BluRay/DVD Reviews

OUTLAND

By • Jul 31st, 2012 •

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If you had HBO in the 80s, OUTLAND was exactly the kind of movie you’d see once every couple of days. It was a solid three-star movie. Competently made, fun, and engaging – OUTLAND at first glance seems like a knee-jerk reaction to both ALIEN and the growing epidemic of drug use in the United States. Sean Connery is Federal Marshall O’Niel, sent to the mining facility on Jupiter’s moon, Io. O’Niel is at odds with Sheppard (Peter Boyle), the foreman of the mining operation who boasts that worker productivity is up, even in the face of a rash of mysterious deaths among the miners, which at first seem like bizarre suicides. The deaths are connected to a drug (the side effects of which are very similar to meth) being distributed to the workers. The closer O’Niel gets to the truth, the more people begin to die around him, and eventually he has to face down against his adversaries more or less alone in a HIGH NOON-style finale.

OUTLAND was made almost immediately after ALIEN had become a runaway hit, and as a result, it tries to strike a lot of the same notes. Jerry Goldsmith, who composed the score for ALIEN, delivers an appropriately eerie score that turns aggressive and bombastic for the action beats.

The set designers seem to have viewed ALIEN as a jumping off point, as if they asked themselves at the drawing board, “How much more aggressively unlivable can we make this movie’s future look?” The miners’ quarters are so cramped that they’re stuck in tiny cots with only a curtain to separate themselves from the din of activity. Director Hyams uses tracking and crane shots expertly to emphasize the size of the sets, showing dozens upon dozens of miners milling around in the uncomfortable living quarters. Just to throw in more unpleasantness, there’s always a thick haze; a result of backlighting and a ton of smoke. Everything is meant to look very lived-in, with props and sets dirtied up instead of having a pristine look. ‘Used future’ was the Hollywood terminology for that approach.

Only Connery and Boyle get decent living quarters, and even those are windowless, paneled, and most of the room in them is taken up by surveillance and communications equipment. Aspects of the technology in the film has dated over the past three decades. Most of what’s shown as taking room-sized machines to accomplish (and for filming probably took dozens of technicians and specialized video equipment to operate) could now be done with a tablet and a Wi-fi connection.

Even 31 years later, OUTLAND is still very entertaining. The only legitimate complaint I have against it is how stupidly the assassins sent after Connery in the final scenes act. Connery is a surprisingly subdued lead here, and Frances Sternhagen gets a good supporting role as a doctor who begins to share O’Niel’s suspicions. Peter Boyle was always great as a managerial dick, so it is no surprise he shines here. He may have even started the cliche of the good guy walking into the bad guy’s office, only to find the bad guy playing a mini-putt game. There’s also an early role from Clarke Peters, of THE WIRE and TREME fame, as one of Io’s police sergeants.

This new Blu-ray is a massive improvement over the previous DVD, which came out all the way back in 1997, the first year the format was sold to the public, and didn’t even feature an anamorphic transfer. Of course, the Blu-ray boasts a new, film-like transfer, and a very active 5.1 track that reproduces the film’s Megasound engagements.

OUTLAND does not disappoint. Solid and engaging, it’s a no-frills thriller that’s good for a lazy weekend day. The parallels to HIGH NOON are woven into it very well, and Connery is, as always, an entertaining lead.

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