Thursday, March 14, 2013

Outland (1981)

Title: Outland (1981)

Director: Peter Hyams

Cast: Sean Connery, Peter Boyle, Frances Sternhagen


The fact that Peter Hyam’s Outland was originally intended as a western, but was later reworked into a sci-fi cop thriller let’s you see the power of Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) and just what an influential film it is. Alien is such a strong film that it still influences modern filmmakers, but Outland was one of the first few films to rip off Ridley Scott’s classic sci-fi horror film. Hyam’s was so influenced by Alien that when you see Outland you almost feel as if you’re watching an Alien sequel, or at the very least, an alien spin-off film. We get the cramped, claustrophobic sets; everything looks industrial, ike the interior of some factory. The spacesuits look similar to the ones in Alien, the clothes the people wear, hell, even the title sequence mimics the title sequence in Alien, no kidding my friends! Also many of the people who worked behind the cameras in Alien also worked in Outland. Even Jerry Goldsmith did the musical score as well!

True, Outland might be an Alien clone, but it also tells its own story. Though it might seem from looking at the films trailer that Outland deals with alien critters, Outland is not a film about an alien beast running around a mining complex killing workers off; actually, the beast in this film is man himself. One of the taglines used to sell Outland was “Even in space, the ultimate enemy is man” again, mimicking the tagline for Alien which was “In space, no one can hear you scream”. Interesting how Hyams switched things around this way; he didn’t need any monster in his movie because man is capable of doing monstrous things all by himself. For example, in Outland we have drug smugglers selling drugs to miners on a mining complex on Io, one of Jupiter’s moons. The whole thing is getting out of hand because the drug is a form of amphetamine that gets miners working like horses, but ultimately turns them psychotic after a couple of months of usage. Strangely enough, it’s those in the higher echelons of power that allow this to go on. It’s up to the new police Marshall William T. O’Neil to discover who’s responsible and stop them.

Sean Connery plays this type of ultra righteous good guy, the kind that knows something is wrong and will stop at nothing to set things right, even if it means bumping heads with head honchos who feel like they are so powerful that nothing can stop them. With Sean Connery’s Marshall William O Neil, we get the quintessential good guy, the one who represents the best qualities in all of us. The guy who won’t accept a bribe, won’t steal or cheat or be unfaithful to his wife, even when he has a lady after his loins, which actually happens in this film. In Outland Marshall William O’Neil’s wife leaves him (she can’t deal with him being a cop) and so, he is left all alone on Io. But he has a female admirer in the form of Dr. Lazarus, the colony  doctor, played by Frances Sternhagen. Sternhagen is also one of the films positive aspects; she turns in an intelligent, headstrong character with a bit of an edge, which involves hitting on Marshall O Neil even though she knows he’s a married man. Rounding out the solid cast is Peter Boyle as the guy who runs the mining complex.

The films strongest point is its production values which seem a bit over the top for what is basically a film about drug smuggling. It almost feels as if the story didn’t warrant the production values? It feels as if this movie could just as easily have been a film about a cop trying to stop drug smugglers in the big bad city; the sci-fi angle (and the money it took to bring it to life) feels unnecessary. Why did it have to be sci-fi? Apparently the only reason was to cash in on the success of Alien. In the films favor I will say that it looks beautiful, it’s got that gritty, realistic look from Alien, but at the same time, with its ultra white rooms, Outland feels aesthetically like it’s paying its respects to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1969). Hyams paying his respects to Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece makes sense when we take in consideration that Hyams ended up directing 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984), the direct sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey. So Outland ends up being an impressive looking movie, with a simple cop story. Hyam’s has always had an affinity for making cop movies. He made Busting (1974) which coincidentally is also about cops busting a crime syndicate and another cop film called Peeper (1976). He’d revisit cop movies again with Running Scared (1986) which starred Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines, and yeah, it’s also about cops trying to stop a drug smuggler! So Hyams turning Outland into a cop thriller shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Hyams has had a fruitful directorial career. He made 2010 (1984) which I personally find to be an excellent sequel to 2001 (not everyone will agree I know). He would go on to work again with Sean Connery in The Presidio (1988), another cop drama! He made two back to back films with Jean Claude Van Damme: Time Cop (1994) and Sudden Death (1995) and followed those with the excellent monster flick called The Relic (1997). He even made End of Days (1999) with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Unfortunately, it would be his ill fated return to science fiction entitled A Sound of Thunder (2005) that would put a halt on his filmmaking career. A Sound of Thunder was a terrible film every step of the way, but a lot of that had to do with the production company going bankrupt (after spending 55 million on this stinker!) and a flood that destroyed the sets they had built for the film. It really did not have much to do with Hyams abilities as a filmmaker. Still, it is Outland, Hyams first foray into science fiction that remains one of his best films, recommend checking it out if you’re a fan of Ridley Scott’s Alien or crime thrillers.

Rating: 4 out of 5  


Jack Thursby said...

Got to agree with you on this one. The film has a great set-up but a really weak second act. Illegal drug use? Really? That's it?

However the fantastically tense ending more than makes up for this weak point.

Completely agree that Hyams ripped off the look of Scott's Alien. I kind of like to think that this film is a secret spin-off.

Apparently they are looking to remake the film soon. I bet any money they turn Connery and Sternhagen's characters in to young 30 year olds. Part of what I love about this film is the fact that the hero is over-the-hill. Also he's not fighting to save the world, he's fighting because he's a stubborn SOB who won't turn a blind eye to corruption.

Also, I'm with you on 2010. It's a pretty great sequel.

Franco Macabro said...

Yeah, that's something I noticed while watching it, everybody seemed to be over 40. Nowadays everybody in a film is twenty or thirty something...movies of the past had more mature actors. That has changed a lot over the decades.

Agree about him being a stubborn character. There's this line of dialog where he is saying he is part of a machine that takes many pieces to work, but he wants to be the piece that stops everything...

Basically, he wants to discover if he can be a good person, even if it takes him to difficult consequences. He wants to know if he can be what they don't expect him to be, which is a decent human being who wants to do whats right and can't be bought.

Yeah 2010 rocks, it has some great tense moments, like the one where John Lithgow is stepping into space and can't take the emotion, great scene!

jimmie t. murakami said...

Peter Hyams is one of the most ludicrously under-rated film-makers of all-time.

Franco Macabro said...

True, he's had his moments to shine, I really enjoyed Stay Tuned, the one with john Ritter going into TV land hell, that one was a fun ride!


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