The Groundstar Conspiracy is a dazzlingly brilliant thriller that somehow managed to get lost. Made by director Lamont Johnson under the auspices of Hal Roach through Universal Pictures, and based on L.P. Davies' novel The Alien, the movie is filled with memorable dialogue and compelling portrayals of characters caught -- some of them not even knowing how deeply or how innocently -- in a case of espionage, sabotage, and murder. The film was made before Watergate, yet it was filled with references to the obsessive secrecy and eavesdropping that characterized peoples' perceptions of the world in the wake of those revelations about secret White House tapes and other clandestine surveillance; in some ways, it even parallels elements of Francis Coppola's The Conversation. There are four excellent performances at the core, and from the standpoint of the DVD, a very fine sense of visual style. The movie was made in Panavision, and every part of the widescreen frame is utilized in virtually every shot, all lost in three decades of television screenings and on the pan-and-scan videotape edition. For that reason alone, the DVD release, which includes both the Panavision and pan-and-scan versions of the film, is well worth the $24.95 list price. Viewers can finally appreciate the brilliance of the film's production design, the juxtaposed environments of the slightly futuristic, top-security setting in which the hero (Michael Sarrazin) is held, the natural setting to which he escapes with innocent bystander Christine Belford, and the mysterious dreams that haunt him. The plot is filled with layer upon layer of deception, many of which it would be unfair to reveal. An explosion destroys a top-secret government project called Groundstar, killing all but one man, John Welles (Sarrazin), who is identified as the saboteur and who is hideously disfigured by the blast. Welles is saved, and his face is also reconstructed, but he is unable to remember who he is or who he was working for, or even what he did, as he is subjected to merciless interrogation, including shock treatments, by security chief George Peppard (who is so dedicated to his job that he taps his own phone). But Welles escapes (or does he?), only to find himself pursued by both the government and the spies, both of whom want him dead, and he is forced to hide out with the only person he does remember, the woman (Christine Belford) at whose house his bloody, maimed figure appeared after the explosion. Together, with both sides closing in, they try and figure out who Welles is and who he was working for and why he is haunted by strange dreams of water and death. Sarrazin gives one the best performances of his career as a man who is by turns desperate to survive yet ridden with guilt over what he seems to have done, and his work is matched by Belford and Peppard. Belford, in particular, has a memorable breakdown scene near the end when she realizes how her privacy has been violated. The film-to-video transfer on the letterboxed version is stunning (to top off the complexities of plot and characterization, one gets gorgeous views of Vancouver, B.C.). The disc also includes an exciting and very effective trailer (also letterboxed), and the remastered pan-and-scan (i.e. full-frame) version of the film, which looks splendid but misses the richness of the production design; there are so many close-ups in the movie, that it seems artificially tight and claustrophobic in full-frame. The sound mix (identical on both versions), apart from some muting in the early outdoor scenes, is also very crisp and lively; in a movie where every sound and sight may be photographed, taped, and analyzed in the course of the plot, this is a very important element.Filmed in Canada, The Groundstar Conspiracy was adapted from L.P. Davies' novel The Alien. Michael Sarrazin plays a research scientist who is the sole survivor when his secret laboratory in Vancouver is destroyed by an explosion. Assuming that Sarrazin has engineered the explosion so that he can escape with vital space-program secrets, the government dispatches special-agent George Peppard to track down the fugitive scientist. Sarrazin can remember nothing that happened before the tragedy, but Peppard doesn't buy this story. Only when it becomes obvious that Sarrazin has been targeted for assassination by Persons Unknown does Peppard believe in Sarrazin's innocence, and that a sinister conspiracy may be at the bottom of this whole affair. Christine Belford co-stars as a reluctant cohort of Sarrazin's, though she may not be all that she seems either. Groundstar Conspiracy was produced by the Hal Roach company.