Every film-fan has a period in their life that either kickstarted their love-affair with movies or provided the seed-bed of the genres and directors/actors that instilled their fascination and devotion. I had been a huge devotee of films from a very early age. My mum will tell you that. But for me, that defining period was not the Star Wars era, but sometime later, during that crucial stage when the hormones were kicking-in and my mind was expanding with beliefs, ideas and a sense of self identity and, aye, that two-faced charlatan, ego. The period was 1981 to 1983 – and it contained some of my most beloved and most cherished of personal favourites.
Films like The Thing and Escape From New York. Like Blade Runner and Scanners. Mad Max 2 and Conan The Barbarian. The Evil Dead. An American Werewolf in London and The Howling. The Sword and the Sorcerer. Poltergeist. First Blood. Wolfen. The Life of Brian. And, of course, Outland.
I felt that these films had all been made for me. A virtually nonstop procession of classic genre movies that I knew, even back then, that I would be watching, obsessing-over and discussing for the rest of my life.
This was not only a time when I was beginning to appreciate what went into set design, art direction, subtext, satire and black comedy, high concept and metaphor, but a time when creative imagination and talent behind the cameras was exploding in seemingly every direction at once. This was when I was able to notice and grasp deeper levels in movies, able to pick-up on their influences and to understand what made a film popular not only with myself but with others who also seemed to “get it”.
I distinctly remember the trailers coming out for Peter Hyams SF thriller Outland. The exploding faces, James Bond’s Sean Connery with a scratchy beard and a baseball cap … and hefting a riot gun. Lots of cramped claustrophobia and a mean streak that you could taste coming off the screen. It was an AA certificate at the time, meaning that you had to be 14 to see it. Now, the weird thing about this, for me, was that I’d been seeing X-rated movies (and for nothing too) at the Phoenix Cinema for ages – due to certain contacts on the inside – so I felt that I was pretty much immune to ratings. But this was the year that my Dad took me to London to see John Carpenter’s Escape From New York on the week of its opening, because I hadn’t shut up about it since Barry Norman reviewed it on Film ’81 (“And … why not?”), which was very nice of him, and I was a couple of years too young for that, as well. Now this was an event in my cinema-going life that actually felt official and parent-sanctioned as opposed to all those illicit trips to the local picture-house. And even though he wasn’t a fan of SF, my old man really liked Snake Plissken. So, along came Outland, swiftly afterwards … and since he was a big fan of Connery, having worshipped him as Bond and then met him on the set of A Bridge Too Far, he also wanted to go and see him in his latest. So he took me and the rest of my family too … like it was some big outing. A whole mob of McEneanys.
I’m not sure what any of them expected to see, but I remember that everyone who saw it with me was disappointed with it, especially him. I couldn’t understand why. And I still can’t. But that was the last time my dad ever went to the flicks. Go figure.
Me, I loved every minute of it, and it has been one of the films that I have most looked forward to seeing take a bow on Blu-ray.
And here it is, at long last on a US region-free release from Warner.
Quite clearly, Outland was born out of two other movies. High Noon and Alien.
Peter Hyams had always wanted to make a Western, but had never been given the opportunity. Personally, I think he could make a case for Capricorn One being a Western, certainly more so, visually speaking, than Outland … but Outland is very definitely an old school Western that has just been relocated to the third moon of Jupiter.
This moon, Io, has become host to a mining colony, a blue-collar frontier outpost full of money-grubbing outcasts who like to work hard and play harder. The mine is a dangerous place. The very atmosphere outside the sealed complex can broil the human body in seconds, the very air the workers breathe inside is recycled. Simply existing within the cramped, overcrowded confines is difficult and tense. Policing such a place takes a special breed of cop.
Enter Federal District Marshal William T. O’ Neil (Sean Connery), who is new to this tour, but keen to make an impression. Having dragged his wife, Carol (Kika Markham) and his son, Paul (Nicholas Barnes) around the solar system from one dead-end and inhospitable duty to another – like Altera in Forbidden Planet and Alex in Saturn 3, his son has never even been to Earth and dreams about it – there is pressure inside their dwarfish living module almost as great as that pressing down on the colony from the glaring red eye of Jupiter … that stares at this human encroachment from the heavens like a flaming giant.
Something is wrong in this place.
