Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on May 22, 1981
Directed by Peter Hyams
Written by Peter Hyams
Cast: Sean Connery, Peter Boyle, Frances Sternhagen, James B. Sikking, Kika Markham, Clarke Peters, Steven Berkoff, John Ratzenberger, P.H. Moriarty, Doug Robinson, Nicholas Barnes
I know it’s been mentioned, discussed, and written about a hundred times before, but the similarities between this film and a particular 1952 Western starring Gary Cooper are still too obvious to ignore: the ostracized sheriff of a dusty New Mexico town becomes the ostracized marshal on a distant moon, the wife who originally threatened to leave the town now threatens to leave the space station for Earth, and the hit men intent on killing the marshal arrive by space shuttle instead of train. And thus, what was once High Noon became Outland, an entertaining sci-fi action thriller from writer-director Peter Hyams, who took these Old West situations and themes and transplanted them to the far reaches of space.
Sean Connery plays O’Niel, the newly-assigned Federal District Marshal of the titanium-mining company Con-Amalgamated, whose arrival at a compound on the Jupiter moon Io coincides with a sudden rash of psychotic episodes among the employees, which result in the none-too-pleasant (okay, I’ll say it: explosive decompression) deaths of said employees. Determined to track down the source of the problem, O’Niel soon finds himself knee-deep in trouble when he discovers Con-Am 27’s mining manager Sheppard—played by a seriously smug Peter Boyle—is supplying his employees with a drug that increases their productivity (and Sheppard’s profits), but deep-fries their gray matter once their tour of duty ends.
I’ll give Hyams credit: usually, his directorial work is more miss (Sudden Death, A Sound of Thunder) than hit (The Star Chamber), but I thought he did a fairly decent job with this one, taking an established story and giving it a fresh, futuristic slant, and doing it in a way that held my interest throughout. The pace was good, the slow reveals offered some suspense, and the interior atmosphere had a grungy, Alien-like feel to it all. In the long run, however, there was never a doubt this was Connery’s show; his marshal was no-nonsense tough, with a little world-weariness thrown in, and thankfully the script steered clear of the temptation of Bond-like one-liners and attitudes. Connery was easily the most watchable and enjoyable aspect of the film, and I couldn’t wait to see how he was going to handle his impending predicament.
Unfortunately, it was then that Hyams the writer proceeded to botch it all up. Instead of having this character we’ve been pulling for all story long – this intelligent, bad-ass marshal who carries a shotgun and takes no crap from anyone – taking care of business inside this sprawling outpost, which in turn was filled with cat-and-mouse combat potential, Hyams put Connery in a bulky space suit and shoved him outside—sans weaponry—to bounce and float around the empty exterior, easily disposing of the assassins via simple trickery. It was silly, rushed, and all too anti-climactic, and the anticipated finale of Connery going head-to-head with these killers was nowhere to be found. To me, it was just plain careless; one look at the poster above will tell you, you don’t hide this kind of hero in a Michelin Man outfit and expect us to care what happens next.
Still, it was a fun adventure yarn, even with that regrettable conclusion, and with nothing too complex or thought-provoking to get in the way of a relaxing movie night, I’d say it’s definitely worth a look, and more so if you’re a fan of Connery and his post-007 tough-guy roles. And would I classify this as one of those rare hits for Hyams? I’d say yes, and if it weren’t for a few wrong turns (and the most horrible DVD print of a film I’ve ever had the misfortune to sit through), this might have been the pinnacle of Hyams’ forty-plus years of filmmaking. And looking back, it still might be. (7/10)