Outland (1981), or The Future Seems A Lot Like The Past

5 02 2009
Were so advanced in the future, we blow the faces off anyone who says differently...

"We're so advanced in the future, we blow the faces off anyone who says differently..."

OK, readers, today is a day of jubilation! It is our first Sean Connery movie! Yay! The guy is a living legend, and his suave sophisticated persona has withstood the test of time to create something beyond even the man himself. Now, here’s an interesting thing I’ve noticed. A lot of the younger people haven’t seen a Sean Connery movie before. They know who he is, and they know what he sounds like and can do a pretty funny impression of him, but most of them have never seen his movies. Other than the James Bond ouevre, most people would be pretty well in the dark as to what else he has been in. Even more people would be surprised to learn that his career has hit a number of snags along the way. That’s right, for every good movie (see Murder On The Orient Express), there are three average to bad ones (see The Next Man, Meteor, and Cuba) in his career. So which kind are we watching today? Well, an average one, honestly, but this one has a catch.

This is a sci-fi movie set is the future. Sean Connery is our hero (of course). His name is William O’Niel, and he is a US Federal Marshal as well as an honest and stand-up guy. As this is the future, his assignment is a one-year stint at Con Am 27, a titanium mine on Io, Jupiter’s moon. I suppose we have dominated our solar system at this point, so I’ll go ahead and date this as the year 3000. Well when our friend William comes to the planet, he begins to investigate the deaths of various miners and their involvement with a popular drug that increases miner productivity but leads eventually to madness and death. O’Niel follows the breadcrumb trail of this drug higher and higher up the food chain until he heads not only to the top of the chain, but to the top of Io’s hierarchy. And as soon as that happens, people stop wanting to help him. Allies fall one by one until he is almost the only one willing to fight. Everyone pleads with him to turn a blind eye, even the wife he left on earth. Can our heroic US Federal Marshal turn a blind eye to the injustice going on around him?  Can he really stop such a widespread drug trade? And what about the titanium?!

A whole town against one man willing to fight for justice… where have I seen that before… What Women Want? No. The Mothman Prophecies? No. OH! THAT’S RIGHT! This is exactly like Gary Cooper’s High Noon! Almost to the T, with the exception of the whole space thing. Yes, one of America’s greatest films and one of the strongest allegories of the dangers of blacklisting, High Noon is truly a great movie that needs to be watched by one and all. And this is a lot like that movie, which counts for something when one is talking about one of the greatest Westerns ever produced.

Sean Connery is actually a good actor for what it is worth. His legend precedes him, what with all of his Scottishness and his debonair attitude, but he puts that aside for this movie, opting for a more gruff and standoffish demeanor. He has to take everything that made him famous and just say, “Hey, you bad guys! I’m gonna beat you to death!” like any good Federal Marshal would. He is no Gary Cooper, but the Law of Diminishing Returns is a silent killer for remakes, so Connery will have to do, and he does. Peter Boyle is actually his antagonist, and I think he did a good job. I never thought of him as anything approaching villainous, but he actually makes you hate him with all the power he possesses, and how much he is willing to use it against O’Niel. The delightful Frances Sternhagen plays the only person willing to help O’Niel, Dr. Lazarus. I like her in this, but she has done much better work, although most of it on the stage. A well-rounded cast.

Peter Hyams is a hack. I have not thoroughly enjoyed one of his films. He is a very poor director who should work on his craft a bit more than thinking up ridiculous gimmicks to boost his viewership. This time, instead of “time waves” or the Governator, he uses a bizarre process called Introvision, a complicated process in which mirror tricks and reflective materials are used to create the illusion of characters interacting with projected backgrounds. In the scenes it is used, especially the mining sequences, it works well enough, but the movie seems to flaunt it, and it becomes a nuisance. I would like to see more of this in more movies, not a lot of it in one movie.

All in all, an intriguing retelling of Gary Cooper’s classic tale of justice and morality in the Wild West set in space. And a good springboard movie for people to dig into the wide world of Sean Connery. If you like westerns, but hate the west, this is the movie for you! Check it out. It’s not good, it’s not bad. But you might get interested in watching the original, and that’s worth the price of this rental. I give Outland 6 space Westerns out of 10.

See you tomorrow, for Breathless! Until then…