Cinemalphabet: O is for Outland (1981)
Oh Peter Hyams! I just can’t quit you! And the middle entry of your space film trilogy – Outland (Capricorn One being the first and 2010: The Year We Make Contact being the last) – is chiefly amongst my reasons. This inspired sci-fi re-imagining of the themes explored in the Western classic High Noon is an underrated sci-fi classic.
“Writer-Director Peter Hyams and I have an uneasy relationship. I tend to associate the Hyams with his ambitious grabs at greatness in films such as Capricorn One, 2010: The Year We Make Contact and Outland. But he’s also made reasonably enjoyable films such as The Presidio, Narrow Margin, Timecop and the underrated Hanover Street. I root for Hyams in his quest to make that “say something cool” film, and was surprised that one of his films – the charming 1986 buddy action flick Running Scared – is among my nearly forgotten gems.” – (source)
Outland is creepy blend of the aforementioned High Noon a dash of Solaris and boy did it scare the bejeebus out of me when I was a kid. Even to this day I can only screen this film during the day! Sean Connery stars as a Federal Marshall assigned to one of Jupiter’s moons to restore order after a couple of suspicious and bizarre accidents. Initially, O’Neil is more, “what’s all this then” than he is interested in unraveling the mystery at the center of the film. And Connery’s quite good in the role. Definitely one of his better post-Bond roles and foreshadows his Oscar-winning performance in The Untouchables.
Chilling, is really the only way to describe the way events in Outland unfold, but the film is not completely lifeless or dour. Like the Western film it evokes, Outland is engaging and is one of cinema’s more thoughtful character studies utilizing the sci-fi lens. And the Jerry Goldsmith score is pretty bad ass too.
Lots of sci-fi films arrogantly present a future where humans have for the most part tabled their squabbles in favor of collectively fighting some other, which has often struck me as bizarre to say the least. Rare is the sci-fi film that actively embraces the idea that humans will still use violence and treachery to ensure their elevated status remains unchallenged. Social constructions are still firmly in place and folks are still actively interested keeping it that way. The means used to achieve that goal evolve, not the humans involved! Still rarer is a film that adeptly exploits this reality without heavy relience on geewhiztronics in place of taut plotting, masterful suspense and skillful direction.