Monday, 25 February 2013

Films That I Like: Outland

I've decided to write a few blogs about films that I like. They're not reviews they're just the things that I like about a particular films. 

Outland (1981)
Written and Directed by Peter Hyam

There's a whole machine that works because everybody does what they're supposed to. I found out I was supposed to be something I didn't like. That's what's in the program, that's my rotten little part in the rotten machine. I don't like it so I'm going to find out if they're right.

You can pick as many holes in this film as you like but the script and the performances are amongst the best of any I've ever watched. All the actors portray their characters in a low key, naturalistic manner. I'm particularly fond of Nicolas Barnes's portrayal of O'Niel's wonderfully unattractive son Paul. A lumpen blob of a boy who could only be loved by his parents and has been cursed with the pet name of Paulie. He, along with Kika Markham who plays O'Niel's pusillanimous wife, help demythologise Sean Connery to the point where we accept him as being an ordinary bloke who decides to do something extraordinary.

I've mentioned the script; watch how all the characters are differentiated not just by their performances but also in their dialogue. When Frances Sternhagen, as Dr Lazerus engages in witty banter with O'Niel note how that while she's equipped with a ready wit O'Niel's responses are stilted and clichéd. James B. Sikking's character, Montone, speaks in hesitant half sentences and questions - a man desperate to avoid committing himself. None of this is accidental and is one of the signs of a proper professional writer.

The art direction is another stand out. As O'Niel chases a suspect through the complex see how each area has been carefully thought out and made to look authentically functional. I particularly like the line of pipes where workers, dressed in their pressure suits, plug themselves in to recharge their air supply.


JS said...

This is interesting...It was always received wisdom, for me, that this was a lesser science fiction film: beautiful production design but the plot was just High Noon in space (see John Brosnan and Harlan Ellison). Based on your comments, I'll have to revisit it and give it a second chance

Recently re-read Transit for the Who 50th anniversary. Still a classic

Anonymous said...

Don't get maudlin...

But yes, I always liked Outland, good grungy 80's sci-fi, although the whole exploding in a vacuum thing is a bit much.

Earthling said...

This is not a classic by any means, but it's certainly an under-noticed gem. A little rough around the edges, but there is some shine to it. I love the interiors. This is not a place to live, this is a place to work. It's got an industrial yet very real feel to it.