Peter Hyams’ Outland deserves a better spot than the discount DVD bins I’ve seen it in. Though not well known, this sci-fi police drama set on a mining colony on Io, one of Jupiter’s moons, is admirably more subdued and atmospheric than most science fiction films. While it certainly doesn’t rival Ridley Scott’s masterful Alien (1979)—one of the mother works of modern serious SF cinema—in many ways it does resemble that titan of the genre. In particular, Hyams shares Scott’s vision of blue-collar workers (Scott called them truckers) in space, and, accordingly, Outland displays a similar attention to the operations of technology and the gritty details of everyday life in deep space. An additional feature that Outland shares with Alien, albeit to a lesser degree, is a distinct and effective atmosphere of isolation and foreboding. The film is also greatly influenced by High Noon (1952), borrowing from that classic Gary Cooper Western the story of a marshal standing alone for the law on the frontiers of civilization. The Western-inspired elements of the plot don’t blend perfectly with the themes of corporate control, corruption, and greed, but the film remains a satisfactory science fiction thriller. Connery is, as per usual, a stalwart and appealing lead.
7 out of 10
Outland (UK, 1981)
Written and directed by Peter Hyams; starring Sean Connery, Frances Sternhagen, and Peter Boyle.