Capricorn One (1978)

PG | 127 mins | Drama | 2 June 1978

Director:

Peter Hyams

Writer:

Peter Hyams

Cinematographer:

Bill Butler

Editor:

James Mitchell

Production Designer:

Albert Brenner
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HISTORY

Amid a surge in Hollywood science-fiction projects, director and writer Peter Hyams was adamant in a 30 Jan 1977 LAT article that Capricorn One did not belong to that genre, but was a thriller about the real-life influence of government and media, particularly television, over the public’s impression of events. In a 28 May 1978 NYT feature, he elaborated on the development of the screenplay, which was written in 1972 during his time as a journalist for CBS-TV. While reporting on the Apollo operation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Hyams became intrigued with the idea of how easy it would be to fake an event in space since it only required one camera and few witnesses. However, none of the Hollywood studios were interested in a screenplay about a NASA hoax until the White House’s Watergate cover-up was exposed. The scandal made the story of manipulation by a government agency appear more believable. Although Watergate was not a direct inspiration, Hyams stated that he recognized the connection between his character of “Kelloway” and the misguided idealism of real-life Watergate “master plumber” Egil Krogh. Both chose to compromise ethics, justifying their actions due to patriotic fervor and pride in their agencies. In the wake of Watergate, the project quickly became a reality during what Hyams described in a 30 Jan 1977 LAT article as a five-minute meeting with Sir Lew Grade of Associated General Films, which promised a simpler producing arrangement without input from multiple studio executives.
       As noted in the 30 Jan 1977 LAT, there were many, early discussions about ... More Less

