Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Escape-athon 2015 Review: Outland

Outland, Peter Hyams' 1981 tale about a burnt-out lawman in space, takes place on Io, one of Jupiter's moons. The film revolves around Io's ore mining station and its marshal, William T. O'Neil (Sean Connery). 

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O'Neil's new in town, and he and mine foreman Mark Sheppard (Peter Boyle) immediately rub each other the wrong way. There's hints of something sinister going on, i.e., people losing their damn minds: one worker opens his suit while outside the station, another takes an elevator to the surface without a suit altogether, and another takes a prostitute hostage and threatens to kill her. And as if shitty colleagues and crazy miners weren't enough of a problem, O'Neil's wife leaves him, taking their young son with her.

Hyams and his crew establish an effective mystery vibe throughout the film, and it leads up to the reveal that Sheppard is essentially running a drug operation on the side ("When the workers are happy, they dig more ore.") Hence the crazy crewmembers. Boyle's actually pretty menacing, believe it or not, if you're used to seeing him as a goofy Frankenstein monster or Ray Romano's dad.

It's all pretty much a pissing contest between O'Neil and Sheppard, right up until O'Neil discovers a new stash of drugs and narrowly avoids death by Sheppard thug. O'Neil flushes the drugs, prompting Sheppard to hire even more thugs. So a lot of the third act is essentially O'Neil waiting for Sheppard's hired guns to show up on the next transport shuttle. O'Neil is aided in his fight by the station's curmudgeony physician, Dr. Lazarus (Frances Sternhagen). But will that be enough to defeat Sheppard and his goons?

If all this sounds familiar, it's because Outland is essentially a remake of High Noon. O'Neil even trys and fails to secure help from his crew and other members of the station, much like Gary Cooper's Marshal Will Kane tries to get help from his townspeople. But even without the overt similarities to High Noon, Outland is sort of like a western anyway, with Connery's marshal character taking the place of any number of old west sheriffs.

The filmmakers do a pretty good job of establishing this fictional future. This is a world where kids like O'Neil's son reach damn near puberty without setting foot on Earth. The grimy station is a great environment for the film, and is sort of reminiscent of Alien. The movie's also aged pretty well. It did the inflating/exploding head thing almost a decade before Total Recall and the effect still looks decent.

3.5 Out Of 5 Stars

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