REVIEW [Movies]: “Outland”

5 07 2010

On Jupiter's moon he's the only law.

So. I’ve not watched “High Noon,” the film to which “Outland” (1983) is partially indebted. I was, however, moderately familiar with “High Noon”‘s premise: a sheriff reluctantly (and without the support of the townspeople) confronts a quartet of villains. “High Noon” was filmed in real-time, a relative novelty for 1952. In that case it worked because the film’s central plot concerned Sheriff Kane (Gary Cooper) awaiting the train that would deliver the villains. “Outland” employs no such technique, but it does sufficiently transplant “High Noon”‘s theme of greed and graft and the sometimes solitary pursuit of justice.

Sean Connery plays O’Niel, a federal marshal assigned to a mining facility on the Jovian moon Io. After a series of gruesome miner deaths, he discovers a corporate conspiracy: many miners have been consuming an illicit drug that increases productivity but induces psychosis as well. Evidence seems to point to operations manager Sheppard (Peter Boyle) who attempts to bribe O’Niel when confronted with accusation of supplying the drug. O’Niel places Sheppard under surveillance and later overhears of the impending arrival of goons hired to kill O’Niel.

I’m not aware of what motivated the reluctance of the townspeople in “High Noon,” but in “Outland,” the miners seem to have been enticed (off-screen) with something resembling revenue sharing. Any criminal prosecution of the facility’s administrators would certainly inhibit profitability, but I didn’t understand how these average miners would not assist O’Niel. Their co-workers were dying, indeed, killed by a corporation seemingly unconcerned with their well-being. Granted, mining is a dangerous job; space mining particularly so. I can’t think of another movie about mining where something didn’t go wrong.

tangent: Even “October Sky,” which was as much about mining as it was about space, included a disaster.

I thought that these miners would realize the insidious lengths to which their employers would chase a profit and revolt against them, but much of “Outland”‘s drama stems from this ideological difference, and the movie spends its first two-thirds with O’Niel conducting sci-fi detective work (read: doing stuff with computers).

tangent: I couldn’t reconcile how O’Niel (a Scotsman) and his wife (a Briton) produced a son who spoke with an American accent. Evidently, the film’s producers dubbed one over during post-production (think: Aunt Beru in “Star Wars”).

For a movie that’s almost thirty years old, the intensity of its action sequences hold up, although getting there’s a drag. Pacing could have been more consistent. O’Niel’s investigation advances in a perfunctory way and with the usual story beats, but as soon as he discovers that a hit-squad’s been sicced upon him, he (and the audience) simply wait for them to arrive. It’s during this (down)time that O’Niel unnecessarily ties up some loose narrative threads: he captures (or kills) two of Sheppard’s collaborators.

Although “Outland” could be dismissed as possessing a procedural plot, it’s not without merit; its production design is quite impressive. It possesses that singularly important quality of any decent sci-fi flick: its world appears lived-in. Sure, O’Niel matches wits with an assassin in a greenhouse the size of fifteen football fields, but the greenhouse looks like it could actually work.

tangent: Production Designer Philip Harrison and Connery would work together again on the set on “Never Say Never Again,” considered the only “unofficial” James Bond movie as it was produced by Warner Bros. and not EON Productions.

“Outland” is available on DVD and Netflix (streaming video).

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PURVIEW: Green Lantern

17 07 2009
The future looks bright for Green Lantern fans.

The future looks bright for Green Lantern fans.

It’s a good time to be a Green Lantern fan. Just this week it was announced that Ryan Reynolds will be donning spandex as Hal Jordan in the live-action adaptation set to begin production next January. In two weeks, an animated film, produced by Bruce Timm (the guy who delivered Batman: The Animated Series from 1992 to 1995), is set to be released. And this past Wednesday saw the publication of Blackest Night, the eight-issue crossover event from DC Comics that features the Emerald Knight.

Although I can’t say that I’m breathless with excitement (I’m no pubescent Twilight fan after all), I am anticipating good things in the months to come.

In addition to Ryan Reynolds starring, it has been reported (at Variety.com and elsewhere on the web) that Martin Campbell (Casino Royale, GoldenEye) will direct. The dude’s rebooted the James Bond franchise twice; I think he’s more than suited to the task of translating Green Lantern to film.

Marc Guggenheim and Michael Green have been assigned the duty (privilege?) of scripting the movie. Neither is unfamiliar with comic book narrative: Guggenheim currently writes Amazing Spider-Man; Green is a regular contributor to Superman/Batman.

Moreover, neither is unfamiliar with film narrative: Green is the creator of Kings, a modern-day interpretation of the Biblical story of King David (although NBC has recently cancelled it). Guggenheim is the co-creator of Eli Stone along with Greg Berlanti (a producer on Green Lantern).

It’s too early to spread rumors or cast aspersions, but that won’t stop fanboys. Empire Online posits potential casting for Carol Ferris, Jordan’s boss and love interest: Rose Byrne, an Australian actress (28 Weeks Later). It even presupposes a villain: Hector Hammond, a former consultant to Ferris who (after exposure to cosmic radiation, natch) turns into a telepathic terror.

The animated film is much more simply summarized (it’s already complete), and is what you’d expect: an origin story. Jordan is recruited into the Green Lantern Corps and placed under the supervision of Sinestro, an esteemed member of the Corps. When Jordan discovers that Sinestro might be involved in conspiratorial shenanigans, he must act quickly to restore justice to the galaxy.

Green Lantern: First Flight is the latest (fifth!) in the series of direct-to-video features produced by Warner Premiere (a subsidiary of Warner Bros), and is directed by Lauren Montgomery, who also helmed the preceding feature, Wonder Woman.

Blackest Night is the crossover event of the summer, which means nothing to most people, but much to fanboys. The story (whose plot elements have been building for several months) concerns the emergence of William Hand (formerly a minor villain among Green Lantern’s rogues gallery) as the herald of Death. Given powers to resurrect the dead and warp their desires to match his, Hand leads (predictably) the Black Lantern Corps.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Silver Age Green Lantern, an occasion to be celebrated at Comic-Con International in San Diego next weekend. Yours truly will not be attending, for it has sold out. Nevertheless, my spirits remain high for my favorite superhero, but my expectations are guarded.

[update] GamesBeat is reporting that an official video game tie-in has been greenlit (no pun intended). Double Helix is producing the game (the first to feature Green Lantern). The studio (a division of Foundation 9) is no stranger to adapting film properties; it has recently released games based on The Golden Compass, The Matrix, The DaVinci Code, and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.

Blackest Night #1 is available now ($3.99).

Green Lantern: First Flight is scheduled to be released on 28 July 2009

Green Lantern is scheduled to be released on 17 June 2011.