There are accidents and suicides. Some of the workers are going insane. Hallucinations, delusions, panic attacks, the sort of thing that would probably occur quite regularly in such an impersonal, stress-filled, in-yer-face environment … but never to this disturbing degree. Each month, a growing number of workers are meeting with quite sticky and often explosive ends. And when they are not exposing their fragile human bodies to the intense Ionian atmosphere, some miners are going homicidal. But what is causing it? And why are the bodies always shipped out before a full autopsy can be done? Asking questions and ferreting-about leads O’ Neil into conflict with the facility’s General Manager, Mark B. Shepperd (Peter Boyle), a man who wants to make a profit, no matter what the human cost. “If the Company’s happy, I’m happy,” goes his policy of target-smashing and bonus-gaining. And he’s not alone in this productivity/profit ethic. It seems there is a conspiracy at work on the installation at Con-Am 27. But even when O’ Neil gets to the bottom of it, his problems are only just beginning. Someone is bringing in a rare and very powerful amphetamine that boosts the output and productivity of the workers, but eventually fries their brains. And nobody seems to care, other than the Marshal and the crusty old colony medic, Dr. Lazarus (Frances Sternhagen).
After making too many waves, O’ Neil intercepts a message being sent across the gulf of space. A request for two hitmen to come out to Io on the next shuttle. Their target – Marshal O’ Neil.
“How much help will he have?” the mysterious contact demands to know.
“None,” comes the disturbing reply. “Once they know these guys are pros, nobody here will stick their neck out for anybody.”
With his own wife and son leaving him because they cannot stand another year in such an inhuman cesspit, and his team of cops proving themselves to be utterly useless and highly untrustworthy, O’ Neil must prepare himself for a showdown with the contract killers, and plot the downfall of Shepperd and the corrupt Company he works for. And, all the while, the shuttle clock counts down the hours and minutes to its arrival, with its deadly cargo.
With such a precise and immediately engaging hook as this scenario, it would be difficult to put a foot wrong, and Hyams, working from his own screenplay, handles the tense thrills and spills with a steady grip. Although there is action in the film, with the final act being an edge-of-the-seat game of cat-and-mouse played both inside the facility and Outside, the movie is a slow-burner that peels back its layers of subterfuge in a carefully measured manner, but lets rip with dark and ugly violence every once in a while to help tighten the thumb-screws until the kid-gloves come off for the climactic duel. In this respect, Outland is very much akin to the moody, hard-hitting crime dramas of the seventies. And, just like those detective cases of innumerable red-herrings, dubious allies and last-act revelations of scumbaggery being connected to people in high places, it lets us know pretty head-on just who the bad guys are. But uncovering these felons is not the point of the show. Hyams wants to create a believable future world far away from real authority, a dangerous frontier that could spill over into lawlessness and anarchy at the drop of a hat. He wants us to move through this squalid, yet fascinating micro-society of rotten apples and rough diamonds and to understand how downright feasible it all is.
Although set on a distant moon, Con-Am 27 could just as well be an oil rig, or a drilling station in Alaska. Hyams isn’t interested in the mystery and awe of space. He simply wants to tell a story of one just and true man pledging his honour against a teeming populace of undesirables who have either lost their belief in what’s right and wrong, or just don’t care anymore.
He wants to warn us that wherever Man goes, he brings his dirty tricks and his evil ways with him. As the film’s famous Alien-riffing tagline says –
Even in Space, the Ultimate Enemy is Man.
And I believe that he more than delivers the goods with an unusual thriller that excels in its stalwart determination to keep things as real and tangible as possible in spite of the far out setting. He maintains the human angle with no reference to, or mention of aliens or monsters. And there’s no laser-guns either.
Connery gives an awesome performance that is probably far better than the written character deserved. He gives O’ Neil the sort of gruff dignity that is the demarcation line between saint and sinner. We know this guy has seen it all before, but we also appreciate that he has sheltered his family away from the worst of it. Although he sits and plays back the video reports of the night-shift in front of them, you get the feeling that his wife and son just hear this talk of bar-brawls and messy suicides as some sort of static noise in the background. Both of them are clearly in awe of him and they know that he has a tough job. But they both also know that he is tough enough to cope with it. Whilst Nicholas Barnes as Paul is a pretty terrible little actor, and clearly not a natural, his frequently painful line deliveries do not detract from or dissipate the stoic affection that Connery ensures O’ Neil has for him. During the crucial scene when he discovers that Carol has decided to pack up and go, hoping that he will join her and Paul on the space-station, he slowly moves in on the video monitor replaying her heartrending message, his face half-submerged in Hyams’ trademarked shadows, and we can see the deep cracks in his stone-like impassive face, the tears that he is too proud to allow to spill down his cheeks glistening in his eyes. Another moment when is able to actually speak to his family, again via the video-screen they both so despise, and he is unable to tell what her what is so important on Io that he cannot leave, is heavy with contained emotion.
