Bringing justice to Jupiter’s moon.
Many people have drawn parallels between science fiction and Westerns, and many more will likely continue to do so in the future. We’ve had Cowboys and Aliens, we’ve had Firefly, we’ve had The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., we’ve had Westworld, and we’ve had countless others that I can’t think of right now. Among this list comes 1981’s Outland.
It’s the future. O’Neil (Sean Connery, The Untouchables) has been assigned as the new marshal in a mining station on the surface of Io, one of Jupiter’s moons. The boss, Sheppard (Peter Boyle, Everybody Loves Raymond), asks O’Neil not to make waves, so as not to disrupt profits. A series of mysterious deaths, however, has O’Neil doggedly pursuing the truth, no matter how many others aboard the station are covering it up.
Loosely based on High Noon, Outland is very much a Western in space. O’Neil is a lawman in a lawless land, single-handedly bringing order to his small town, like the best Western heroes of old. Sheppard is like the wealthy landowner, who thinks he can get away with murder, and won’t let a man with a badge stop him. Plot points have to do with a space shuttle that arrives once a week, similar to the train rolling into town in a Western. Plus, you know that scene in Westerns when the Marshal walks into the saloon, only to have the music stop as everyone turns to look at him? Outland does a variation of that as well.
While Outland evokes Westerns, it also evokes Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi groundbreaker Alien. The opening credits alone are almost an exact riff on the mega-creepy Alien opening credits. The station is filled with down-to-Earth (but, you know, in space) blue-collar types, similar to the crew in Alien. The spacesuits bear a similarity to the Alien ones, as does some of the interior set designs.
If Outland is so evocative of other films, does that mean it’s not worth watching? Hardly. There’s a lot to enjoy here, mostly having to do with Sean Connery. He brings it in this movie, nothing but tough guy swagger. When he points a shotgun at some punk and says, “Think it over,” you definitely think about it. Also good is Peter Boyle, mostly known as either the monster from Young Frankenstein or the dad from Everybody Loves Raymond, depending on your point of view, unrecognizable under a huge black beard and cast against type as the villain. When he makes his case about how all he’s doing is keeping his workers happy and therefore keeping everyone paid, you almost find yourself agreeing with him, and then you hate him all the more for it. Frances Sternhagen (Cheers) is also great, playing against type as a trash-talking doctor who helps O’Neil dig up evidence against his foes.
Outland has atmosphere galore, claustrophobic and gloomy. The action scenes are highlighted by a footchase through the station that ends in a brutal fistfight in a kitchen, proving once again that nobody in moviedom throws a punch like Sean Connery. The third act has O’Neil alone, squaring off against a group of hired killers. The buildup to this goes on and on, stretching the tension so far it gets a little less tense. Still, this being an R-rated actioner, there’s some intense violence and gore, and it’s always fun to see Sean Connery take out scumbags.
The high def remaster on the Blu-ray is good, so much so that the model work maybe looks a little too much like a model, but that’s forgivable. The audio makes the most of Jerry Goldsmith’s sweeping score, but at times the music and sound effects overwhelm the dialogue. The disc features a commentary from director Peter Hyams (The Relic) and the theatrical trailer.
Outland will remind you of a bunch of other movies, but it nonetheless entertains, thanks to a stellar tough-guy performance from Sean Connery.