What if Elon Musk Faked a Mars landing? As the battle over misinformation is waged in cyberspace, the idea of fringe conspiracy theories involving space travel can easily gain a foothold in the mainstream. Since 1976, twisted claims that we never actually landed on the moon have crept into the zeitgeist in a myriad of ways. And one film — released early in Japan in December 1977 — inadvertently helped ignite casual belief in space-based conspiracy theories. Here’s why Capricorn one it’s actually a pretty good movie.
The premise of Capricorn one is essentially the outer space version of Wag the dog (1997). In the film, NASA has successfully landed on the moon but cannot safely send astronauts to Mars. However, failure by the public would mean the loss of all their funding. So NASA, in cooperation with the media, decides to fake it.
The film isn’t exactly a comedy like the wrong conflict Wag the dog was twenty years later, however Capricorn one is also no drama. If there’s one thing that’s troubling, it’s easy to find many places that make you wonder what exactly it’s trying to say. It’s not super-on-the-nose satire like the classic Mr Show Sketch “Blow Up the Moon” or Adam McKay’s proactive film 2021 Don’t look up.
Instead of this, Capricorn one plays with a kind of deep post-Nixon cynicism for everything the US did, regardless of political affiliation. As director Peter Hynes famously said, the purpose of the film was to dispel the knee-jerk belief that whatever one sees on TV is automatically real. “I grew up in the generation where my parents basically believed if it was in the paper it was true,” he said Rich in 2014. “That turned out to be bullshit. My generation was raised to believe that TV was true, and that was bullshit too. So I looked at these simulations and wondered what would happen if someone faked an entire story.”
As a thought experiment, Capricorn one feels delightfully transgressive, exciting and ultimately a product of its time. Had passionate anti-science and anti-NASA sentiment not caught on with other conspiracy theories, Capricorn one maybe better remembered.
There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that all NASA moon landings have taken place and there is no real reason to believe anything was faked for political reasons. But it is possible that because Capricorn one moderately successful, the foundation of the Moon-True belief flourished in the decades that followed. Capricorn one was the biggest independent film of 1978 (the year of its broader release). It wasn’t a huge blockbuster, but its impact is probably bigger than anyone realized at the time.
Capricorn one was a unique 1970s science fiction film that suggested that the true events were actually science fiction. It posits a suspicious worldview and skepticism that is both artful and exciting. The only reason it’s not a classic is that trolls essentially hijacked its premise and saw this fiction as a kind of blueprint for conspiracy theories. The “What if?” questions in science fiction can be amazing. But the accidental cautionary tale of Capricorn one is to remember that the answer to the “What if?” question doesn’t always have to be a complex cover-up.
Funnily enough, if you google the release date of Capricorn One, the inconsistent dates might make you think the film itself is a hoax. Although Google believes the film was released on December 17, 1977, there is no evidence that this was the case. Instead, the US release date was June 2, 1978. The Japanese release date, December 10, 1977, was the earliest it was released in theaters, but despite internet claims to the contrary, the film did not come out on December 17 . 1977.
See, Capricorn one is right – you can’t trust everything you see and read, sometimes it’s wrong!
Capricorn one streams for free on Peacock, Tubi and Pluto.