Outland (1981) — Sean Connery’s Cops in Space

“I’m unpleasant, I’m not stupid. Of course I’m sure. I can count.”

Justin’s rating: What are you prepared to do?

Justin’s review: When Outland begins, we the audience are subjected to one of the worst movie narrative devices: endless informative text. Seriously, the whole beginning is pretty much five minutes of slowly revealing text, as if you were being forced to read a Tom Clancy novel at the rate of one sentence per thirty seconds. So if you ever pick this film up — and with a shotgun-toting Sean Connery on the cover, I don’t see how you could resist for long — go ahead, fast forward through all this, and let me sum it up for you:

It’s the FUTURE. Some corporation has plunked down a MINING COLONY on a moon of JUPITER. It’s pretty ISOLATED. And SEAN CONNERY is the grooviest sheriff in the whole dang town.

Pretty much the worst job assignment in the solar system, these miners get to deal with super-long work hours and a treacherous environment that threatens to make their bodies swell up and go *pop* if they make a mistake. To our great delight, this happens in the first few minutes, as a miner freaks out about bugs crawling on his skin and opens up his suit to the sinister vacuum of space. And yes, let’s get past the fact that this one “fact” — used numerous times in the film as a serious message about the technical abilities of the special effects team — is so blatantly unscientific as to be laughable.

Anyway, to make matters worse, other miners are starting to show similar mental instability, the head of the operations doesn’t seem to care much, and the only movies they have in their rinky dink theater are the collected works of Pauly Shore.

Thrown into the middle of this isolated and paranoid situation is O’Neil (Connery), the new federal marshal with a checkered past, a weary wife, and a bug up his behind. Expected to go with the flow and ignore the obviously wrong events going on around him, O’Neil decides instead to doggedly go after the truth. Good for him. We’ll be sitting over here, waiting to see how it turns out.

I can’t in all honesty say that Outland is a masterpiece or even a terribly watchable flick, for that matter. It’s slow, for one thing, taking us through a plot and its various “twists” that are easy enough to figure out before you’ve even gotten out of the Endless Introductory Text of Doom. Also, for all of the vast conspiracies and evilocity implied in Outland, I truly expected things to get a lot more freaky and bloody and extreme by the end. Yet I forgot — this was 1981, a simpler time. The big finale is about as grandiose as three theater majors hamming it up on stage and hoping for your approval. Big meh.

But still, don’t count this out entirely! Sean Connery doesn’t want to come to your house and collect your thumbs as retribution for not watching it, but he’ll do it if he has to. The single best element Outland has going for it is its awesome atmosphere (and, occasionally, lack of it). The colony itself doesn’t look half-bad, for old school “future technology” design. It’s definitely on par with the Nostromo from Alien, as is the confined, cramped claustrophobia. To see O’Neil struggle through this world that is completely against him — by the end, even his own officers won’t stand with him — reminds us in a good way of Connery’s magnificent performance in The Untouchables.

So remember kids, next time you’re in space, pack your shotguns and leave your realistic physics at home!

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