Outlander (film, 2008)


I love Vikings, I love space, I lovethis film. From Death Ray 17. The score is too much, it’s a 3.5 star movie, but 4.5 is what I gave it at the time. Criticisms I didn’t articulate at the time are that outside its inventive SF/Norse mash-up roots, it’s very formulaic, with a screen-school narrative beat you could drum out in your sleep. Also, the character interaction is flat in places, perhaps because of the dialogue. Still, a guilty pleasure and a superior B-movie.

FOUR AND A HALF STARS

2008/115minutes/18

Director: Howard McCain

Writers: Dirk Blackman and Howard McCain

Starring: Jim Caviezel, John Hurt, Sophia Myles, Jack Huston, Ron Perlman220px-Outlanderposter

Giant alien monsters versus Vikings. A match made on a B-movie shelf, but this film is a whole lot better than that.

The pitch: a soldier from another planet crashlands on Earth during the 8th century; in the hold of his ship, a ferocious alien predator. It survives and starts to kill. Our hero, the Outlander, teams up with the local Vikings in order to defeat it.

There are two ways a film like this can go, awesome, or shit. There is no middle-ground.

Fortunately for us, Outlander is low-fibre, high-fat fun SF of the absolute finest kind, the big screen analogue of eating a whole bucket of KFC by yourself. It’ll do you no good, you might feel dirty afterwards, but while it lasts, it is heaven.

Outlander is a geek’s dream film, on a par with Pirates of the Caribbean (pirates AND zombies you say?) for its genre blending verve. It’s a great cocktail, mostly down to the quality of the ingredients. There’s some very fine film-making on show here.

The script is tight, full of good character beats and natty little SF touches. For example, within five minutes of opening, the Outlander learns the local tongue and we learn that Earth is a long-abandoned seed colony in a two-minute sequence with a computer, all while the dripping, shocked spaceman nervously checks all about him to make sure he is not observed. This kind of lean exposition is characteristic of the film, and after several movies with fat lumps of “So you see Mister Bond” gristle to spoil the storytelling soup, boy we are thankful for it. The special effects perform beyond the call of duty for a mid-budget film. The monster, from Patrick Tatopolous’ studios, is an original looking thing. It’s bioluminescent, so the sequences pre the big reveal aren’t just shadows in woods, but riots of sinister colour. Director McCain showing in his first movie that he knows how to handle a monster better than many with more experience. A lengthy flashback sequence featuring a xenocide captivates. And what film that begins with a spaceship crash is bad? Characters you care about, good motivation and good performances (Perlman’s at his best as Gunnar, local hothead chief) enable total buy in to a film that really could have been five big blokes in horned helmets wrestling another big bloke in a rubber suit. But no, even the costumes are lovely, the Outlander’s spacesuit especially cool. It gets the big and the little equally right, we’re impressed.

Except, it does annoy in places, usually when the otherwise meticulous detailing fails and the script wanders into emotional cliché. Mostly the film manages a passable facsimile of Dark Age Norway but the names are lifted out of The Lord of The Rings and Beowulf. There’s some sloppy history, an annoying “make a sword in an afternoon” montage and a sequence with a stupid lava chamber. The lava really was too much (there are no volcanoes in Norway. If they’d wanted volcanoes and Vikings, why not set it in Iceland?) as if they were trying to get everything and the kitchen sink into the script. So what if most of the audience aren’t going to spot it? [Note from 2013 – other inaccuracies are a humpback whale at the whaling village, and the appearance of horses wearing horse collars two centuries before they were in use in Europe]. People like we will, and then we’ll tell everyone. Just a little bit of research would have knocked these rough edges off, and that’s what really annoys – it nearly manages to pull it off. The most far-fetched SF needs the strongest basis in reality in order to make us believe it, especially when you are dealing with a potentially cheesy story like “Norsemen fight space dragon”.

The number of climaxes gets out of hand roundabout volcano time, but we leave satisfied and grinning. Outlander is this year’s Pitch Black. As such, it’s going right into my DVD collection, oh yes. Better news still is that McCain is attached to direct the new Conan flick. If he does as good a job there as here, by Crom, we’re in for happy times.

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