Amid a surge in Hollywood science-fiction projects, director and writer Peter Hyams was adamant in a 30 Jan 1977 LAT article that Capricorn One did not belong to that genre, but was a thriller about the real-life influence of government and media, particularly television, over the public’s impression of events. In a 28 May 1978 NYT feature, he elaborated on the development of the screenplay, which was written in 1972 during his time as a journalist for CBS-TV. While reporting on the Apollo operation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Hyams became intrigued with the idea of how easy it would be to fake an event in space since it only required one camera and few witnesses. However, none of the Hollywood studios were interested in a screenplay about a NASA hoax until the White House’s Watergate cover-up was exposed. The scandal made the story of manipulation by a government agency appear more believable. Although Watergate was not a direct inspiration, Hyams stated that he recognized the connection between his character of “Kelloway” and the misguided idealism of real-life Watergate “master plumber” Egil Krogh. Both chose to compromise ethics, justifying their actions due to patriotic fervor and pride in their agencies. In the wake of Watergate, the project quickly became a reality during what Hyams described in a 30 Jan 1977 LAT article as a five-minute meeting with Sir Lew Grade of Associated General Films, which promised a simpler producing arrangement without input from multiple studio executives.
       As noted in the 30 Jan 1977 LAT, there were many, early discussions about casting Dustin Hoffman as reporter “Robert Caulfield,” but in 1976 Hoffman was starring in All the President’s Men (see entry), and producer Paul Lazarus refused to even approach him about the more marginal role in Capricorn One. For the lead astronaut “Charles Brubaker,” Associated General Films suggested Paul Newman and Charles Bronson, but the part eventually was given to James Brolin, a popular actor from television. Brolin’s involvement, along with sports star O.J. Simpson, helped to secure television rights in advance from NBC. A 23 Dec 1976 DV brief noted that because of a scheduling conflict Candice Bergen was no longer in the cast.
       According to a 13 Oct 1976 LAT piece, Lazarus predicted the story would capitalize on the public’s skepticism about NASA, evident in a Gallup poll that reported 28% of Americans thought the space missions were invented. Despite the script’s critical commentary about the agency’s leadership, NASA cooperated with the filmmakers, as explained in a 30 Jan 1977 LAT article and in the production notes. Together with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, NASA advised production designer Al Brenner on the look of the Mars surface, which was more discernible thanks to recent photographs transmitted from the Viking missions. The production duplicated the dimensions of a NASA landing module and donated it to the Smithsonian Institute after filming wrapped. For the command module, the production borrowed a real one from NASA. Lazarus claimed in a 19 Mar 1977 HR article that Houston’s mission control was the most extensive set built for the film, complete with handmade consoles and a lighting system rigged into the ceiling to minimize set-up time between shots. Lazarus kept the scenery off-limits to other projects until after the film’s release.
       Filming dates were cited as 3 Jan 1977 through 22 Feb 1977 in a shooting schedule, dated 8 Dec 1976 in the AMPAS clipping file. The production notes listed the general locations as the soundstages at CBS Studio Center in Studio City, CA where the Mars surface and mission control were assembled, the Los Angeles area, the Mojave Desert and Red Rock Canyon in California. The shooting schedule planned for the following locations around Los Angeles: Veterans’ Cemetery, Beverly Hills High School, Woodley Park, Compact Video in Burbank, Magnavox City appliance store in West Los Angeles and the West Los Angeles police station. The Brubaker House was located at 12075 Valleyheart Drive in Studio City, CA. The desert locations on the schedule were Cantil, CA for the crop-dusting barn and field, the airport, fire department and sports arena in California City, CA and Rosamond Lake, White’s Café and Frontier Liquor in the Mojave Desert.
