Outland (1981)

Outland (1981)

Synopsis:

In the near future, a Federal Marshal, William O’Niel (Sean Connery, Dr. No), is in charged of security on a titanium mining colony located on one of Jupiter’s moons. After mining workers start dying under mysterious circumstances, O’Niel discovers a connection between the deaths and the corporation that owns the mining facility. The company’s CEOs, nervous about O’Niel’s findings, send a group of assassins to silence the lawman. Since no one wants to get involved, O’Niel alone must confront the hired killers.

Reaction & Thoughts:

In spite of a futuristic setting and a brooding, noirish atmosphere, this is essentially a western in out of space. Outland has been aptly compared with Fred Zinnemann’s 1952 classic High Noon. The film also has elements from other classic westerns, specifically Howard Hawks’s 1959 masterpiece Rio Bravo.

Peter Hyams (Capricorn One and 2010: The Year We Make Contact), who wrote and directed the movie, clearly knows his western motifs. I enjoyed how he blended aspects of a classic western with post-Watergate angst — Outland is a sci-fi-western-noir hybrid with an appealing anti-establishment streak to boot. The script is a bit bland — I would have loved to see more of O’Niel’s internal moral/existential struggle — but this turned out better than I expected.

Ridley Scott’s Alien clearly inspired the film too. You can see the Alien influence in the art-direction and costumes. Outland has the same messy, dilapidated look — the antithesis of the antiseptic interpretation of the future — that Scott’s 1979 movie made popular. John Mollo (Star Wars and Gandhi) designed the space suits in both this film and Alien. Mollo is not the only person who worked on both films, though. Jerry Goldsmith (Star Trek: The Motion Picture) wrote the music for both Outland and Alien and the scores are very similar — I’m all for self-plagiarism. The pre-CGI visual effects have started to show their age, but they are still pretty good.

Connery is in top form here. The actor was still trying to get rid of the Bond image. He plays a good, honest blue-collar man who is simply trying to do his job. The script is action-oriented, so the elaborate set-pieces overshadow Connery’s fine performance. But he is really good in the quieter moments and I enjoyed seeing him being genuinely scared and unsure of himself.

Frances Sternhagen (Misery) is a lot of fun as wisecracking Dr. Marian Lazarus. Her character seems to have been patterned after Walter Brennan’s role in Rio Bravo. Peter Boyle (Young Frankenstein) is sublimely good as Connery’s main adversary. The cast also includes James Sikking (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock) and John Ratzenberger (Cliff Clavin on the TV show Cheers).

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Strangely enough, Outland works better as a western than as science fiction opus. Fans of neo-noir should check it out too. Hyams is not the greatest of filmmakers, but he does a good job combining various genres. It’s very entertaining and Connery is an appealing hero. Color, 112 minutes, Rated R.

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5 responses to “Outland (1981)

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