*** Outland (1981) Blu-ray
Director Peter Hyam’s 1981 space-western Outland is a lot better than you might expect from a back row ’80s sci-fi. It’s got a great turn by Sean Connery, decent enough effects, costumes and sets and a taut plot based on High Noon and yet somehow it’s been all but eclipsed by better-known examples from the period. It deserved a better fate. Released just two years after Alien, Outland shares the look and feel of Ridley Scott’s monster film, building suspense by letting the tension gradually creep up on you, but where Scott’s Alien is epic in scope and execution, Hyam’s film is more intimate. Outland is a cop drama about a man running up against a corrupt system that just happens to be set in space.
Sean Connery is riveting as O’Niel, and Peter Boyle makes for quietly despicable villain, all the more disturbing because you can easily imagine him sitting on the board of a present-day conglomerate. Frances Sternhagen lends able support and a touch of comic relief as Dr. Lazarus. While her character grates in a couple of early scenes, fortunately she becomes less strident as the film goes on, proving to be a valuable and necessary ally to O’Niel when the going gets tough. Sternhagen and Connery also have a nice, platonic rapport. Character actor James B. Sikking, as O’Niel’s second-in-command, is a standout among the already strong supporting cast.
The plot is tightly written and the pacing works nicely as the story slowly build to the final showdown between O’Niel and a pair of hired assassins. The Blu-ray transfer is a far cry better than the abysmal DVD release from a few years back, but it would have been nice to see a proper remastering.
A small forgotten gem that’s worth a look for Connery’s fine performance if nothing else.