This is Help! We are Surrounded week. Outland is currently available on instant Netflix.
WATCH: Outland (1981) – Rated R.
“Director Peter Hyams transplants High Noon to outer space in this sci-fi thriller starring Sean Connery as William ONiel, a cosmic lawman on a Jupiter moon outpost who conducts an inquiry after three miners go mad and die in rapid succession. But his probe does not sit well with the mine manager (Peter Boyle), who is boosting worker productivity through dangerous drugs … and he promptly dispatches a pair of thugs to get rid of ONiel.”
“Such a smart piece of equipment, and a wreck like me trying to run it.”
Obviously no discussion of Outland can start without pointing out that it is High Noon set in space. Well High Noon is certainly a good template for a movie and it works well here.
Peter Hyams both wrote and directed this movie. In a very interesting move that pays off, although the movie is science fiction, Hyams keeps it grounded in reality. There are no ray guns, aliens, or even incredible technology. The whole story takes place on a mining station and the actors, when needed, wear bulky spacesuits.
This grounding without flashiness allows this to be more of a character-driven drama than an action film. There are good action pieces here along with many demonstrations of what happens when a person is exposed to space but primarily this is a showcase for the actors.
Sean Connery overwhelms with charisma here and puts in a highly watchable performance. This is easily one of his best post-Bond roles. Peter Boyle plays the slimy boss of the mining operation. He is good but put in better performances in Joe and Young Frankenstein.
Wonderful character actor Frances Sternhagen actually gets the female lead here and steals many a scene from Connery. This is my favorite Sternhagen performance. It is a real credit to the screenplay that her doctor character could have been a man without there being much of a difference to the story.
Outland was nominated for an Oscar for Best Sound. It used the extremely short-lived Megasound system, yet still another attempt at boosting the movie experience through improved surround sound. The Oscar went to Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Outland does owe a bit to Alien. Part of the genius of Alien was that it showed that eventually regular Joes and Janes would be traveling in space. Primarily Outland is a mining operation – secondarily it is in space. Even the poster riffs on Alien, “Even in space, the ultimate enemy is man”. The art and set design is also reminiscent of Alien.
I recommend this intriguing blend of mystery, western, and science fiction, mostly for the performances of Frances Sternhagen and Sean Connery.
Trivia: The evil corporation here, Con-Amalgamated, also features in Peter Hyams Capricorn One.
People Watch: John Ratzenberger plays Tarlow here. His most famous role is of course Cliff in Cheers but did you realize that Frances Sternhagen plays his mom in Cheers?