There are many actors who could portray this tragedy without resorting to knee-jerk sappiness, but none of Connery’s granite stature. When we see him almost buckle, it hits you that much harder than someone actually falling apart.
“I’d like a report of all the incidents in the last six months. I’d like it soon, or I might just kick your nasty ass all over this room. That’s a Marshal joke.”
Dr. Lazarus was a role that was written for a man. But Hyams, to his credit, loves to muck around with things at the last minute, so he made the late decision to cast a woman in the part. Not only would placing the ratty, irascible Frances Sternhagen in the role negate any potential romantic aspect that could have been perceived between herself and the Marshal, but the fact that the script wasn’t reworked to cater for the gender-swap would also ensure that their relationship was refreshingly workmanlike and satisfyingly sarcastic. Just two tired old professionals stumbling against bureaucracy and corruption, and their own stubborn and cynical outlooks.
And when she becomes the one person on Io who will stand by him, there is a curiously quaint sense of mismatched heroism going on. As curmudgeonly as Lazarus is, she displays real gumption with things turn bloody and Sternhagen does well as the fly-in-the-ointment of the two contract killers.
James B. Sikking was very well known at this juncture due to his regular semi-comical role as the SWAT leader, Lt. Hunter, in Hill StreetBlues. Hyams already knew him and had cast him in Capricorn One, and he didn’t want him to be recognised as the uptight military-minded buffoon from the TV show, so he had him grow his hair and sport a thick, wiry beard. Sikking is a terrific character-actor, but he was allowed to go downbeat, dour and very naturalistic O’ Neil’s initially dependable second-in-command, Sgt. Montone. Brilliantly, we trust this guy and relate to him immediately. But there is a vague undercurrent that Hyams enjoys teasing us with before any cats are allowed out of the bag. As Montone conducts a debriefing, watch how he carefully regards the exchange between the new Marshal and deputy Slater (Norman Chancer) about the veracity of the latest “suicide”. He knows that his new boss is going to rock the boat, but Sikking plays it all so subtly.
I like it that Peter Boyle who, apparently, couldn’t make head nor tail of the screenplay and really didn’t understand just what his devious character was all about, plays Shepperd as decidedly unthreatening for most of the time. He is just a company-man, when all said and done. A nodding dog. He knows the score, knows how to keep the operation running and who to employ to get the dirty work done. We don’t see him as much of a physical or psychological foil to Connery’s moon-cop, and yet this very genial but ogreish manner he has about him also makes him strangely compelling and repellent. It probably helps that Boyle couldn’t quite get a handle on what makes his character tick, and there is something of a low-rent Orson Welles quality about his oily egocentric smarm. This is beautifully abetted by his predilection for playing golf via executive office toy or by virtual course on a wall-sized TV-screen. Of course, going to toe-to-toe with a seasoned golfer like Connery makes O’ Neil’s playful little jibes about what club to use all the richer and more cutting. In fact, it is moments like these when Connery reveals a slight touch of the old Bondian quip at the villain’s expense. As O’ Neil makes headway with his investigation, he can’t resist taunting Sheppard with each new nugget of evidence that he’s uncovered, especially after surviving an assassination attempt. “You proud of me?” he jovially asks the Manager like some elated schoolboy after outwitting the sadistic teacher.
“You’re a dead man,” threatens Sheppard, suddenly pushed too far and revealing his own ineptitude and a more venomous side. “You hear me?”
Connery just fixes him with that resigned but deliciously wry semi-smirk. “I hear you.”
There are far better hero/villain confrontations, of course, with much better dialogue and deeper swathes of veiled menace. Connery, himself, would perfect the art of this during his tenure as 007. But this remarkably low-key exchange still resonates, somehow. It all seems so matter-of-fact and improvisational, which, ironically, gives it more of an edge.
The film also benefits from the experimental intensity of Steven Berkoff as a drug-deranged miner called Sagan who goes murderously berserk and holds a naked hooker hostage. Berkoff was already renowned for some incredible performances in fringe theatre and you can see how colossally wound-up he allows himself to get in front of the cameras, becoming a very dangerous, wildly unpredictable force of nature. He would then go on to play a nasty Russian commander in Rambo: First Blood Part II (“You may scream … there is no shame.”) and a nefarious art-dealer in Beverly Hills Cop. There is always something decidedly edgy about Berkoff, and this brief but emphatic performance captures such volatility with impeccable ferocity.
