Outland Blu-ray Review
Warner gives Outland a great transfer for its BD debut. We have an AVC encode that presents Hyams’ super-wide 2.40:1 image with clarity, depth and debris-free stability. We are lucky that Hyams likes to discuss his cinematography – he frequently acts his own DOP, camera operator, and always has a hefty hands-on approach to the lensing of his films – because he addresses many areas of the visual look of his movies in his accompanying commentaries. And this is no exception.
Just like The Relic, which I adore and reviewed some time back on BD, Outland is a very dark film at times. But, as with The Relic, there is no black crush going on. Peter Hyams loves to use shadow and frequently smothers most of his gloriously wide frame in intense swathes of inky blackness. Several pivotal moments are hunkered-down within such intensely moody atmospherics – O’ Neil first watching the video-message from Carol, and his subsequent searching of the cargo bay and food shipment locker – and I can understand why some viewers might find this sort of imagery frustrating. But this is precisely how it should look, folks. Very dark at times.
Contrast, therefore, has some work to do, and the transfer maintains its differential between light and dark keenly. The readouts pop from the shadows and the lights on the shuttle, and the surrounding star-fields really spark from the thick black of space. Whites do not bloom, although there are some vaguely fuzzy elements to them. The opening green digital information that tells us where we are and provides some technical data about the facility at Con-Am 27 is also a touch fuzzy around the edges. I would say this is down to the source.
Skin-tones are good and consistent. Some people look a little too weathered, especially Connery (all that golfing in the sun), but that’s down to themselves and not the transfer. Colours, across the board, are spot-on. This will never be thought of as being a particularly striking film when it comes to the spectrum, but it delivers were it counts with decent saturation of the thicker, more uniform hues, such as the orange glow of the leisure room where Sagan holds his hostage, the infra-red view through the target-scopes on the assassins’ weapons, and the dark green of the Con-Am 27 greenhouse, and with the warm, bright primaries that can leap out from the shadowy palette and manage to punctuate it with some considerable vibrancy. The blue uniforms of the Ionian cops, the various colour-coded space-suits and the heavy reds of the rock walls of the mine stand out well against the lived-in grime and squalor of Con-Am 27. Look at the facility logo on the wall – now that stands out with amazing splendour! The blood of exploding faces and bodies is nice and livid and deliciously “thick”, albeit Hyams only shows us the gory bits for split-seconds of impact. One body even vaporises in a dazzling red neon-laser show which has never looked this bright.
Detail is mostly excellent. We have marvellous facial texture and plenty of finite information to be found in the sets, themselves. Close-up imagery is well-worth perusing, and the distant stuff – such as people in the background of the crowded accommodation block, or the nightclub, or the superstructure of the mine – is far more vivid and revealing than I have ever seen it before. Look at the props and apparatus in the changing rooms, the pipes, hoses, nozzles and the plethora of buttons, switches and blinking lights – all clean and crisply presented. You can see material and loose threads – should you want to - and you can easily read what’s on those cool cloth patches and insignia that the Yanks love so much. There might be some slight shimmer on tracking shots of the mine-structure, but the model work looks fantastic, and its intricacy is a delight to behold.
Now, I will say that for a portion of the film, around two-thirds of the way through, the grain that has been mostly so lovely and even, suddenly becomes a lot smoother and although detail doesn’t appear to take too much of a bashing, it looks to me as though some noise reduction has taken place. For a while, and this can vary from shot to shot, the image seems softer. This is sure to be noticeable on bigger screens, and I wish that I could find my R2 DVD copy of the film to do a comparison and see if this is actually inherent to the source. Although I personally did not find this at all bothersome, there will be people out there who will spot this and cry out DNR! Yes. Maybe there’s a touch going on. But it is not that bad and doesn’t detract from what is, overall, a very rich and textured, nicely three-dimensional picture that suffers no edge enhancement, aliasing or banding.
This is a very fine and unmistakably film-like presentation that will please a great many people, but will also probably irk some who dislike the impenetrable shadows and the anamorphic peripheral softness, and expect the image to be pin-sharp at all times.
I was highly impressed with this, and it gets a strong 8 out of 10.
When the film was shown theatrically, Outland played certain cinemas with a 70mm print and with 6-Track Megasound audio. Although I can’t say for sure, I’m of the opinion that this DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix is sourced from that original mix.
Whilst some discrete effects are farmed out around the rear channels this is a design that revels far more in the grand sweep of a deeper, more engulfing aural environment. There isn’t especially much in the way of panning from channel to channel, but there is a definite sense of a fuller mix that makes use of the entire setup to create an involving environment.
Something I found to be particularly rewarding was the bass. The sub has some material to play with, and .LFE is appreciably deep and boasts some great moments of low-level thrumming – especially when the shuttle arrives, and certainly throughout many of Goldsmith’s deeper and more resonant cues. But something you should find very pleasing is that the soundfield feels spacious and wide. Roomy. So, not only does the image look wide and engrossing, but the audio feels and sounds it too.
