October 25, 2013

Movie Review: Outland (1981)

“ They sent me here to this pile of shit because they think I belong here. I've got to find out if they're right. There's a whole machine that works because everybody does what they're supposed to. I found out I was supposed to be something I didn't like. That's what's in the program. That's my rotten little part in the rotten machine. Well, I don't like it. So I'm going to find out if they're right.” – Marshal O’Neil (Sean Connery)

Director: Peter Hyams

Writer: Peter Hyams

Producers: Stanley O’Toole, Charles Orme, Richard A. Roth

Studio: Warner Brothers

Major Stars: Sean Connery, Peter Boyle, Frances Sternhagen, James Sikking, John Ratzenberger

I saw this movie first on HBO when I was 11 or so. My dad didn’t mind because Connery was in it. He felt a little guilty about that after the naked prostitute almost gets butchered. But I just thought the idea of Connery taking on all comers in space was so bad-ass I didn’t even notice it.

If you’re not familiar with Outland, think High Noon in Space and you get the basic idea. Connery is Federal Marshal Wiiliam O'Niel, assigned (banished) to a backwater mining outpost on Jupiter’s moon of Io. There he discovers miners have been dying gruesome deaths because of the widespread use of “polydichloric euthimal”, a drug that increases productivity. O’Neil traces the source of the shipments back to the corporate head running the place. And trouble ensues from there.

It’s a better movie than some give it credit for. While the motifs are undeniably cribbed from High Noon, there is an unmistakable anti-corporate message in the film. To wit, here is a quote from Station Manager Sheppard, played with a nicely wicked bent by Peter Boyle:

Let me tell you what you're dealing with here. I run a franchise. The company hired me to dig as much ore out of this hellhole as possible. My hookers are clean, some of them are good looking. My booze isn't watered. The workers are happy. When the workers are happy, they dig more ore. They get paid more bonus money. When they dig more ore, the company's happy. When the company's happy, I'm happy.

In other words, sure the drug kills them, but they’re happy while they take it. So everyone is “happy” in one sense or another. Even though the workers are replaceable cogs, nothing more.

It also has a pretty pessimistic view of humanity. Here we are, able to travel in space and colonize other planets and moons. And we still treat each other like shit. I happen to think Hyams is on the mark here, but we’ll never know for sure until we actually can get out there.

Connery is good in this film, playing a harried Marshal trying to make a last go of it as his family life falls apart. He’s the classic “good man in a bad situation,” trying to clean up a cesspool that no one in particular wants cleaned up. Frances Sternhagen is a great sidekick as Dr. Lazarus, the only person on the station willing to help O’Niel when two contract killers come to silence him.

The action is good, as are the special effects. When Connery is spacewalking outside the station, it looks like he is spacewalking outside the station. And even though you don’t explode when your suit de-pressurizes…it's a nice effect.

So where does it rest on the list? As much as I like this movie, even I know this is not a top-tier classic. It is a good sci-fi western, but better than Serenity? No. But it’s still a lot better than Logan’s Run.

You should definitely check out Outland when you get the chance. Last I checked you can buy a copy at the Turner Classic Movies website for about four bucks.


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