In the race to create the next LORD OF THE RINGS franchise, studios and producers have tried several different tactics. Most have failed, only to be lost into the “C” movie nexus. OUTLANDER is one such title, a movie seeking to achieve an epic grandness through a modified conceit that sounds like sci-fi variation on the story of Beowulf and Grendel: what if a man from space crash-landed amongst the Vikings and helped them defeat an evil…an evil he brought with him? The film received extremely limited theatrical exposure last year before heading off to video; now it’s back with a new Blu-ray release.
Jim Caviezel (PASSION OF THE CHRIST) stars as Kainan, an extraterrestrial running from the annihilation of his colony. Unbeknownst to him until it’s too late, one of the creatures responsible for the colony’s destruction has snuck onboard his ship, causing it to crash land on the nearest planet – which just happens to be Earth. Kainan awakes from the crash to find his fellow astronaut dead and the creature long gone. After being captured by a Viking tribe led by Rothgar (John Hurt of 1984 fame) and his daughter Freya (Sophia Myles, UNDERWORLD), Kainan must convince the Vikings that the creature he hunts is real before it is too late for all of them.
The plot of OUTLANDER is a typical formula, tweaked slightly to come off as fresh and original. What if we have an outsider come in and claim to have seen some terrible horror and the villagers don’t believe him until it’s too late? When they finally see it for themselves, they rally behind the stranger and overcome evil. It’s been done before, and done better than it is here.
Not all is lost in this movie, however. The majority of performances are quite good, with a very solid cast. John Hurt lends some weight, while Sophia Myles more than holds her own. And lets not forget to mention Sci-Fi stalwart Ron Pearlman in an awesome, though much too brief, showing as the duel-hammer-wielding Gunnar. Unfortunately, the performance that matters most is the weakest of the lot: Jim Caviezel has truly convinced me that his face contains no emotion whatsoever. Serious Kainan, emotional Kainan, happy Kainan – all contain a straight mouth and tired eyes. However, every now and again, he erupts in a sudden burst of angry yelling that jars you into thinking that his performance might be turning around. Let me save you the time: it doesn’t.
OUTLANDER‘s special effects are okay, but not great. You can tell that, with a bigger budget, the effects would have really blistered your eyeballs. As it is, the visuals are passable but far from impressive. However, the concept of the monster itself is cool as hell. I won’t get too far into the details, but suffice to say I can think of worse ways to die than getting a fantastic light show before you are eaten.
These small bright spots are not enough to overcome a weak script, terrible pacing, and sub-par special effects. As with most movies, there is an audience niche for this film. People like space, people like Vikings – why not combine the two? But from a movie standpoint, OUTLANDER find’s itself between gripping Sci-Fi and typical SyFy. In the Hollywood Hit machine, OUTLANDER should have been left in to bake for a few minutes more.
The DVD (released May 19, 2009) includes your standard pack of extras. Nothing much really pops out, though if you are a fan of the computer design aspect of film, the Visual Effects Tests will be right up your alley. Features include:
- Deleted Scenes
- Visual Effects Tests
- Production Design Galleries
- Audio Commentary by Writer-Director Howard McCain and Producers Dirk Blackman, Chris Roberts and John Schimmel
Vivendi Entertainment’s recent Blu-ray re-release (May 18, 2010) ports over these bonus items and adds a “Making of Outlander” featurette.
OUTLANDER (copyright 2008; theatrical release, January 2009; home video debut, May 2009). Directed b Howard McCain. Written by Dirk Blackman & Howard McCain. Cast: James Caviezel, Sophia Myles, Jack Huston, John Hurt, Cliff Saunders, Patrick Stevenson, Aidan Devine, Ron Perlman, Bailey Maughan, John Nelles, James Preston Rogers.