OUTLAND  [Blu-ray] [US Import] This Science-Fiction Delivers The Goods! On Jupiter’s Moon He’s The Only Law!
Set on Jupiter's moon Io, Jupiter’s innermost moon, hosts a mining colony CON-AM 27, a high-tech hellhole. There a veteran marshal [Sean Connery] probes some mysterious deaths of miners. In pursuit of the truth, he is alone. ‘OUTLAND’ is a 1981 British science fiction thriller film written and directed by Peter Hyams ‘Timecop’ and ‘2010’ depicts a chilling extension of today’s corporation-driven world. Dehumanization is vividly evoked in Philips Harrison’s striking production design and two-time Academy Award® winner John Stears special effects.
FILM FACT: ‘OUTLAND’ was the first motion picture to use Introvision, a variation on front projection that allows foreground, mid-ground and background elements to be combined in-camera, as opposed to using optical processes such as blue screen matting. This enabled characters to convincingly walk around miniature sets of the mining colony. Director Peter Hyams hired cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt. The film was nominated for the Academy Award® for Best Sound for John Wilkinson, Robert W. Glass, Jr., Robert Thirlwell and Robin Gregory. ‘OUTLAND’ was filmed at Pinewood Studios, Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire, UK, with an estimated budget of $16,000,000.
Cast: Sean Connery, Peter Boyle, Frances Sternhagen, James Sikking, Kika Markham, Clarke Peters, Steven Berkoff, John Ratzenberger, Nicholas Barnes, Manning Redwood, Pat Starr, Hal Galili, Angus MacInnes, Stuart Milligan, Eugene Lipinski, Norman Chancer, Ron Travis, Anni Domingo, Bill Bailey, Chris Williams, Marc Boyle, Richard Hammatt, James Berwick, Gary Olsen, Isabelle Lucas, Sharon Duce, P.H. Moriarty, Angelique Rockas, Jude Alderson, Rayner Bourton, Doug Robinson, Julia Depyer, Nina Francoise, Brendan Hughes, Philip Johnston, Norri Morgan, John Cannon (uncredited) and Maurice Roëves (uncredited)
Director: Peter Hyams
Producers: Charles Orme, Richard A. Roth and Stanley O'Toole
Screenplay: Peter Hyams
Composer: Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography: Stephen Goldblatt
Video Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Audio: English: 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, French: 2.0 Dolby Digital, German: 2.0 Dolby Digital, Italian: 2.0 Dolby Digital, Spanish: 2.0 Dolby Digital and Spanish: 1.0 Dolby Digital Mono
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Japanese, German SDH, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Italian SDH, Norwegian and Swedish
Running Time: 112 minutes
Region: All Regions
Number of discs: 1
Studio: Warner Home Video
Andrew’s Blu-ray Review: 'OUTLAND' wasn't the first film to shift elements of the western to a sci-fi environment, and it certainly won't be the last, but it's still a relatively unique combination, one that makes for a wonderfully entertaining motion picture that might otherwise be thought of as a generic crime thriller. In fact, it could be argued that the marriage of the two genres essentially masks a rather simple plot that could just as easily take place on modern-day Earth. But the subtlety and restraint shown by British writer/director Peter Hyams when merging the two vastly different styles manages to elevate the story into something fresh and terrifically engaging. Aspects of either genre serve only as backdrop or narrative device for telling this crime drama that serves as a clever indictment of corporate conspiracy and greed which devalues the lives of the working class.
Set on Jupiter's moon Io, Jupiter’s innermost moon, set in the far distant future, the merger of the two genres is immediately apparent but never brought to the forefront. Instead, it's an understated framework inside a remote mining outpost functioning on Io, one of Jupiter's many moons, and order is kept by a small band of peacekeepers, led by Federal Marshal O'Niel [Sean Connery]. It's one of the reasons I find the film so brilliant and still highly enjoyable. Peter Hyams isn't constantly reminding his audience of what he's doing beyond the initial opening with the explanatory title cards. Yet, there's a rustic Wild West appeal to the overall film, thanks in part to the stage design and the cinematography of Stephen Goldblatt.
Story-wise, Peter Hyams doesn't shy away from stock characterization, such as Connery epitomizing the rugged town sheriff. As the bringer of justice and social order to the seemingly chaotic frontier of space, Sean Connery's Federal Marshal O'Niel stumbles upon a conspiracy to hide several unsolved deaths of miners. There isn't a whole lot for the Scottish actor to do other than act the determined and deeply committed lawman, but what he does he does exceptionally well, being a hard-nosed peacekeeper that won't back down in a fight. Peter Hyams does give the character a bit of depth as a married family man on the brink of losing what he cherishes the most because he believes so strongly that what he's doing is the right thing to do. And as with everything else, Sean Connery shines in these moments, carrying the thought of his wife and son heading back to Earth without him in his eyes and powering his will to fight.
