People Tell Me I Look Like Han Solo.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
  DVD Review: Outlander

Outlander is a sci-fi/fantasy movie with one of the greatest high concepts in recent film history: an intergalactic soldier crash-lands in Norway in 709 A.D. with a vicious alien monster in the middle of a war between Viking clans. It’s a movie about Vikings teaming up with a spaceman to fight an alien dragon. Outlander may be the best movie ever made.

I’m kidding, mostly; it’s not. But Outlander is a totally fun genre movie that knows exactly what its appeal is (Vikings vs. Space Dragon!), and it’s a blast. When I say the movie knows what it is, I don’t mean it in the sense that it winks at the audience or acknowledges the silliness (or awesomeness, depending on your outlook) of its central premise; everything is played pretty straight – it’s nowhere near as tongue-in-cheek as, say, Doomsday (read my review here) – but it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it’s still a riot.

Jim Caviezel plays Kainan, the futuristic soldier who accidentally unleashes the creature, known as a Morwen, on iron-age humanity. He’s not really an alien per se, but the film rather hints that humanity is instead a sort of offshoot of whatever advanced, space-faring race he belongs to (one of Kainan’s gadgets calls Earth an “abandoned seed colony”). He quickly ends up in the grip of a Viking tribe led by John Hurt (biting into his role as a Viking king with Shakespearean aplomb), and eventually convinces him that they need his help slaying the monster before it destroys their entire society.

The action in Outlander is well-staged, and there are some legitimately creepy and tense moments when the Morwen stalks doomed Viking warriors. Just about all the actors seem to be having a lot of fun, particularly Hurt and Ron Perlman, who turns up in a too-brief role as the leader of a rival Viking clan. Caviezel is a serviceable action hero – his odd blankness works in his favour, making him seem more like an outsider, and unlike most movies of this type, his backstory (which is quite elegantly handled in a cool little flashback sequence that really helps add to the scope of the movie) actually does give some more depth to his character, making him more than just a grim monster-hunter.

The special effects in Outlander are surprisingly decent for a relatively low-budget genre flick (the small budget is mentioned more than a few times on the commentary), and the sets, costumes and character designs all contribute to making it seem like a much bigger, more epic movie than its budget would suggest. If any of this sounds even remotely entertaining to you, Outlander is worth your time. Citizen Kane it ain’t, but it’s a wonderfully unapologetic B-movie that’s loads more fun than a lot of A-list summer blockbusters.



The commentary track on the Outlander DVD, with co-writer/director Howard McCain and a couple of producers, is a bit on the dry side – they spend a lot of time discussing the ins and outs of production and McCain has a habit of incessantly pointing out the various homages to different films and filmmakers (“That’s from Jaws.” “That’s a very Michael Bay shot.”) – but McCain is also pretty honest about things he thinks don’t quite work, so it’s not like he’s acting like he’s the next Spielberg. There’s also a ton of deleted scenes, most with unfinished special effects, mostly smaller character moments dropped for time reasons (the film’s already almost two hours). Also included are a handful of effects tests, animatics and conceptual artwork, which is sort of interesting but also pretty technical. It’s a decent enough DVD, but the movie is really the main attraction here.

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