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Blu-ray Review: Outland – “Part pulpy detective story and part western”

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Written and directed by Peter Hyams (TimeCop), the 1981 Sean Connery starring sci-fi Outland has just been released on Blu-Ray as part of Warner Bros.’s new premium collection, alongside ‘Performance’, ‘The Hunger’ and ‘The Time Machine’.

Having not seen ‘Outland’ since the early 90s – when I kicked off a three-hour tape in LP mode to record it off telly past my bedtime, then watched it at the weekend – I was very excited to see how the new HD transfer and surround sound stacked up against my fuzzy old VHS.

‘Outland’ is a science-fiction story which is part pulpy detective story and part western set on Io: the third moon of Jupiter. Bill O’Niel (Sean Connery) is the stubborn new space sheriff who has just arrived at the mining colony to keep the peace, but immediately finds himself at odds with the facility’s arsehole general manager, Sheppard (Peter Boyle).

Unable to handle the isolation, O’Niel’s wife and kid bail and go back to Earth, leaving Bill to throw himself into his work. So, when the miners begin to off themselves and exhibit hallucinogenic freak outs and psychotic behaviour, Bill partners up with the snarky Doctor Lazarus (Frances Sternhagen) to get to the bottom of things.

While investigating the deaths, the pair uncover high-level corruption and Bill refuses a bribe out of a strong and stubborn sense of justice. When he then destroys a large expensive shipment of drugs he really pisses off the higher ups and a pair of killers are dispatched to take him out. The only traffic in and out of Io comes via a weekly supply shuttle, and Bill now has sixty hours until the shuttle arrives to prep. All very High Noon!

Connery is tough and charming – although his scenes with his son feel false and forced. His chemistry with Frances Sternhagen’s pissy and nasty Doctor is great though, and it’s a shame the pair never got a sequel or spin-off. Peter Boyle plays Sheppard as a powerful and sinister middle manager who will make whatever decisions are needed to keep the company making money – no matter what the cost to his employees – while ‘Outland’ also features Steven Berkoff as a short-lived manic drug-addled lunatic.

The picture is crisp with all of the blacks of space un-crushed and Philip Harrison’s brilliant production design getting plenty of time to shine in high detail. The film’s beautiful model work still stands up, as does the encode, even during a thrilling and fast-moving foot chase, a scalding and slicing kitchen fight, and an insanely suspenseful stalk and shoot finale.

The DTS HD Master Audio surround sound is full and spread around nicely – soaking you in Jerry Goldsmith’s stunning score performed by The National Philharmonic Orchestra – and really immersing you in a sweaty and dirty lived-in universe that feels real, mucky and grimy (and like it could be taking place in the ‘Alien’ universe).

In the Peter Hyams audio commentary, he acknowledges the “lived in future” influence of Ridley Scott’s Alien, as well as Blade Runner, and he is full of lots of other interesting info too. Chatting nearly non-stop, with no long gaps, Hyams explains that he approached ‘Outland’ as “not a science fiction film, but as a science feasible film”, and that the main title music was him recording a gong he struck at high speed and then played backwards. Honest and proud of the film, he still says that he can see how he could do it better now!

The only other extra is an old and up-res’d from standard def trailer. The original theatrical has lots of sparkle, and bob and weave, but it is an enticing edit that showcases the film’s detective story and great set design and visuals. It also has a fun voice over that ends with the tag line: “The ultimate enemy is still… man”.

‘Outland’ comes with a DVD disc, Blu-Ray disc and a digital download code; nice, not special, packaging; and a set of four art cards. The disc’s menus are super basic with static screens, no menu audio, and no transitions; and there is English, French, German, Italian and Spanish audio; and English hard-of-hearing, French, German, Italian and Spanish subtitles.

‘Outland’ is ‘Chinatown’ meets ‘High Noon’ in space, and features Connery at his post-Bond best.

Film

Disc

Outland is now available on Blu-Ray from HMV in the UK

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