Helping the Federal Marshal discover a secret drug-ring operating within the colony is the feisty, contentious town doctor, played delightfully by Frances Sternhagen. She's perfect as the spirited foil, almost comic-relief, to Sean Connery's stern temperament, coming to his cause at just the right moment when the man needs the assistance the most. Her involvement in the cover-up is somewhat of a mystery because she doesn't perform autopsies of the dead, though it does become fairly clear when the sergeant [James Sikking], replacing the customary trusty deputy, turns out to be paid a hefty sum to look the other way. While two dealers appear to do most of the footwork, the man at the centre of it all is none other than [Peter Boyle] the head-honcho and ruthless greedy landholder of the mining.
Peter Hyams makes that little piece of information pretty obvious early on. Discovering who's behind this large-scale crime is not really the point. In fact, it's used within the narrative as a means of generating tension and suspense because we know who the cause of the rampant drug use is, hiding the deaths of innocent workers in order to keep profits rising. As Federal Marshal O'Niel follows the clues and gathers the evidence to prove his suspicion, those involved will do anything to defend the flow of money, driving the plot toward a spectacular 'High Noon' showdown. Filled with a cold mechanical atmosphere and the ethereal music of by award winning Jerry Goldsmith, Peter Hyams's 'OUTLAND' is wildly entertaining sci-fi western warning of a corporate future where our greatest enemy remains the monetary greed plaguing our society?
One very interesting fact I have found out, is a comment by Peter Hyams and reads like so:
I wanted to do a Western. Everybody said, 'You can’t do a Western; Westerns are dead; nobody will do a Western'. I remember thinking it was weird that this genre that had endured for so long was just gone. But then I woke up and came to the conclusion and obviously after other people and that it was actually alive and well, but in outer space. I wanted to make a film about the frontier. Not the wonder of it or the glamour of it: I wanted to do something about Dodge City and how hard life was. I wrote it, and by great fortune Sean Connery wanted to do it. And how many chances do you get to work with Sean Connery?
Blu-ray Video Quality – The print used for this 1080p encoded image appears to be in pretty good shape, because 'OUTLAND' looks great on Blu-ray. It doesn't quite match the best we've seen from other films of the same period, but this high-definition gives a gritty realism transfer is a vast improvement nonetheless over the terrible and inferior NTSC DVD release. Presented in an aspect ratio 2.40:1 frame, which is closer to its original aspect ratio and much preferred to previous letterboxed releases, it comes with the expected blurry sequences due to age, but the image is surprisingly sharp and distinct for the most part. Viewers can make out every wrinkle on Mr. Connery's face, and the smallest details of the mining outpost are plainly visible. Contrast is comfortably bright with clean, crisp whites, giving the picture a renewed, cinematic appeal. Colours are not particularly upbeat, which is deliberate to the cinematography, but they accurately rendered and consistent from beginning to end. The more problematic issues come from the wavering black levels, looking deep and intense one minute and murky the next. Exterior shots are excellent with rich contrast between light and dark, but several interior scenes can appear washed out, ruining some of the finer details in the shadows and making the natural film grain seem a bit noisy. It's not to the film's detriment, however, as the overall presentation looks great on high-definition video, a significant upgrade from the previous inferior and ghastly inferior NTSC DVD release.
Blu-ray Audio Quality – The sound design for 'OUTLAND' was a bit of a pioneer, with a soundtrack that is essentially an early form of today's 5.1 surround system. Without any way of actually confirming this DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack derives from the original 70mm 6-track magnetic print on which it was recorded, this Blu-ray presentation appears to be faithful to the intentions of filmmakers. The design doesn't do much with the available back speakers, but Peter Hyams' sci-fi Western makes excellent use of the stereo sound field, which I'm assuming was always the intention of the new technology. Channel separation is well-balanced with flawless movement that perfectly matches the action. Off-screen effects broaden the soundstage with imaging that's convincing, and the excellent directionality nicely generates a persuasive sense of space. The excellent and brilliant Jerry Goldsmith's ethereally jarring musical score takes greater advantage of the soundscape by bleeding into the rears and immersing the listener. Vocals are plainly audible and well-prioritized while dynamic range remains wide and cleanly rendered. One of the best features of this early surround mix is the boosted low-frequency effects, which come off surprisingly hearty and accurate with excellent response for a 30-year-old movie, making this generally-stereo track a great listen.