       In a 28 May 1978 NYT article, Hyams related how preview audiences in several cities began standing and cheering during the same moment of the climax, involving the mid-air chase between two helicopters and a bi-plane. He referred to it as “‘one of the most dangerous sequences ever filmed.’” According to a Jul 1978 Los Angeles Magazine article, Frank Tallman, one of the film’s aerial coordinators and stunt pilots, who is credited in the production notes with choreographing the chase, died in a plane crash before the film was released.
       The production budget was cited as $4.5 million in a 14 July 1978 LAT article and $5 million in a 30 Jan 1977 LAT article. According to a 14 Feb 1978 HR article, the distributor Warner Bros., Inc. estimated $5 million for advertising. A 8 Jan 1979 DV article reported that Capricorn One was the only independently financed film, distributed by a major company, to earn more than $10 million in domestic rentals for the year 1978.
       A 9 Oct 2001 HR article announced that Fox Television Pictures and Carlton America were planning a remake of Capricorn One for television, and in a 5 Jun 2008 DV brief, John Moore was mentioned as the director of a remake for New Regency Productions. No other information was available in the production file regarding the status of these proposed remakes.
       End credits “gratefully acknowledge” the following organizations: “Ridgecrest Resource Area of The Bureau of Land Management of The United States Department of the Interior; Datsun cars supplied by Nissan Motor Corporation in U.S.A.; Television sets courtesy of General Electric Company; Aerial photographic equipment furnished by Continental Camera Systems, Inc.; Grove Manufacturing Company/Santa Fe Equipment Company; Raytheon Data Systems, Inc.; Tallmantz Aviation; Worldstage Division of Intercontinental Satellite Network, Inc.; Western Helicopter, Inc.; Pacific Telephone Company; Birtcher Corporation; Lear Jet furnished by Clay Lacy Aviation/Gates Aviation; cars supplied by Cadillac Motor Division; Miss Vaccaro's reading of Fox in Socks presented by special arrangement with Dr. Seuss, Fox in Socks copyright © 1965 by Dr. Seuss." More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
13 Dec 1976.
---
Daily Variety
14 Dec 1976.
---
Daily Variety
23 Dec 1976.
---
Daily Variety
8 Jan 1979
p. 1, 30.
Daily Variety
5 Jun 2008.
---
Hollywood Reporter
19 Mar 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
14 Feb 1978
p. 1, 4.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Jun 1978
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Oct 2001
p. 15, 72.
LAHExam
21 Jan 1977.
---
Los Angeles Magazine
Jul 1978.
---
Los Angeles Times
13 Oct 1976.
---
Los Angeles Times
30 Jan 1977
Calendar, p.36.
Los Angeles Times
2 Jun 1978
p. 24.
Los Angeles Times
14 Jul 1978.
Section IV.
New York Times
28 May 1978.
---
New York Times
2 Jun 1978
p. 8.
Variety
7 Jun 1978
p. 25.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Sir Lew Grade Presents
For Associated General Films
A Lazarus/Hyams Production of
A Peter Hyams Film
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
1st asst cam op
2d asst cam op
Aerial cam op
Asst aerial cam op
Elec best boy
Key grip
Best boy grip
Still photog
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Asst art dir
Prod illustrator
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Assoc film ed
Asst film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Const coord
Prop master
2d prop man
Leadman
Swing gang
COSTUMES
Cost des
Cost number 1
SOUND
Sd mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Boom man
Sd eff ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Key spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Video coord
Miniature coord
Title des
Opticals and processing by
Spec visual eff by
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Casting
Scr supv
Aerial coord/Cam helicopter pilot
Aerial coord/Stearman pilot
Helicopter pilot
Helicopter pilot
Lear jet pilot
Transportation coord
Transportation co-capt
Transportation co-capt
Prod auditor
Bookkeeper
Directors Guild trainee
American Film Institute intern
Craft serviceman
Secy to prod/dir
Prod secy
STAND INS
Stunt coord
DETAILS
Release Date:
2 June 1978
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 2 June 1978
New York opening: week of 2 June 1978
Production Date:
3 January--22 February 1977
Copyright Claimant:
Capricorn One Associates
Copyright Date:
5 March 1979
Copyright Number:
PA28188
Physical Properties:
Lenses
Filmed in Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
127
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
25000
SYNOPSIS

