Most helpful positive review
65 of 67 people found the following review helpful
One of the best SF movies you haven't seen
on December 21, 2003
It's not quite one of the all-time greats, but it's not a 'B movie' either. It's a well-constructed, well-acted drama that doesn't aim _too_ high but does hit what it aims at.
See, out on Io (a moon of Jupiter), there's a titanium mining operation owned by some interplanetary mega-corporation. Federal Marshal William O'Niel (that's how it's spelled) gets assigned there and starts to investigate a series of odd deaths that don't seem to be murders but don't pass the smell test all the same. Getting almost no support from the mining station's personnel, O'Niel is on his own in uncovering the unpleasant truth behind the deaths. I won't tell you any more than that; what follows contains no spoilers.
The mind behind _Outland_ is Peter Hyams, who later brought us the excellent _Timecop_. But the movie benefits also from a wonderful ensemble cast. Sean Connery is, well, Sean Connery; he's worth watching as Bill O'Niel or as anybody else. Frances Sternhagen is delightful as the crusty and somewhat scatterbrained Dr. Lazarus (not the one from _GalaxyQuest_; she's an M.D. at the mining station). There are also the ever-reliable Peter Boyle and James B. Sikking, and a handful of other well-cast and competent supporting players. Since so much of the 'action' is dialogue and character interplay, it would have failed miserably with a lesser cast; here, it succeeds very well.
The special effects are pretty good too, particularly for 1981. The whole thing looks pretty dark and gritty, which wasn't the standard in 1981 but works much better today. At any rate, the mining colony looks right and not at all dated. (However, longtime SF geeks, of whom I am one, will have no trouble finding things to complain about, beginning with the inconsistent gravitational forces.)
The one real problem is that the plot stops developing before the movie is over. Once the reason behind the mysterious deaths is revealed, nothing further is uncovered; the plot settles into a simple _High Noon_ resolution that doesn't really take us anywhere new.
The DVD has other problems, too; as other reviewers have noted, the transfer to digital format isn't very good. It's watchable, but it's not crisp and clean and the sound occasionally gets muffled. (That's especially too bad with respect to Jerry Goldsmith's wonderfully dark and brooding score, which is brilliant in its own right as well as a perfect match with the movie.)
Still, it's well worth seeing and even owning. It's not as ambitious even as some of the other films of the early 1980s. But it's held up better than most of them.