Hyams coyly gave some of his characters names that had significance in the history of space travel and astro-science, such as Sheppard and Sagan and the rather nebulous cops Ballard and Lowell. His writing, on the whole, is sparse, and linear. This is a film about surveillance – O’ Neil is constantly watching monitors or tapping phone-calls, and we are as transfixed with the shuttle arrival clock as he is - and about making a stand and awaiting the fate that decision brings. But it is also about the horrible randomness of violence. In this way, the sudden madness of certain drug-addled characters can also be interpreted as an epidemic-like development of the volatile malfunctioning of the robot Ash in Alien, the film to which Outland always seems so closely related. A sort of psychological flash-fire that hits otherwise drone-like workers of the Con-Am hive and turns them insane.
His structure is simple and unflashy. There is no showboating going on. In many ways, the film feels quite dour and depressing. But this is why it works. Con-Am 27 is a real place, and everybody in it feels as though they belong there, and they have a genuine purpose. Nothing seems fake or put there just for the sake of this being Sci-Fi. Although we’ve seen them a hundred times before, and in a multitude of settings and time-periods, the characters don’t seem clichéd or contrived. O’ Neil may be a hero, but he’s a grubby, stubborn, undecorated and unloved one. He’s a grafter, and this is what makes him special. He hasn’t already lost his family and become haunted by it, as would be the case with so many other movie-cops that would follow in his wake, and he is not engaged in some personal crusade of revenge. He is a muck-raking bigmouth who understands that as grimy and unfriendly as his job may be, he has a duty to fulfil it, come what may.
The only thing I don’t like about O’ Neil is when he walks into the Admin Section and tentatively asks for some assistance. “I could use a little help,” he stammers with embarrassment. Now, Gary Cooper’s Marshal Kane, of course, made a major point of asking for allies in High Noon, and that made sense. He was not only hoping to win against the assassins, but he wanted to give the town some form of hope and to give them a reason to band together and find a collective backbone. O’ Neil is facing these killers because he has no choice – yes – but he is also doing it to prove something to himself (as Shepperd even remarks at one stage) and face his own demons. He needs to know if his principles are really worth fighting for in this volatile and corrupt society, in an environment that won’t thank him either way, and will just move on, possibly unchanged, no matter what the outcome of his mission is. So this quest to face down the hit-men and the Company is not to win the hearts and minds of Con-Am 27, but to remind himself that his convictions are true and that his personal crusade is as worth fighting for now, and here, as it has always been. But even if I don’t like this apparent and sudden lapse in his confidence and determination, I tend to prescribe it as being O’ Neil rubbing these cowards’ faces in it. “I could use a little help,” might also be a scathing taunt directed at a flock of spineless sheep. He knows all along that he won’t get any from them and, at the very least, he has pricked their conscience. Whether he lives or dies, he will have taken the odds and proved he had more courage and more conviction than they could ever dream of.
With its opening title appearing, Alien-style against a mysterious star-field and Jerry Goldsmith’s eerie score permeating the psyche, Outland immediately recalls Ridley Scott’s classic chest-bursting genre-booster from two years prior. And if having Goldsmith come onboard his movie after scoring such SF milestones as Planet of the Apes, Logan’s Run, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Alien and, erm, Hyams’ own Capricorn One, wasn’t enough to satisfy the geeks, he also recruited plenty of Scott’s own industrious crew to help him create this bleak and lived-in world of sweaty bodies, Company-politics and intergalactic cabin-fever. John Mollo and Stuart Rose worked on the sets and the costumes alongside Philip Harrison, and model builder Martin Bower, who constructed the elaborate mining station exteriors and the arriving space shuttle with a look that would beautifully act as a bridge between Gerry Anderson’s Moonbase Alpha and the Eagles from Space 1999 to Duncan Jones’ Moon.
Also employed for the first time on a lavish feature-film was the super-new technique of integrating live actors with complex miniatures called Introvision, which utilised motion-control and front projection to a superbly effective degree. A terrific opening shot follows the descent of a miniature model elevator that then disgorges a group of live action miners who then proceed through the elaborate superstructure of passages that lattice the deep hole excavated in the dark ground of Io. The camera, operated as usual by Hyams more often than not, then pulls back away from them, sweeps around what is still the fantastic miniature model and then finally moves back to settle in-amidst another group of live action miners in a close-up! All in one majestic yet understated shot. This is pretty much the first thing we see in the movie, and it has already pushed boundaries.