I had no problems with the dialogue, but I’ve read that some other people have. I will say that there is a noticeable drop in volume during a couple of sequences, such as when Paul and his mother are talking in the O’ Neil living module near the start, but I’m of the opinion that this is just how it is. I didn’t have to reach for the volume control and, for the most part, dialogue is just fine. The film has a very matter-of-fact and frequently understated style of vocal exchanges. Barring the screaming from the deranged Sagan, this really isn’t a shouty sort of movie. Like the visuals, speech seems to be natural and immersed within the environment – again, a strategic decision from Hyams. And it is undeniable that general hubbub in the many crowded scenes comes across as credible and realistic. It doesn’t completely immerse you, but there is a wider, more involving sound to the scenes in the night-club or in the bustling accommodation honeycomb. And listen to the space-suit changing area where the miners get geared-up with Monsters Inc.-style helpers – the activity and voices certainly do reach around to the rear speakers.
Impacts can be very good. Gunshots and body-blows have some degree of power, though the bombast here will not be posing any sort of threat to the likes of The Expendables. The action does not sound overblown or boosted and is mostly limited to the frontal array, but it still sounds good to me. There is detail in the sound of hydraulic doors opening and closing. We can hear the rattle of steel-grills being shot-up. I like the realistically subdued thumping of gloved fists upon the super-thick sealed windows of the mine-elevator. Machinery, electronics and the clattering of pans and pots in the kitchen when Spota battles O’ Neil have some effective moments too. Again, it is not so much the quality of these more finite things – although there are some smaller details that benefit from surprising aural finesse – it is the depth of the overall soundfield that pleases.
And this very definitely stretches out to embrace Goldsmith’s score, which is a godsend. It may often be overlooked in the composer’s incredible canon of work, but this is a superb score with intense action set-pieces and a terrifically overbearing, almost crushing sense of suspenseful weight. The sequence in which O‘ Neil pursues Spota in that fantastic foot-chase that I discussed is an absolute standout cue. Starting off slowly with a measured metronomic rhythm, this gradually rises as the Marshal moves in and then explodes into a frenetic Stravinsky-like rush of exhilarating high energy that only proceeds to accelerate all the more with each new corner taken and bystander knocked over. There is clarity and force to the music that the track allows plenty of breathing room for. And then there is the wild synth dance/sex-tube music in the club, that Depeche Mode vogue, and this has enough sizzle and organic undulation to make 80’s kids like myself swoon.
Again, like the video transfer, this is impressive stuff. Another 8 out of 10.
Well, we do get a couple of things here. At long last, we can listen to Peter Hyams’ excellent thoughts and opinions about his Space-Western in a detailed, frank and highly informative Commentary Track. We learn about his much debated lighting techniques, his ideas about the story and its influences being Alien and High Noon. He discusses working with the God that is Sean Connery and the star’s unique charisma and talent. He tells us about how Peter Boyle simply never understood what the film or his character of Shepherd was all about … until he saw the premier and then hugged his director and thanked him for the opportunity. All the cast receive thorough and well-deserved praise for their contributions, and we learn the genesis of many of the characters’ names too.
Naturally, the production design, the special FX and the model/miniature get talked about, and Hyams never allows any of this stuff to get dry or too technical. He also gives away a few of his little secrets – such as the use of a little light-bulb on a stick, or a flashlight powered by a car-battery, or filming upside-down to help create a marvellously deceptive visual trick. He is also honest about his own failings, not least about how his original title for the film – Io – met with almost unanimous disdain.
This is a good track that is well worth listening to.
We also get the film’s original Theatrical Trailer, which shows far too much material to be honest. This isn’t the one that I recall being so enamoured with back when the movie first came out in the UK.
Well, as you can see, I adore this movie.
It hit me at the right time – during that phenomenal run of genre classics that I discussed – and it stands up extremely well today. Even thirty years after its initial release, the science and the design of Outland seems natural, functional and realistic. The story is not without its flaws, but it works best as a mood piece that explores the mindset of those who exist in an isolated frontier outpost, and the staunch dedication to duty that one man simply cannot shake, no matter what the consequences may be.
For a SF film, the performances are crackerjack. Connery, who had done Fantasy and SF already, with Zardoz, Meteor and Time Bandits takes things in his stride and does not allow the jargon, the costumes or the setting derail his approach to a very stern, pragmatic and determined character. He downplays things, yet retains a rugged charisma that is engaging and grudgingly sympathetic. His support from Boyle, Sternhagen and Sikking is equally underplayed, but just as believably magnetic. And for what is quite a sombre and moody tale, there are some fun deaths and a classic foot-chase to savour.
Warner have been responsible for a shoddy R1 DVD and a fair R2 DVD release of the film in the past, but this BD simply blows them both out of the water. This is a terrific transfer of deliberately testing source material. The image produced on the disc looks spectacular, and very rich and film-like. Those Stygian black levels are exactingly reproduced and look wonderfully deep and intimidating. Detail is often amazingly good. The audio quality is similarly very impressive. The soundstage is active and detailed and boasts a fine sense of depth and spatiality. Bass is reassuringly deep and churning. Again, I feel sure that this will be faithful to the source of the 70mm 6-track surround that the film boasted upon its cinematic docking.
I would have killed for a Connery commentary, or even just an interview – but we should never expect anything of that kind from him now – and a retro making-of would be terrific. As it stands, we have a great chat-track from Hyams, who has always been a consistently rewarding filmmaker (even the absurd End of Days had its moments!) who has a distinctive and engrossing visual style that, to be honest, is now quite old-fashioned.
Pair this up with Alien for a barnstorming experience in a corrupt and dangerous future universe of blue-collar persecution.
I am biased towards this movie, but Outland still comes extremely highly recommended.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.98
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.