The Test of Time: Outland (1981)

We all have certain movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? Do they remain must see? So…the point of this column is to determine how a film holds up for a modern horror audience, to see if it stands the Test of Time.

Director: Peter Hyams
Starring: Sean Connery, Frances Sternhagen, and Peter Boyle

This weekend, the western genre returns with MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (yet another remake). Obviously, it isn’t a horror movie, but it still looks entertainingly badass. However, westerns and horror have been known to keep company from time to time, even more so recently as shown by the fantastic BONE TOMAHAWK. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of “classics” mixing those two genres, but in the science fiction world, there’s plenty. The idea of throwing a western in space isn’t anything new once Gene Roddenberry claimed that STAR TREK was WAGON TRAIN in space. Anyway, one movie that stands out comes from Sean Connery and director Peter Hyams. But does it hold up against the Test of Time?

Under the examination: OUTLAND.

Space shotguns haven't changed much.

THE STORY: It’s the future, and Marshal O’Niel (Sean Connery) ends up stationed on a remote mining colony on the Jupiter moon Io, where he uncovers a nasty underground drug trade that keeps workers producing while also making them completely nuts and dangerous. As the marshal, he thinks he’s in charge, but he quickly finds he’s a man alone and death’s target at the hands of colony head Sheppard (Peter Boyle), who wants to ensure production remains high. Can O’Niel survive long enough to uncover the truth or will he end up dead in the process?

He should know that no one can hear him scream.

WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: The easiest way to go into a movie like OUTLAND is to think of ALIEN. Then think of Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) and Parker (Yaphet Kotto), the blue-collar workers in space. Then think of them stationed on a remote mining colony, and then we have OUTLAND.

OUTLAND sure does look A LOT like ALIEN, and writer/director Hyams (who gave us such films as END OF DAYS, TIMECOP, and that ballsy sequel to 2001) never denied Ridley Scott’s influence. In fact, originally written as a western, Hyams moved the action to the stars when that slimy gory monster-in-space flick hit big. And it’s a good thing he did because OUTLAND plays like a spin-off of ALIEN, not a rip-off. The stylings and atmosphere are the same, but it remains its own thing.

Because he needs lights around his face to see in space?

Of course, with the whole ALIEN meets HIGH NOON combo, the best part of OUTLAND comes from Mr. Sean Connery, who even in a really shitty movie is damn good (this is not a shitty movie…just saying). I really love him here as O’Niel, a guy just trying to do some good. The film dives in as he’s been stationed at Io for two weeks, and then his wife and kid immediately leave him, making him a lone man with nothing more than his job. Just like THE NAME OF THE ROSE or GOLDFINGER, this film plays as a mystery of sorts, which Connery does fantastically because nothing is better than watching old Bond investigate shit.

Of course, it would be easy to knock the special effects a little (they are dated, to be fair), but I love the practical effects back then. Created by John Stears (who worked on everything from GOLDFINGER to STAR WARS), the space sequences look brilliant. Yes, it would have been nice not to have some many close-ups of Connery in that lighted space suit, but it’s still fantastic watching him do battle in space.

Boyle's good guy smile.

WHAT BLOWS NOW: While ALIEN’s slow pace works to absolute perfection, I do wish OUTLAND moved more quickly. For an investigation film, we end up with quite a few slow and dull moments. At the same time, while the acting is top notch all around, Frances Sternhagen’s Dr. Lazarus (really, Lazarus…) could be one of the clichéd performances ever as the sassy female doc with every predictable doctor joke. I would have also dug having more Peter Boyle. He’s great here, but we don’t get enough of him.

Oh, and Connery’s toupee isn’t his best either.

Why yes, that is my hair.

THE VERDICT: OUTLAND isn’t perfect, but with hero Sean Connery and villain Peter Boyle, it’s an underappreciated classic. Sure, it does borrow heavily from ALIEN, but I’m cool with that because it only retains the style and look, creating its own plot that takes that dark world into a new place. And let’s face it, the western in space always works. Especially with Sean F*cking Connery.



I don't think he bought that kit at Hobby Lobby.



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