Saturday, January 24, 2015
(May 1981, U.S.)
Since it's original release in 1981, Peter Hyam's sci-fi film of OUTLAND has consistently received the same single, ongoing criticism in that it's plot is a direct replica of the classic western HIGH NOON set in the future of outer space; whether that's a positive point or a negative one is strictly up to the viewer. My only response to such an accusation is this - SO WHAT! To begin with, Hollywood has been ripping itself off so many times in so many recycled versions of itself that it's almost impossible to continue to go on bitching about it (though that hasn't stopped someone like ME yet!). Secondly, if you've done your reading over the years, then you know exactly how I feel about westerns as an overall genre. So if OUTLAND is truly ripping off HIGH NOON and we all know I don't particularly care for westerns (there are a few exceptions, of course!), well then, bring it on, baby! I'm watching and I'm listing!
Released only two years after ALIEN (1979), one can see much of OUTLAND's cinematography and visual images replicating that of Ridley Scott's classic, specifically in its use of dark, isolated and claustrophobic deep space industrial environments and also its direct representation of so-called "mega-companies" as ruthless, profiteering monsters who would consider the lives of their employees to be expendable (which, of course, we all know to be true in real life!). Both films also feature the soundtrack score of Jerry Goldsmith. The isolation, however, really lies in the vastness of outer space at Jupiter's moon of Io. Unlike ALIEN, which features only seven crew members, the mining outpost of OUTLAND is that of an entire community with workers, families, watering holes and even hookers. When worker deaths by mysterious circumstances start to rapidly pile up, newly-arrived Federal Marshal William O'Niel (played by Sean Connery) is determined to do the effective job he was hired to do and find out what's behind the deaths. We know the company behind the mineral ore mining to be evil right off the top; there's no secret in that. We also know early on that there's illegal drug trafficking taking place under the company's nose, of which they likely know about. The drug's initial positive effects are that workers who take it become much more productive in their work, which brings in more employee bonuses and higher company profits. The negative result is that in a few months's time, those that take the drug go completely insane and (of course!) the company, headed by Io's general manager Sheppard (played by Peter Boyle) is doing all it can to cover it all up. Typical, indeed, but it's, perhaps, the most noteworthy form of originality as a subplot in a film that's overly accused of being HIGH NOON in space, in my opinion. Hey look, it could have been worse! They could have called this film HIGH MOON!
(sorry about that!)
For just about any role or character that film makers can dream up, one has to give it a certain degree of additional credibility when the role is taken on by Sean Connery. I mean, how else would one explain being able to actually sit down and watch a disaster film like METEOR (1979), for crying out loud?? And to the best of my knowledge, I cannot account for any western that has featured Connery in it. So in other words, for the so-called HIGH NOON role of the good sheriff that stands alone against those who would seek to do evil in "his town", it all works perfectly well for me - not only because of Sean Connery, but also because of its effectiveness in an outer space setting. Although Peter Hyams has made a variety of films in his career, I'd say he definitely has a certain knack for the science fiction genre, particularly in its visual images (he also made the sequel 2010 a few years later). OUTLAND also manages to show us that even in outer space (as the movie poster indicates), man is just as evil and corrupt as he ever was and will be, and that the miracle and glory of the outer heavens does very little to change who and what we really are as human beings...which isn't saying very much!
It's unfortunate, though, that in a world today where science fiction means computer generated images that invade your senses as fast as they possibly can, small and relatively quiet sci-fi gems of another era like OUTLAND get lost in the shuffle. ALIEN, while it didn't move too fast, was a major hit upon its release. Others like 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968), BLADE RUNNER (1982) and even STAR TREK-THE MOTION PICTURE (1979), very slow moving films, have required time for their acquired tastes and cinematic followings. Perhaps a little more time is what a film like OUTLAND requires. Perhaps also the next sci-fi film that resembles a classic western will now be criticized as "OUTLAND in space...again", or something like that.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Marshal William O'Neil (aiming a gun at his enemy): "Think it over!"