I went through a really serious conspiracy movie phase – specifically a ’70s American movie phase – when I was in my early 20s and that’s probably why this movie was on my list. But in the ensuing years I not only stopped drinking the conspiracy theory koolaid personally, but I have also begun to find conspiracy theory movies, where “everyone” is in on it, to be flat out dumb. I guess because I no longer find them possible in real life, I have a harder time accepting fictional depictions of things which are, essentially, fictional. So when I sat down to watch this film about a Mars mission hoax, I worried I was in for a bad time.
To the filmmakers credit, it’s not an “everyone is in on it” conspiracy, and it’s not even of the Ascension variety, where the execution of the conspiracy would require basically as much in the way of resources as actually conducting the space mission. So that’s something.
And they do try to make it realistic, at least in 1977 terms. (Some) Characters are relatively fully formed – as you would expect from an American film in the 1970s – and the way in which the conspiracy is executed -though sort of pathetic in terms of the elaborateness 21st century conspiracy theories – is at least actually physically feasible, even if it is preposterous in terms of human behaviour.
But there are a lot of things that don’t ring true. Here are some examples:
- Why does one of the scientists have a bible and insist it be sent to space? He’s a scientist!
- Why is a contractor’s profit motives the reason to scuttle the space program? Wouldn’t NASA have done better QA?
- Why do the astronauts continue to agree to go along with the plot after the spouses are off the plane?
- Why is one of the many experts at NASA treated as an idiot when he discovers a problem? (Well, they sort of explain that one.)
- Why doesn’t Gould’s character just turn off his car when his brakes are cut? (Apparently you can’t actually stop the car when the break lines are cut. But couldn’t you slow it down or at least take your foot off the gas?)
- (Also, the editor-reporter exchange is kind of dumb.)
- (And obviously the scene with the wives is physically impossible.)
But the thing that is most confusing for me is why they didn’t make this about the Moon landing. There were already plenty of kooks that believed it was fake at this point so why not fully embrace that nonsense instead of basing this particular conspiracy in the actual world in which the Moon landings took place? I guess this is a way of adding realism to what is an unrealistic premise, but given that the movie also feels as though it is trying to be an allegory for a Moon landing conspiracy, it certainly feels like an odd decision.
And the plot gets more and more ridiculous as it goes on, as the attempts to discredit Gould’s character are far more absurd than the initial conspiracy.
Regardless, the film is competent and is arguably superior to many of the All Star Cast American films of the 1970s, so many of which are utter disasters.
6/10 I guess