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HTF DVD REVIEW: Capricorn One: Special Edition - Recommended



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#1 of 16 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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Posted October 13 2008 - 12:23 PM




 

CAPRICORN ONE:  SPECIAL EDITION


Studio: Lionsgate
Original Release: 1978 (via Warner Bros.)
Length: 2 hours 3 mins
Genre: Thriller

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Color/B&W: Color

Audio:


  • English Dolby Digital 5.1
    • English Dolby Digital 2.0



      Subtitles: English, Spanish
      Rating: PG (Some mild language, Telly Savalas)


      htf_imgcache_882.gif htf_imgcache_883.gif




 

Release Date: October 14, 2008

Rating:
3 htf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gif


Starring: Elliott Gould, James Brolin, Brenda Vaccaro, Sam Waterston, O.J. Simpson and Hal Holbrook, with special appearances by Karen Black and Telly Savalas

Written & Directed by: Peter Hyams





Capricorn One is a film I had the pleasure to see in the theatre when it was first released back in 1978, and it still holds a nostalgic place for me. Born from a strain of 1970’s government conspiracy thrillers, this film is based on one of the more paranoid conspiracy theories around: that the 1969 Moon landing was somehow a hoax. In this case, the story is that a 1978 Mars landing is similarly faked, and when the situation turns bad, the governmental agency tries to eliminate the astronauts before they can tell anyone what really happened. There’s no pretension here toward great art – just a solid thriller with a ready cast (especially Sam Waterston and the erstwhile Hal Holbrook, while Telly Savalas nearly stills the movie with a brief appearance near the end). At the same time, there are some great shots here – particularly a cliff-scaling scene with Waterston and an opening sunset-for-sunrise gantry shot – and the movie has a muscular score by Jerry Goldsmith that holds up surprisingly well for its age. Watching the movie today, I’m struck by how outlandish the whole thing is, and how much fun the ride still is. If you’re looking for a diverting 70’s thriller with a solid cast from the time, with some great set pieces and a great Goldsmith score, Capricorn One is just the stuff for a movie night with popcorn.

Capricorn One was previously released around the dawn of DVD with a lower quality picture and sound transfer. In 2007, a Blu-ray edition was made available in Europe by Granada, including a much-improved picture transfer. The current edition also comes from Granada, although the U.S. distributor is Lionsgate. It appears to me that the current edition takes its picture transfer from the hi-def one used for the Blu-ray. I’m still comparing the releases (I have all three), but it’s logical, given that Granada is the source for both the new DVD and the Blu-ray. I do need to note that while the sound is definitely improved from the earlier DVD, with a lot of use of the surrounds for echoing and atmosphere, as well as Goldsmith’s score, there are still problems. An expository scene with Hal Holbrook on the Mars “set” is still just as fuzzy as the earlier SD release. At the same time, the new edition adds a scene-specific commentary by Peter Hyams, and an interesting featurette covering the background of the film, although not the production itself. There’s a lot of information included in both items, which, when added to the new transfer, earns this DVD a solid recommendation.

There will likely be viewers who will be turned off by the presence of O.J. Simpson in a supporting role. I can only say that his role is still relatively minor and that there are plenty of other elements here that will take far more of your attention. I admit he’s not the world’s greatest thespian (even Hyams admits this in his commentary), but his contribution here is relatively harmless.

htf_imgcache_884.gifVIDEO QUALITY: 3/5 htf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gif

Capricorn One is presented in an anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer that is a marked improvement over the original transfer seen on DVD more than ten years ago. A lot more detail can be seen, the print is cleaner, and the images are much stronger. (It’s truly a pleasure to see this film in a much greater glory than either watching the old transfer in a little box on a big screen or zooming it with horrifying results.) If you already have the older DVD, you absolutely should replace it with this one for the transfer alone.

htf_imgcache_884.gifAUDIO QUALITY: 2 ½/5 htf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gif ½

Capricorn One is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 English mix that uses the surround channels pretty well for echoes and atmospheric effects as well as music, but is still hampered by the same source problems as the original mix from ten years ago. As I mentioned, there are still scenes that are as fuzzy as they were before – I can only think that there may not be an ability to reassemble the sound elements without the fuzz, which is disappointing. A Dolby Digital 2.0 mix is also available in English.

htf_imgcache_884.gifSPECIAL FEATURES: 3/5 htf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gifhtf_images_smilies_star.gif

Capricorn One has a new scene-specific commentary with Peter Hyams and a nearly 20 minute featurette, along with a copy of the film’s theatrical trailer.



  • Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Peter Hyams - Peter Hyams provides a new commentary for the film, saying as he watches it with us that he hasn’t seen the film since it was released in 1978. The commentary can be a bit dry in spots, but if you’re a fan of the film, and/or are pretty well versed in 70’s cinema, it’s quite rewarding. Hyams confirms that this is a new commentary when he discusses seeing Holbrook in Into the Wild, and discusses a lot of the issues involved in making the film. He has a great story about a stray cat gracing the Mars “set” before he even got to film it. (Hint: Do NOT make your set look like a giant litterbox!) He tells great anecdotes about having worked with both of Streisand’s husbands, and both O.J. Simpson and Robert Blake. He discusses the logistics of having filmed much of the film in the Mojave Desert, and the fact that his major car chase sequence has only a single exterior shot in it. He discusses the cliff-scaling sequence with Waterston (who he describes as a much funnier actor than people normally see) as a chance to dramatically stage one of his favourite Henny Youngman jokes. He answers a question I’ve had for a while about how a plane’s landing gear falls into frame after the plane takes off in the same frame. (He had the other wheel mortared once the plane left the ground) So for me, this was a really worthwhile commentary. I do have two side issues with it, though. One, he misquotes the expository monologue he wrote for Hal Holbrook, neatly reversing one of the conceits of the speech. I can understand that one, since he’s admitting it’s been 30 years since he’s seen the film and his recall of everything else is pretty darn good. But I don’t understand Hyams saying that the whole idea of a NASA landing being a hoax was something he came up with entirely on his own while working as a reporter. That just doesn’t wash. There’s no way he could not have heard the various crazy theories about the moon landing, and yet Hyams does not acknowledge their existence until over an hour into the commentary, after he’s already taken ownership for the concept. That may be a bit of director’s enthusiasm for his own work, but I admit it does rankle me a bit. And that said, I still had a lot of fun listening to Hyams talk through the film. Granted, I’m already a fan of the film – but I have a feeling even a casual fan will get a lot from this track.
    • Flights of Fancy: The Politics and Paranoia of Capricorn One - (17:16, Anamorphic) – Produced by Charles de Lauzirika, this is a fairly comprehensive discussion of what inspired Hyams to do this film, consisting of interview footage of Hyams, along with Steven J. Ross of the USC History Department and Michael Shermer of Skeptic Magazine, intercut with scenes from the film and some historical footage. The “moon landing as hoax” conspiracy theory is discussed at length, including all three variations of it – that the mission never happened at all, that the mission got halfway but couldn’t land, or that the mission happened but the camera footage was faked. We also get to hear Buzz Aldrin’s response when confronted with someone insisting he faked the landing – he decked the man! There’s not much here about the making of the film, but there’s a lot of the material from which the film came, and the actual production information really comes from the commentary anyway. And on its own, this is a pretty good summary of the politics and the general culture from which the film emerged.
      • Theatrical Trailer - (3:08, Non-anamorphic) – The film’s theatrical trailer is included, in non-anamorphic format.


        Subtitles are available in English and Spanish for the feature but not for the “Flights of Fancy” featurette. A standard chapter menu is included for quick reference.


        IN THE END...

        Capricorn One finally gets a decent anamorphic transfer and some special features to boot. It’s easy for me to recommend this DVD on general principle, but it’s a lot easier when the picture is so much better than the prior standard-def DVD and there’s a full commentary to go with it. Fans of 70’s thrillers will enjoy this, as will fans of Peter Hyams films. For those who are sceptical, I recommend renting the film first and seeing if it’s to your liking. You may be surprised.


        Kevin Koster
        October 13, 2008.


#2 of 16 OFFLINE   Colin Jacobson

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Posted October 14 2008 - 06:54 AM

Wow - I didn't even know this DVD existed! (Lionsgate doesn't support our site. Posted Image) I'll have to give it a look! Thanks!
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#3 of 16 OFFLINE   Brent Avery

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Posted October 14 2008 - 09:56 AM

I was wondering how this stacks up against the UK Blu ray release. I bought a copy - not easy to find - and it looks pretty good. There is a comparison of the two over at DVD Beaver for those interested with screen shots. All I can say is, I am glad I bought the BD version.

#4 of 16 ONLINE   Bob Cashill

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Posted October 14 2008 - 10:45 AM

I don't see that much difference...

#5 of 16 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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Posted October 14 2008 - 12:31 PM

I have both. The Blu-ray has the 1080p transfer, of course. But it doesn't have the commentary or the featurette. And I believe the SD DVD has a better sound mix. (I have to recheck, but my recollection is that the Blu-ray has bizarre packaging regarding the picture and sound - it talks about a 4:3 picture!)

