS | Adrienne Crew on LOGAN’S RUN | Ramona Lyons on THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH | Kio Stark on THE STEPFORD WIVES | Dan Fox on FANTASTIC PLANET | Chris Lanier on IKARIE XB-1 | Devin McKinney on IDAHO TRANSFER | Mark Kingwell on THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO | Luc Sante on THE TENTH VICTIM | William Nericcio on DEATH RACE 2000 | Rob Walker on CAPRICORN ONE | Gary Panter on ANGRY RED PLANET | David Levine on THE STEPFORD WIVES | Karinne Keithley Syers on ALPHAVILLE | Carolyn Kellogg on IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE | Sara Ryan on ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN | Lisa Jane Persky on PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE | Adam Harrison Levy on BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES | Gerald Peary on CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON | Susannah Breslin on A CLOCKWORK ORANGE | Seth on WAR OF THE WORLDS | James Hannaham on GOJIRA/GODZILLA | Lydia Millet on VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED | Matthew Daniel on FANTASTIC VOYAGE | Shawn Wolfe on ROLLERBALL | Erin M. Routson on WESTWORLD | Marc Weidenbaum on COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT | Neil LaBute on 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA | Vicente Lozano on DAY OF THE DOLPHIN | Tom Roston on SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE | Katya Apekina on A BOY AND HIS DOG | Chelsey Johnson on THE BLOB | Heather Kapplow on SPACE IS THE PLACE | Brian Berger on THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS | Anthony Miller on THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL.
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