At Cape Canaveral, Florida on the morning of 4 Jan, NASA readies the spacecraft Capricorn One, the first manned mission to Mars, for launch. As the Command pilot Charles Brubaker and his fellow astronauts, Peter Willis and John Walker, are performing final checks inside the capsule, an official opens the hatch and demands that they leave the craft immediately due to an emergency. From the launch site, they are flown on a NASA Learjet to an abandoned military base in the desert. Meanwhile, the spacecraft is launched, and the control room in Houston, Texas is not aware that it is unmanned. At the base, the director of NASA, Dr. James Kelloway, explains to the astronauts that the life-support system, supplied by a greedy contractor, was recently discovered to be faulty, and it would have only kept them alive for three weeks. However, aborting the mission would destroy NASA’s reputation and funding, considering the skepticism for space exploration within the current administration, as well as the waning interest among the public. To reveal the only available solution, Kelloway takes the three astronauts into the warehouse where a set has been built of a space capsule on the Mars surface. He says that mission control in Houston knows nothing of this staging because they are receiving information from the real command module in space, as well as the astronauts’ voice and medical data recorded during the practice simulations. Kelloway assures the three men that they are only required to participate in the live television transmissions from the Mars landing and flight. When the module returns to Earth, they will be flown ... +


At Cape Canaveral, Florida on the morning of 4 Jan, NASA readies the spacecraft Capricorn One, the first manned mission to Mars, for launch. As the Command pilot Charles Brubaker and his fellow astronauts, Peter Willis and John Walker, are performing final checks inside the capsule, an official opens the hatch and demands that they leave the craft immediately due to an emergency. From the launch site, they are flown on a NASA Learjet to an abandoned military base in the desert. Meanwhile, the spacecraft is launched, and the control room in Houston, Texas is not aware that it is unmanned. At the base, the director of NASA, Dr. James Kelloway, explains to the astronauts that the life-support system, supplied by a greedy contractor, was recently discovered to be faulty, and it would have only kept them alive for three weeks. However, aborting the mission would destroy NASA’s reputation and funding, considering the skepticism for space exploration within the current administration, as well as the waning interest among the public. To reveal the only available solution, Kelloway takes the three astronauts into the warehouse where a set has been built of a space capsule on the Mars surface. He says that mission control in Houston knows nothing of this staging because they are receiving information from the real command module in space, as well as the astronauts’ voice and medical data recorded during the practice simulations. Kelloway assures the three men that they are only required to participate in the live television transmissions from the Mars landing and flight. When the module returns to Earth, they will be flown to the ocean landing and placed inside the capsule before the recovery vessel arrives. Charles protests the morality of the scheme and asks what happens if they don’t comply. Blaming powerful interests, Kelloway clarifies that their families are being flown back to Houston on a plane rigged with an explosive device that will detonate if the astronauts refuse to cooperate. On 16 Mar, Elliot Whitter, a technician at mission control in Houston, notifies his superior Dr. Bergen that the television signals from Capricorn One are coming in ahead of the spacecraft signals. Dr. Bergen assures him that his console, which has malfunctioned previously, will be checked. Not satisfied, Elliot continues to research the data at home. On 14 May, while Houston mission control receives communication from Capricorn One that they have landed on Mars, Elliot asks Kelloway about the unusual transmission problem. Kelloway pretends to be grateful for his diligence, but dismisses his findings as a failure with the console. As the public watches on television, the astronauts take their first steps on Mars. Later during a game of pool, Elliot complains to his friend Robert Caulfield, a newspaper reporter who covers NASA, that his calculation must be wrong because it indicates that the television signals from the spacecraft are no more than 300 miles away. Their conversation is interrupted when Robert receives an unnecessary telephone call at the bar. When he returns to the pool table, Elliot is no longer there. On the Mars set, while Charles declares to Peter and John that he will not lie to his wife during tomorrow’s broadcast, a technician overhears and warns Kelloway. In their final communication before landing, the astronauts speak to their wives from the capsule. At mission control, Kelloway observes closely and is ready to pull the signal if Charles tries to expose the plot. Although he hesitates at first, Charles simply tells Kay that he is going to take their son to Yosemite again as they did last summer. Upon learning that Elliot’s phone has been disconnected, Robert arrives at his apartment to discover that someone else now occupies it, and there are no traces of Elliot. When Robert drives away, the brakes on his car fail, and he is unable to stop as the vehicle picks up speed through the streets. However, he manages to survive the plunge when the car careens off a bridge into the water. On 19 Sept, Charles, Peter and John are on board the Learjet flying to the capsule’s landing site in the ocean. Meanwhile at mission control in Houston, technicians receive an alert that the heat shields of the capsule have disintegrated during reentry, causing the immediate deaths of the astronauts. Charles, Peter and John are returned to the military base in the desert, and Charles suspects that there must have been a problem with the reentry, which means they are now considered deceased. He proposes they leave the compound at once. They subdue Kelloway’s men and seize the Learjet. Soon after takeoff, the plane runs out of fuel, and Charles must make an emergency landing in the desert. After divvying up the survival kit, the three astronauts begin walking in different directions to seek help. Charles instructs his colleagues to fire their flare gun if Kelloway’s men capture them. Back in Houston, Robert replays footage of the astronauts’ conversations with their wives and notices a confused look on Kay’s face when Charles mentioned Yosemite. Later, she explains to Robert that Charles made a simple mistake. Their family vacation last year was not in Yosemite, but Flat Rock, Arizona. Meanwhile, Kelloway’s helicopters discover the abandoned Learjet and begin a search for the astronauts, who are now showing signs of exhaustion and dehydration. Charles avoids detection by hiding in the sand and later in a cave, but the helicopters corner John, who has collapsed in a dry riverbed. Charles and Peter spot his flare signal. In the ghost town of Flat Rock, a gunshot is fired in Robert’s direction as a warning to end his investigation, but he returns to question Kay further, convinced that Charles was trying to tell her something when he referred to their vacation. Kay shows him home movies from their Flat Rock trip, which documents a film being shot in the town, and she remembers that Charles was amazed how the filmmakers could so convincingly create reality. Back in the desert, Peter struggles to climb a cliff only to have the helicopters waiting for him at the top. Charles notices his flare, and Kelloway now instructs the helicopter pilots to focus the search west, in Charles’ direction. Based on the research of his colleague, Judy Drinkwater, Robert drives to the desert to investigate the facility of Jackson, the only abandoned military base within a 300-mile radius of Houston. There, he finds a pendant with the inscription, “Bru from Kay.” At a crop dusting company, Robert hires Albain to fly him over the desert to search for Charles. Meanwhile, Charles staggers to a deserted gas station and telephones Kay, who has just left the house with the children to attend the memorial service for the astronauts. Albain and Robert spot Kelloway’s helicopters near the gas station and arrive just in time to rescue Charles, who hangs on to the wing of the bi-plane. In a midair pursuit, Albain is able to evade Kelloway’s men by blinding the helicopters with crop dusting spray, which causes them to crash into the cliffs. Charles and Robert arrive at the memorial service in Houston while the President of the United States is speaking. Charles runs to the tent where Kay and the others are sitting. Everyone, along with the television cameras, turns to look in disbelief. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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