The finale then sees O’ Neil having various misadventures and encounters Outside on the gantries and galleys of the complex and, once again, Hyams incorporates extensive use of Introvision.
He does exceptional work with the soundstages at Pinewood, which had also housed the Nostromo and the Derelict and the realm of LV-426. Although he admits to reusing sets over and over, his use of angles, lighting and slight artistic modification each time around really gives you the impression that we are moving through a vast, overcrowded and intensely claustrophobic environment. That chase with the reptilian Spota (played by stuntman Marc Boyle), with his eyebrows shaved-off) is one of the greats as far as I am concerned. Oh, we all love the epic foot-pursuit that Keanu Reeves has with Patrick Swayze in Point Break, or the free-running, crane-climbing chase in Casino Royale, or the rooftop catch-me-if-you-can of The Bourne Ultimatum, or the hilariously exciting spoof in Hot Fuzz, but this is so well done, so adeptly photographed and so punishingly realistic that you are genuinely swerving from side to side, yourself, and almost breathless by the end of it. Hyams had already done chases before in Capricorn One, and there is a dazzlingly chaotic and heartstopping variation upon Outland’s in the 1974 cop-drama Busting (see my CD review for much more detail on this sequence), and he would execute another fine one in The Presidio. Tracking the drug-dealing Spota via video-camera, O’Neil sees enough shady stuff to take him down … and he makes his move in the men’s living quarters, hoping to catch him in the act of supplying. But Spota clocks him and the chase is on … through the cramped honeycomb complex, down hexagonal passageways and through pressure doors, and on into the cafeteria, blundering into dozens and dozens of people all the way.
What makes this chase scene so unique is the amazing combination of super-taut editing (from The Omen’s Stuart Baird) and absolutely top-notch, on-the-hoof photography (from Stephen Goldblatt, but with Hyams running alongside him). Watch how the camera leads Spota and then pivots round and flies along in his slipstream so that we can study O’ Neil charging along behind, hot on his heels – traversing around extremely tight corners as we go! You feel the pressure of people getting in the way all the time, the closed-in lack of space in which to manoeuvre and the breakneck speed of Spota’s ultimately futile flight. And that’s the most delicious aspect, isn’t it? Spota simply cannot get away. It’s a locked-in, airtight environment. He can’t make it out into the mountains and then move on down into Mexico. He is completely trapped … but he still won’t give in. Just try and count how many bystanders are knocked aside during this frantic pursuit.
Outland’s most kinetic set-piece climaxes with a tough scrap between the Marshal and the dealer in the steamy kitchens. Full of hot, bubbling pans, sharp metal edges and handy butcher-knives, this is the sort of place you don’t want to fight in, and one that makes you wince with every impact.
“There’s a whole machine that works because everybody does what they are supposed to do. I found out that I’m supposed to do something that I don’t like.”
The hexagonal corridors evoke the Nostromo, obviously, but also hark back to 2001: A Space Odyssey. The fluorescent water-and-smoke filled dance-tubes in the nightclub, in which nude male and female performers cavort for the entertainment of a largely indifferent crowd, were a new concept that added some agreeable spice. And those zero-gravity cells are a neat idea. Look at the way that every set of normal doors that O' Neil goes through swing behind him like those of a Western saloon. Then there are the costumes. Functional. But cool. The blue of the cops and their baseball caps make them resemble Union soldiers. It’s funny how, just like the emblems and insignia from the Nostromo, the patches and designs seen in Outland have found their way onto T-shirts and caps in speciality stores. I’m made up with my Con-Am 27 shirt!
One of the best and most distinctive faces in movies is that of P.H. Moriarty. The scar-faced actor has been seen in gangster flicks such as The Long Good Friday, Slayground and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels as well as in numerous crime-sodden TV dramas like Strangers and The Professionals. Sadly, he also appeared in Jaws 3-D as Simon MacCorkindale’s troubleshooting buddy – (with the terrible line of “For Gawd’s sake, Gav’nor!”) – but here, appearing without any dialogue, he plays one of the two hitmen, making an impression with that cold and impassive countenance as he prowls the complex. His cohort, played by Doug Robinson, obviously comes from the same school of irrational snipership as Michael Ironside’s trigger-happy Richter from Total Recall. Both mercenaries have a foolhardy disregard for air-tight seals between breathable air and flesh-imploding alien atmospheres.
