Respectful Reel Review #10

MOVIE TITLE:

Outland

IMDB YEAR RELEASED:

1981

STARRING:

Sean Connery, Peter Boyle, Frances Sternhagen, James B. Sikking, Kika Markham, Clarke Peters, Steven Berkoff, John Ratzenberger

DIRECTED BY:

Peter Hyams

SUMMARY:

A federal marshal is stationed on, Io, one of Jupiter’s moons where a corporate mining colony has been erected. He quickly discovers an illicit drug smuggling conspiracy where it appears that the corporation is involved in providing drugs that increase production, but have the unfortunate side effect of causing worker deaths. When a showdown occurs he finds that he is one man alone versus the corporation’s hired assassins.

PLOT:

On a mining colony erected on the Jupiter moon of Io, Conglomerates Amalgamated has its workers mine titanium. Although the financial benefits are lucrative, the conditions are difficult. The gravity is 1/6 the gravity of earth. The atmosphere is made up of non-breathable air. The space suits that they must wear are restrictive and cumbersome with limited air. Shifts are long and difficult. Patience wears thin.

A Marshal has been assigned to the station along with security personnel that have been there for a while, in order to maintain the status quo. The general manager, Mark Sheppard (Peter Boyle), boasts to Marshal William O’Niel (Sean Connery) that the station has broken productivity records since he took over.

While O’Niel is on shift, Carol, his wife leaves with their son Paul. She leaves a note saying that she’s tired of moving from assignment to assignment without an end in sight. She wants to raise her son on Earth where he can breathe fresh air and play in the sunshine. She still loves O’Niel, but needs him to make a choice: his job or his family.

In the meantime, there are three separate incidents of stimulant psychosis that occur which make it apparent that there is a drug problem aboard the station. One of the miners sees spiders inside his space suit and rips it open to experience explosive decompression. Another miner enters an exterior elevator without his space suit, and experiences the same results.

When the third incident occurs where a prostitute is taken hostage and the miner threatens to kill her, O’Niel tries to talk the miner down while his subordinate, Sergeant Montone (James B. Sikking), enters the chamber via the air duct, and kills the miner. Dr. Lazarus, the station doctor (Frances Sternhagen), is tasked by O’Niel to find out what the miner has been ingesting and it is discovered that he was on a very powerful amphetamine designed to stimulate the miners to work for days at a time with little respite.

With further investigation, it is discovered that Sheppard is smuggling and distributing the drugs in order to enhance his productivity numbers. O’Niel recognizes that the drugs can’t be distributed throughout the station unless security is somehow involved. He then warns his sergeant to cease his cooperation with the villainous elements and that he, O’Niel, will not go after him. He is after the big fish.

Marshal O’Niel receives another message from his wife and he tells her that he’s in the middle of an important investigation. His wife has heard it before, so she really doesn’t expect him to travel with them back to earth, but her pleas do not go unheeded. He really does seem to want to go back with her and their kid.

When Sgt. Montone is killed, O’Niel threatens the general manager, but Sheppard tells him that the corporation has hired assassins to get him. What follows is a showdown between the hired gunmen and the marshal.

REVIEW:

There are a lot of things to like about this movie. Before I begin to enumerate those things, I want to make clear that this was a movie chosen by the Beard as a space western, a sci-fi example of a western. It riffs in a respectful way some of the best elements of High Noon with the ticking clock which adds suspense and the stalking hired guns facing off against the marshal. On that level, it works.

If you’re a follower of this blog, you know how much I prefer movies that use the ticking clock as a method of building suspense. When the killers get to the station they begin to stalk the marshal who must face them alone. All of the other security personnel are compromised. In fact, one of there number is in league with the corporation.

The main character, Marshal O’Niel, is a world-weary burn-out that seems to wear out his welcome where ever he goes because, according to Sheppard, he likes to stick his nose where it doesn’t belong. The characterization is good for him and Dr. Lazarus, who as she says is one patient away from losing her license.

The hired guns appear needlessly stupid and weak. They don’t appear too much of a difficulty for the marshal. I would call that a disappointment. Especially when you think that the writers give you this building suspense that is never assuaged viscerally.

I LOVE that High Noon is overtly being homaged. I think the effects are credible despite the tech being dated. I mean it’s a 1981 movie, what do you expect? I will not take points away for that. The cinematography and directing are well-done. It has a very dirty gritty feel that makes the mining town aesthetic more authentic. The music is good. It’s Jerry Goldsmith so, of course. The sound design is spot on. (It received an Academy nomination for sound.)

Does it work as a western? IMHO, yes. It is a Sci-fi, escapist, space, western. If you want to check it out, it’s on Amazon, but you have to pay to rent it. It’s worth the $4.

According to our scale, 4 out of 5 Grey Geeks and well worth a rental

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