Senior HTF Member
- May 9, 2003
CAPRICORN ONE: SPECIAL EDITION
Original Release: 1978 (via Warner Bros.)
Length: 2 hours 3 mins
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Rating: PG (Some mild language, Telly Savalas)
Release Date: October 14, 2008
Rating: 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.
VIDEO QUALITY: 3/5 :star: :star: :star:
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.
AUDIO QUALITY: 2 ½/5 :star: :star: 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.
SPECIAL FEATURES: 3/5 :star: :star: :star:
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.
October 13, 2008.