Outland (1981)
Outland (1981)

Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 49 min.

Release Date: May 22nd, 1981 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Peter Hyams Actors: Sean Connery, Peter Boyle, James B. Sikking, Frances Sternhagen, Kika Markham, Clarke Peters, Steven Berkoff, John Ratzenberger




ith Jerry Goldsmith’s music (and the comparable setting), “Outland” unavoidably begins like “Alien,” featuring eerie sounds and a slowly-appearing title graphic, followed by onscreen stats about a space station. It’s fitting, considering this is also a spacebound thriller, here based on Io, the third moon of Jupiter, where only a single supply shuttle arrives per week to a titanium mining operation conducted by Con-Amalgamate. As a couple of workers complain about the temperature in their heavy gear, another suddenly screams about a spider crawling up his leg – an impossibility considering their location. When he uses a welding tool to breach his suit, the pressure causes his body to swell and explode (a magnificently horrific way to open the film).

No foul play is suspected, but a report piques the attention of Marshal William T. O’Niel (Sean Connery; interestingly, computer readouts specifically spell his name O’Niel, yet his embroidered name badge reads both O’Niel and “O’Neil” during various scenes), along with his wife Carol (Kika Markham), who are only two weeks into a 1-year assignment on the moon. It’s not a great tour, but Will insists that things will get better in time. Despite General Manager Mark B. Sheppard’s (Peter Boyle) assurance that the people of this mining town are just like any others, hardworking and dedicated, it’s obvious that problems are about to compound. Sure enough, a second employee commits suicide by entering an elevator without an environment suit, descending into a no-atmosphere region, which bursts his skin as if a balloon.

Lending to the modernized body-horror of “Total Recall,” “Leviathan,” and ”Event Horizon,” this gritty sci-fi adventure quickly establishes itself as a tense mystery; unexplained deaths accrue, while disturbing behaviors seem to sweep through the crew. What’s causing so many accidents? And why are the authorities and management so unconcerned? “Some people just can’t take it here after awhile.”

Although this is far from a space opera, instead using the setting for isolation, claustrophobia, and a certain sense of unfamiliarity, the sci-fi notes are quite amusing. The plot may be more of a straightforward uncovering of criminal enterprises (and a corrupt corporation), aided by a feisty doctor (Frances Sternhagen, not only providing a spectacularly convincing supporting persona, but also a change of pace for sidekicks; she’s not the conspicuously attractive, young love interest typically found in these pairings) and a sympathetic associate (James Sikking as Sergeant Montone), but the aesthetic shifts between “Alien” and “Blade Runner,” making use of superb set designs, (slightly) futuristic props, and vivid cinematography. The violence is also creatively over-the-top, transitioning from gruesome yucks to frantic chases to hand-to-hand combat.

“You’re out of your league.” Deep down, the premise is about a lone lawman against a multitude of conspiring crooks; in the vein of “High Noon” (or rather a clear derivation in the last half; here, there aren’t even cutting-edge laser weapons), the friendless marshal must do the right thing, even when everyone else conveniently and profitably turns a blind eye. And when a gang of real tough hombres are dispatched to clean up the mess of a nosey cop (monitored by a suspense-building terminal countdown), William will have to decide whether or not righteousness (and a sense of purpose) is a cause worthy of losing his life over. Perhaps redemption can only come from the ultimate sacrifice. “You really think you’re making a difference?” Boasting an energizing blend of Western showdowns in sci-fi environs at the climax – as well as a few impressive, expansive exterior shots of the station (reminiscent of “The Black Hole”) – this space-going actioner is an entertaining, competent, unique mix of genre films.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10