This is a gem of a thriller from the late 70’s that has conspiracy over tones right the way through. It was very contemporary for it’s time with a fine cast that could easily have been a whose-who guide of American character actors and actresses of that day, indeed many of them are still currently active in Hollywood. Although I did say contemporary, the Apollo space program had been wound up some 5 years earlier and the space shuttle was still a few years away from getting off the ground. However, after Watergate, the loss in Vietnam and a failing economy a cynical American public were probably ready to believe that the Apollo space program was nothing but a hoax!
Many people believe that the Vietnam war was fought primarily to feed the America’s huge military industrial complex. Massive government spending was required to keep it going, so what better than a war! Going further, critics say that NASA’s Apollo space program which was also known as “the space race” was also politically motivated and just part of the cold war shenanigans. Get to the moon before the soviets to prove who had the best economic and political system as well as creating a feel good factor in the country. NASA was also a large part of the military budget which ran into millions of dollars which many thought was far too much, particularly that there were more pressing economic and social problems at the time at home.
After getting off to a slow start the USA eventually got the better of the USSR and landed men on the moon in 1969. Yet, conspiracy theorists suggest that the moon landings were staged in a studio. They say that the USA simply did not have the technology back in the 1960’s to have landed on the moon. Why did they do it? Probably for political purposes too. President Kennedy in 1962 predicted that they would send a man to the moon by the end of the decade and thus keep the USA ahead in the space race. In addition other benefactors of the space program thanks to congress and their ability to appropriate funds provided by the tax payers were the large corporations and their shareholders.
The movie itself is entertaining and the only thing wrong are some of the obvious plot holes that leave more questions than answers. For example the three man crew are hauled off the rocket minutes before it’s launch and are then coerced into going along with fake the Mars landing after threats are made against their families. Of course a complicate crew would be vital with such a stunt, but one wonders why the conspirators would not have got volunteers or willing participants to be the crew? It would not be too difficult to find volunteers for the right price! Let’s face it if the moon landings were fake, surly they are not saying that all the Apollo astronauts went on their missions under duress!
Also, there is a major mistake when the conscientious engineer (Robert Walden)who tells his superiors that his data from his console indicates that the astronauts transmission seemed to be coming in from only 200 miles away rather than way out in outer space. Wouldn’t he have discussed this with his other co-workers and wouldn’t this obvious oversight have been discovered by other engineers too? While playing pool in a crowded bar he just simply disappears, with no record of him ever working at NASA and never ever living in his apartment! What about his mum and dad, neighbors, friends and co workers, they all couldn’t have been in on it? Be that as it may, they get rid of him effortlessly but then they struggle to get rid of Caulfield (Elliot Gould). This third rate reporter was eventually able give them the slip and carry on with his investigation.
Aother problem is that it is unclear how many people that are involved and how deep it goes? Initially Dr Kelloway (brilliantly played by Hal Holbrooke) says that very few know about what they were doing. Then argues to the bemused astronauts that they have to go along, that things are too big it’s out of control, there are too many large and powerful forces that simply have too much to loose if the mission is canceled. I counted about 15 people including the technicians at the studio, Helicopter and jet pilots and presumably CIA or FBI agents. Did they have to take more people into their confidence after Brubaker (James Brolin) and his crew escaped from the sound stage? It’s also not clear if congressman Hollis or the general knows about the fake landing nor the need to kill the astronauts after the heat shield failed on re-entry, although it implies it!
All in all an entertaining movie with great dialog, plenty of tension and paranoia. A Great opening monologue from Hal Holbrooke, in fact its just worth watching it for that if nothing else! Superb cinema photography, great sound track and music score from Jerry Goldsmith. If you can ignore the obvious faults it’s not a bad watch at all. I would highly recommend this movie!