4 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Outland (1981) (DVD)
I was 9 years old when OUTLAND appeared in theaters, and unless you were around then, and a sci-fi nerd, you probably can't concieve of the anticipation it caused. For many months leading up to its debut all the nerd magazines were in frenzies of excitement, and even kids like moi, who had no chance in hell of seeing it at the time of its release, were equally eager. We were still resonating from STAR WARS and STAR TREK and ALIEN, and this movie seemed to fall somewhere within that august category. The huge amount of effort being sunk into the film - the construction of huge, extremely functional sets, very much in the mold of George Lucas and Ridley Scott, was igniting our imaginations, as was the presence of a Sean Connery who in 1981 looked considerably better than he had ten years earlier in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER. What's more, its director was Peter Hyams, who had also given us CAPRICORN ONE, a film beloved by kids of the day for its nonstop action and sarcastic dialogue. In an age before movie hype, this movie had some serious hype behind it.
Last night, 31 years after its release, I watched the movie for the first time in many, many years, under the vague theory that it might retroactively live up to all that fuss. Sadly, I must report in the negative. It is still just as straightforward, flat and underwhelming as it was back when, and that is truly sad, because on paper, this should be a damn good flick.
OUTLAND is the story of W.T. O'Neil (Sean Connery), a space cop who has just arrived on the mining colony of Io, with his reluctant wife and gelatinous son. O'Neil's wife is not happy about being assigned to a sleazy mining camp on one of Jupiter's moons, and promptly leaves him. Still absorbing this blow, O'Neil immediately butts heads with the camp's sleazy boss, Shepherd (Peter Boyle), who makes it clear that space cops "cop best when they cop least." O'Neil, however, is intrigued by a series of suicides and violent incidents among the miners, and with the help of a crusty company doctor named Lazarus (Frances Sternhagen), his investigation quickly uncovers a conspiracy involving the company operating the mine. It also riles those who want the secret of the miners' deaths to stay secret...and who are willing to kill to keep it that way.
Like its inspiration, HIGH NOON, this flick is essentially the story of a man who, in taking a stand against evil, finds himself completely alone - abandoned not only by his family and his fellow cops, but by the people he is trying to protect. Unlike HIGH NOON, however, the sum of its parts don't add up to a whole. There are things that do work - Connery is often enjoyable to watch, his morally confused partner Monton, played by James Sikking, does a good job, and the mining colony's set design is amazing and looks absolutely real - but as a story, it fails on almost every level. This movie has many, many problems, but what amazes me most about the film to this day is its extreme predictability and shallowness. The central mystery of why the miners are starting to go mad is no mystery at all, and in any case O'Neil solves it almost immediately, whereupon the film transitions into a simple battle of wills between him and Shepherd. There are no real sub-plots, and only one halfhearted attempt at a late-movie plot-twist, which is obvious from miles off and comes as no surprise whatsoever. After wowing the audience in the first half with his huge, lavish and highly realistic sets, we are bludgeoned in the final act with repeated, and hideously fake, shots of the exterior of the mining colony, which destroy all sense of credibility. To make matters worse, while the acting is generally solid, the dialogue is often stilted and sometimes just plain atrocious, and Hyams shoots almost every sequence from a middle distance or a wide angle, giving what should be the most emotional scenes a cold, detached, disinteresting quality. Even worse yet, some tearjerking moments between O'Neil and his son come off as hilarous because the kid who plays Paul O'Neil comes off like a serial killer in training. But what really got me is that while there are dozens or even hundreds of extras in this movie, there are really only four characters, and none of them have that much depth. I've seldom seen a movie that felt so impersonal, or failed so completely to connect me emotionally to my heroes and villains.
Don't mistake me. I really wanted to like OUTLAND, but in the end, I found it has just enough good parts to annoy me that it isn't better. Maybe in another 31 years.