By David Browne
Updated September 04, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT
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Capricorn One

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  • Movie

When it premiered in 1978, Capricorn One seemed to be just another product of post-Watergate wariness and skepticism. Shortly before the first manned landing on Mars, NASA uncovers a life-threatening glitch and, rather than suffer embarrassment, films the astronauts on a soundstage using a fake Martian surface. Played by James Brolin (pre-Streisand), Sam Waterston (pre-Law & Order), and O.J. Simpson (pre-slaughter), the astronauts become pawns of government officials eager to disguise the truth at any cost. The reporter who unravels the cover-up is a rumpled counterculture hero played by none other than rumpled movie-counterculture hero Elliott Gould.

Though Capricorn One will never make one of those stuffy AFI movie lists, the plot vrooms like a jettisoned space capsule, the dialogue is action-flick punchy, and Telly Savalas, of all people, comes to the rescue. And viewing it two decades later, you realize the movie unwittingly set the scene for a much broader cultural scenario. We now live in the age of fake: politicians who blatantly lie, MTV VJs who claim to be stoners yet are educated pros, and a TV series that’s turned the idea of distrusting government into a cottage industry. Few of us are shocked, since we accept that fabrications surround us and little in the world is real or authentic; even the spin has spin. For pointing the way to such a cynical sensibility, we must partly thank a movie costarring the Juice, who has done well himself by fudging the truth. Whether we like it or not, we are all the children of the ‘Corn.

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Capricorn One

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