Outland [Blu-ray] (1981)

Actors: Sean Connery, Peter Boyle, Frances Sternhagen, James B. Sikking, John Ratzenberger
Director: Peter Hyams
Writers: Peter Hyams, Stanley O'toole, Richard A. Roth
Format: NTSC, Original recording remastered, Widescreen
Language: English
Region: Region A/1
Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
Number of discs: 1
Rated: R (Restricted)
Studio: Warner Home Video
DVD Release Date: July 10, 2012
Run Time: 112 minutes




Upon its release Outland was derided as “High Noon in space.” Watching it today one realizes that it is actually “Alien, but without the alien.”

Made a few years after the huge financial success of Alien, one can easily see Outland being set in the same fictional universe as Ridley Scott’s influential 1979 movie. (One tagline for Outland even riffed on Alien. “Even in space, the ultimate enemy is man,” it declared.) It has a similar aesthetic in that its production designs, music and costumes recreates the same “workingman in space” vibe as Alien did a few years before. It should come as no surprise that two major talents who worked on Alien also worked on Outland, namely John Mollo (costume designs) and Jerry Goldsmith (soundtrack music).

Set on a mining colony on Io, one of Jupiter’s moons, a new cop (Sean Connery) investigates several incidents involving an illegal drug that increases productivity, but later results in psychotic breakdown for the user. The mining colony’s head is on this illegal drug trade and he dispatches two professional contract killers who will arrive on the next inbound shuttle to dispose of the pesky lawman. Like in High Noon, the cop must face the hired killers on his own as no-one, not even his own deputies, is willing to help him.

In his book on science fiction, The Primal Screen, John Brosnan argued that Outland is a “fake” sci-fi movie meaning that if you stripped away its sci-fi trappings then you can still tell its story. Exchange “Io moon colony” with “oil-drilling rig” and “space shuttle” with “supply helicopter” and then you can still tell Outland’s basic story. Or, for that matter, exchange them with “Wild West frontier town” and “stagecoach” and you have, well, High Noon. . .

In his director’s commentary Peter Hyams admits that he had always wanted to make a Western but that no one let him. Although he mentions several “influences” in the commentary he doesn’t mention High Noon, the famous 1952 Western from which it stole its plot wholesale though.

Watching the movie today one can admire the competent albeit derivative production values. The movie has hardly aged, except probably in one important aspect: its lethargic pacing. Outland is simply on the slow and on dull side of things.

THE DISC: No special features except for a trailer and an audio commentary by Peter Hyams. The audio commentary is of interest, but there are loads of gaps and Hyams leaves many aspects of the production untouched.

Image and sound are however of the quality one would expect of the Blu-ray format and Outland’s high production values shines under the circumstances.

WORTH IT? Outland may be average and derivative, but has its strong points, namely an outstanding performance by Frances Sternhagen as a cynical company doctor (the role was originally written for a man) and some good production designs as well as Jerry Goldsmith’s “more Alien than Alien” score.

Interesting to note for science fiction fans are some scientific goofs that would become genre clichés in the years to follow such as heads exploding in the vacuum of space (see Total Recall) and selective gravity in that there are somehow zero gravity on the outside of the colony’s walls, but Earth-type gravity on the inside.

RECOMMENDATION: Worth a rental perhaps.mostly) brilliant Blu-ray image quality however makes up for this. In most scenes the movie looks damned good with some rich color and fine detail.  



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