Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Returning to Space and the Western with Peter Hyams' Outland: A Movie Review (Blu-Ray)

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*full disclosure: a Blu-Ray screener of this film was provided by Warner Bros.

Director/writer: Peter Hyams.

Cast: Sean Connery, Frances Sternhagen and Peter Boyle.

Outland is a western set in a sci-fi locale. There is a new marshal in town on Io (Jupiter's moon). He is a man with convictions (Sean Connery). He is also a man kept busy by a group of drug dealers onboard a remote oil rig. The next 109 minutes are spent with O'Niel/O'Neil (Connery) as he tracks down these ne'er-do-wells. Outland is a partial homage to High Noon (1952) in story. This is basically one marshal against a world of corruption. No one is there to help him. This picture is also extraordinary for being the first to use intravision, a style of filmmaking involving interposing characters on miniature sets.

The story, as stated, is very comparable to Fred Zinnemann's High Noon. A lonely sheriff, or in this case a marshal, must deal with a group of thugs, on his own. None of the locals will help including his deputies. Thus, O'Niel must do as a hero should. He stands up against lawlessness and against insurmountable odds by himself. Somehow, he comes out the winner.

Victory is also the case in High Noon. There are other similarities, as well. Hyams uses several shots of a clock. The clock lets viewers know when the next group of bandits will arrive via a shuttle. This is a similar technique that Zinnemann used over sixty years ago. The purpose of this shooting style is to increase tension and suspense. It is just as effective here as it was many years previous. Both films also show an apathetic populace. No one cares that the marshal is outnumbered and facing corruption for the townsolk. They simply do not want to get involved. When O'Niel asks for help, there is no response and the silence creates further tension. Times get even tougher when his deputies turn on him. In High Noon, Will Kane (Gary Cooper) could not find help either. Where are your friends when the chips are down? These elements are pointed out by director Peter Hyams in his commentary.

Hyams also discusses intravision in his narration. This reviewer was unfamiliar with this visual display. Maybe others are as well. Intravision is the use of interposing to place an actor in a model set. Thus, a character can appear on elaborate sets such as a massive greenhouse, in the case seen here. Hyams claims that he was the first to use this style and this film fan can think of no other film that used such an odd visual technique. Of course, special effects were slightly more archaic before the birth of computer generated images as seen in these late scenes. Some might enjoy this visual style of storytelling while others might scratch their heads at the strange techniques on display.

However, Hyams is still an innovator and a competent director. This director took chances with Outland. The '80s were not good for the western unlike the '50s. Hyams blends the science fiction and western genres with ease while paying homage to quality films of the past. As well, the music is excellent. There is tension in the soundtrack throughout many of the action scenes. The acting is also well done. And, Connery is a man in his element throughout this film. He is an imposing figure. Lastly, Hyams discusses his love for lighting on the commentary. Admittedly, he is very good at using diverse lighting techniques. His use of shadow created by computer screens or empty corridors creates an interesting visual display. The lack of lighting highlights O'Niel's isolation during Act Three. Earlier, only a flashlight illuminates a darkened cargo hold. There is a lot to like in this film.

Fans of sci-fi will get another chance to see Outland. This title released on Blu-Ray for the first time July 10th. This is an excellent title that should be added to film fans' collections. The commentary from Hyams is especially enlightening. There are many trivia bits to hear. As well, this film is innovative for propelling the western genre into space much like James Cameron moved the military film into the dark vacuum with Aliens (1986). Also similar to High Noon, Outland is compelling cinema that should not be taken lightly despite the drawback of some poor special effects.

*the release on Blu-Ray comes with the director's commentary, and a theatrical trailer.

Overall: 7.5 out of 10 (good story, solid acting, Blu-Ray extras are sparse).

The film's trailer can be found at the Warner Bros. website:

Outland at Warner Bros.

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