Blu-ray Special Features and Extras:
Audio Commentary: Commentary with Peter Hyams: British Writer/Director Peter Hyams revisits his cult sci-fi western and shares many informative anecdotes about the production. He spends a good chunk of his time talking about Sean Connery, the legendary actor's presence on set and getting to work with him as filming progressed. There are also several great comments on the story's themes, the photography, set design and the overall look he was aiming to achieve. All in all, Peter Hyams is able to offer a generally pleasing audio track, speaking with a great deal of pride over his work and the finished product.
Theatrical Trailer [2:54] This is the Original Theatrical Trailer for ‘OUTLAND,’ where they inform you that “The ultimate enemy is still man."
Finally, written and directed by Peter Hyams, 'OUTLAND' is a sci-fi western starring Sean Connery as a deeply committed lawman, the cult film remains a wildly entertaining flick with a spectacular 'High Noon' showdown. The Blu-ray arrives with a great audio and video presentation that greatly improves upon previous home video releases, but sadly, comes with only one exclusive supplement. Fans will surely want to pick this up just for the joy of seeing Sean Connery shoot bad guys with a shotgun...in space. For me, ‘OUTLAND’ remains sadly a very underrated, underappreciated film and it is worth appreciating it now as it was then when it was originally released in 1981. Technically the disc is one of the better catalogue titles Warner has put out recently, and the commentary track does great justice for fans of this brilliant shoot-em up film regardless of their age. If you are new to this film and fans of science fiction, you owe it to yourself to take a look for yourself; as I firmly believe you will wind up enjoying it now and for many years down the road and that is why it has gone pride of place in my Blu-ray Collection, especially with the ever star presence of Sean Connery. Highly Recommended!
Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Fan
Le Cinema Paradiso
WARE, United Kingdom
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.
on October 13, 2002
Outland is not the greatest movie ever made, but it is a flawed gem, definitely worth viewing. Firstly, as many here have noted, the performances are all very watchable - Connery as the gruff lawman who pays for his ethical standards in his personal life, terrific as always. Other standouts (forgive me if I can't remember the names) include the cranky female doctor, the sadly flawed sergeant and the blandly corrupt chief administrator.
Even the minor roles are well cast. Fortunately this film was made during a period when directors and actors were aiming for a super-real style of representation - compare the everydayness of the characters in Alien, for instance, with the stereotypes dominating science fiction film in recent years. This style, and the grungy, industrial set design, combine to emphasise the reality of the moral dilemma of the film - all the characters are faced with the problem of how to behave morally in an indifferent world.
The drabness and functionality of the look of the film were influenced by Alien, of course, and really help give the feeling of a working mining station. I still remember, the first time I saw this film, being almost shocked by the use of a weapon as old-fashioned, dirty and real as a shotgun, in the context of a futuristic science fiction film. At every point, from the cigarette smoke hanging in the air to the chips deep-frying in boiling fat, we are grounded in the physical reality of the situation.
It is this super-realism that answers the question we may ask: why set this story in the future? I think the answer the film gives is that, whatever the time and place, even in the distant future, these basic human problems will remain to be dealt with.
Inevitably, unfortunately, we must acknowledge the flaws in this film. The great music, set design and acting somehow don't prevent the ending from being disappointing. It may sound superficial at first, but I think the blame must be laid at the feet of the special effects supervisors - it is when Connery's character puts on his spacesuit and goes outside that the film goes downhill (at least to the extent of not living up to the preceding high quality).
In this last exterior sequence, some of the models are unconvincing, the characters occasionally look like puppets, and the pacing, previously one of the film's best qualities, starts to lurch. There is even a moment when Connery drops a metal panel, supposedly on a zero-atmosphere moon, and it glides like a paper aeroplane! The biggest problem here, though, is that Connery's stoic silence becomes less effective when his face is hidden by his space helmet, so that we lose contact with the central character.
It is a shame that a potentially classic movie is let down in this way. This is my plea to any influential movie producers who may be reading this: in a time when so many movies are being unnecessarily updated with digital effects, here is one film that desperately deserves to be saved in exactly this way...
Despite these problems, I must recommend this movie highly to cinema buffs, Connery fans, and lovers of quality science fiction films. Outland will definitely reward viewing, both as pure entertainment and as a dark future vision that will linger in your memory.