#6 of 16 OFFLINE   Dick

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Posted October 15 2008 - 05:10 AM

This film was meant to have a 2.2:1 ratio. What's with the 1.78? Even the crappy old Artisan DVD had a scope ratio.

#7 of 16 OFFLINE   Stephen_J_H

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Posted October 15 2008 - 05:58 AM

Go look at the comparison at DVD Beaver and read the review more closely. The AR is 2.35:1.
"My opinion is that (a) anyone who actually works in a video store and does not understand letterboxing has given up on life, and (b) any customer who prefers to have the sides of a movie hacked off should not be licensed to operate a video player."-- Roger Ebert

#8 of 16 OFFLINE   Lord Dalek

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Posted October 15 2008 - 07:40 AM

Since this was mixed in regular old 6-track stereo (IE: not Dolby) are there any directional effects in the front soundstage in terms of dialog?

#9 of 16 OFFLINE   James 'Tiger' Lee

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Posted October 15 2008 - 07:45 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Stephen_J_H
Go look at the comparison at DVD Beaver and read the review more closely. The AR is 2.35:1.

To be fair, the review does say 2.35:1 but the very top bit in the black box says 1.78:1

#10 of 16 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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Posted October 15 2008 - 07:54 AM

Sorry guys. You caught a typo. It is 2.35:1. I'm editing the black box.

And be aware, Hyams shot it for 2.35, as he discusses on the commentary.

Regarding directional effects, I didn't notice this so much on the front soundstage. Mostly just the echoing and other atmospheric effects from the surround channels. Like I said, the main thing that stuck out for me was the unfortunate fuzziness of some dialogue, particularly in the exchange with Hal Holbrook at the capsule and landscape set.

#11 of 16 OFFLINE   Harry-N

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Posted October 23 2008 - 11:47 AM

Thanks to the heads-up here, I ordered this online, figuring there wasn't a chance in heck of finding it in a B+M store. It arrived today, and a quick review of some images and sound reveal this to be a good upgrade from the old non-anamorphic DVD.

This was always one of my favorite titles from that era, and I'm happy to have a nice improvement in the DVD presentation.

Kevin, in his review above, mentions the sound problems remaining, and sure enough he's right. The scene with Holbrook explaining what they're trying to do in the mock-up room always had his lines (and some by the others in the scene) sounding very distorted. They still do, and I suspect that the source material is just that bad, with no option for clean-up.

It's always been that way, from old HBO showings, through home VHS versions, LaserDiscs, and now DVDs.

Harry
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#12 of 16 OFFLINE   Travis Brashear

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Posted October 23 2008 - 02:24 PM

Just a point for the uber-collectors out there: the new S.E. drops the teaser trailer from the original Artisan DVD. You'll want to keep ahold of it if you're obsessed with owning all available extras...
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#13 of 16 OFFLINE   Stephen_J_H

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Posted October 23 2008 - 02:28 PM

It would be very unusual to find a film from this period with 6 track sound consisting of 5 tracks across the front with a mono surround, as was the practice in the 50s and 60s. By this time, 6 track typically was a 4.2 track (L,C,R with 2 "baby booms").
"My opinion is that (a) anyone who actually works in a video store and does not understand letterboxing has given up on life, and (b) any customer who prefers to have the sides of a movie hacked off should not be licensed to operate a video player."-- Roger Ebert

#14 of 16 OFFLINE   Jeff Robertson

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Posted October 24 2008 - 03:36 AM

Hmmm...re-release of Capricorn One, eh? Maybe there's a chance of "The Arrival" being re-released also. I believe that is a Lionsgate property as well.

#15 of 16 OFFLINE   Bill Parisho

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Posted October 31 2008 - 10:01 AM

Nice review! Like you, I saw this film in the theaters in 1978. I liked the movie then and I still like the film. I think the best way to describe the movie is "a very silly and very exciting movie".

#16 of 16 OFFLINE   Lord Dalek

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Posted October 31 2008 - 03:37 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Stephen_J_H
It would be very unusual to find a film from this period with 6 track sound consisting of 5 tracks across the front with a mono surround, as was the practice in the 50s and 60s. By this time, 6 track typically was a 4.2 track (L,C,R with 2 "baby booms").
Capricorn One was one of the last major films to use old fashioned six track stereo (and the last from Warner Bros., which didn't start using Dolby on a regular basis until later into the year). Hyams' next picture Outland, would use Dolby.





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