And if you pay attention near the start, you’ll see another familiar face – that of John Ratzenberger’s – inflate like a balloon and then explode all over the inside of his space helmet.
But even with faces erupting in welters of grue, a meaty shotgun blast to the chest and some teeth getting knocked out against a slab of frozen meat, it is possibly surprising that the most grotesque image on display is that of a thick, swollen tongue protruding in all its horrible purple glory from the mouth of a garrotted man. This was something that hadn’t been seen before and, to be fair, hasn’t been since either.
We’ve touched upon Goldsmith’s ominous and brooding score already, but we ought to mine it a little deeper. A veteran of outer space, of Westerns and of thrillers, Jerry G was at the creative peak of his career during this period. With the rollicking succession of diabolical chillers for the Omen Trilogy and his work for Scott’s Alien and Robert Wise’s Star Trek, you could also add Sean Connery to the mix of collaborators. Goldsmith had also composed the fun and tremendously exciting score for The First Great Train Robbery, which starred Connery as a daring loco-thief, and the desert adventure The Wind and the Lion, with Connery as robe-wearing warrior-chieftain Mulai Raisuli.
You can hear similarities between his work here and for Graham Baker’s The Final Conflict – the deeper, more urgent and imperative passages. His music for Hyams’ space shoot-‘em-up becomes wild and intense during the big chase with Spota and has several delirious set-pieces that build up gradually and then blitz the senses. But this is, on the whole, a dark and overbearing, often malignant score that perfectly embodies the pressure, and is made all the more affecting by the sense of a vast ticking clock remorselessly counting down to some inevitable showdown. It is an underrated score, but one that perfectly exemplifies the composer’s pulverisingly dynamic writing style and utterly peerless understanding of texture and colour. Music that lifts the vicious and flesh-shredding atmosphere of Io to expose the far more unpredictable and paranoid instability of the men who work there. Goldsmith was supreme at finding an emotional focus in the midst of such physical chaos. After Outland he would go on to explore the electronic arena with even greater vigour throughout the rest of the decade.
However, Goldsmith came a cropper when he attempted to provide some sleazy, electro-funk tracks for the night-club sequences. Hyams wasn’t quite satisfied that his wild synth material was sleazy or funky enough, so Michael Boddicker and Richard Rudolph stepped-in to deliver something a little bit more appropriate that had both a contemporary flavour to it and yet still sounded futuristic. They brought in Marshall Time Modulators, Minimoog, Polymoog and the Prophet Five. The result is something akin to early Depeche Mode, and actually sounds quite awesome. Check out FSM’s outstanding release of the complete score, which allows you to hear both Goldsmith’s original takes and the full material from Boddicker and Rudolph. And Hyams was also unsatisfied with Goldsmith’s music for the final struggle that O’ Neil has Outside, so the composer, who was too busy working on the score for the Korean War movie Inchon to do any rescoring, turned to his own friend and associate Morton Stevens to create something more percussive and muscular. Despite these modifications, this is still a Jerry Goldsmith score, through and through.
Outland took audiences who were still freaked out by Alien back into space with characters that they could readily identify with, but was unafraid to dispense with the monsters that many expected to find lurking within its taut, cloying scenario. It took the 70’s ethic that nobody, least of all your employers, could be trusted, and simply relocated it to a more distinctive, somehow more hostile and impersonal place. The visual and thematic similarities to Scott’s grand galactic chiller are neither ripped-off nor out-of-place. Perhaps unwittingly, Peter Hyams has crafted a superb sister-story to that of Scott’s. Maybe if the Nostromo had had Marshal O’ Neil on board, with his riot-gun, things would have been very different.
Moody, believable, violent and intriguing, this is SF at its most pared-to-the-bone. Using the visual trappings of the genre, but filling the screen with credible, authentic looking and sounding characters and weaving its way through a plot that could sit just as comfortably upon an oil-rig or a super-tanker, or an army base, Outland successfully plies its trade whilst still managing to evoke a supreme sense of otherness. The characterisation is threadbare, but made remarkable by the ballsy performances of Connery, Sternhagen, Boyle and Sikking, and the deadly, practically wordless menace from a gaggle of godforsaken goons.
Needless to say, Outland comes highly recommended.
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