Outland Film Review

Outland Film Review
“Outland” (1981) was released a year earlier than “Blade Runner” and the two sci-fi thrillers have certain similarities. Both feature a male protagonist who is a police officer experiencing an existential crisis. The two films also consider the fate of labor. “Blade Runner” envisions a future in which robots (replicants) do the menial labor that humans loathe. The corporate manager in “Outland” introduces his workers to a powerful drug that increases their productivity, but ultimately leads to insanity and death.

“Outland” takes place on Io, Jupiter’s third moon. Connery plays William O’Niel, a Marshall newly arrived on the remote outpost. O’Niel quickly learns that the real law is Sheppard (Peter Boyle), the corporate manager of Io’s mining operation. Sheppard imports an amphetamine that makes his miners feel invincible, until it kills them. O’Niel, who uncovers the scheme and decides to stop Sheppard, has only one ally. She is Dr. Lazarus (Frances Sternhagen), who describes herself as unpleasant, but not stupid. The film plays out as a modern “High Noon” as O’Niel waits for Sheppard’s hired killers to arrive on a shuttle and assassinate him.

“Outland” is a tightly edited film that contains nothing superfluous. Writer-director Peter Hyams is also a cinematographer, and his visual sense is evident in the creative and symbolic use of lighting. There is no night or day in the world of “Outland” and the sickly light reflects the corrupt corporate culture it depicts. Due to the attention paid to lighting, the special effects in “Outland” hold up quite well more than thirty years after its release.

Regarding Connery’s performance, Hyams stated, “Sean had such a presence that when we edited “Outland”, if we weren’t sure if something was working, we’d just cut to a close-up of that face.” Connery, despite his macho persona, is capable of using his extraordinary voice and eyes to convey an amazing vulnerability. He does so in a scene with Frances Sternhagen, explaining O’Niel’s reason for confronting the “rotten machine” and risking his life. There are also two scenes, involving O’Niel’s wife and son, in which Connery is as close to crying as he will ever be on film.

“Outland” functions as both entertainment and an indictment of corporate greed. Sheppard’s warning to O’Niel that “no one stands up for anyone else” echoes Margaret Thatcher’s infamous declaration that there is no such thing as society. In “Outland”, the future is no different from the present.

“Outland” is rated R for violence, mild profanity, and some sexually suggestive images. It is available on DVD and Amazon Video. I watched the film at my own expense. Review posted on 9/1/2017.

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