Though I hear Outlander has garnered some negative reviews (and our own preview was not terribly glowing), it’s hard to imagine what critics really expected of a tale where a completely human alien crash lands on medieval Earth, bringing with him a terrifying monster from another world that goes on to ravage Norway.
This is one of the most enjoyably daft films I have seen in a long time, and if it lacks the edge of Q The Winged Serpent or Tremors, it can sit comfortably with them, deserving a place on your DVD shelf and possibly even a trip to the flicks.
The ‘appropriation’ from a hundred other sci-fi and horror flicks begins almost immediately with a practically shot-for-shot recreation of the orbital sequence that starts John Carpenter’s The Thing, as surprisingly human alien Jim Caviezel crash-lands his wounded craft in Norway in 709. Before you know it, something awful has escaped from the craft, Caviezel has subjected himself to a Matrix-style info-burst which has taught him English (would Norwegian not have been more useful?) and he’s off on a Predator-style hunt in the fantastic scenery of Norway.
Pretty soon he’s bereft of his great sci-fi weapons and taken prisoner to the court of clan chieftain John Hurt, where he’s presumed to be in collusion with Ron Perlman’s tribe, who are at war with Hurt’s. Meantime Hurt’s daughter, Sophia Myles, is practising some Xena-style swordplay with dad and resisting marriage and thraldom to the handsome but arrogant Jack Huston, who’ll not be hooking up with any tomboys, thank you.
When the village is attacked by the ghastly star-beast, the villagers go looking for the ‘monster’, assuming it was some kind of bear. When Caviezel bags them one, it’s all over as far as King Hurt is concerned, and he frees our hero up to pursue the very interested looks he’s getting off Huston’s fiancée.
But, of course, it’s far from over, for that weren’t no bear attacked the village (which should have been bleeding obvious at the time)…
Outlander, like many genre entries, is a pretty shameless synthesis of many other films, only a few of which we have mentioned so far. The feral kid adopted by John Hurt, who takes to Caviezel, is straight out of Mad Max 2 (or Aliens), whilst the inferior weaponry and outclassing alien opponent is lifted from Alien 3. It’s an interesting film too for fans of Vincent Ward, who might wonder what his own discarded/adapted plans for Alien 3 might have ended up looking like.
Caviezel, whose star has descended a bit since he rose from the dead in The Passion Of The Christ (that’s not a lucky role, career-wise, is it?), is an engaging and believable hero, whilst the slightly younger Myles and Huston provide plenty of across-the-board sex appeal. Huston, who was superb in the otherwise pedestrian Shrooms, has a very Clooney-esque energy and intelligence about him, and hopefully he’ll intersperse popular outings like this with serious work that will tax him a little more. The utterly gorgeous Myles deservedly edges nearer to centre-stage after peripheral showings in Thunderbirds, the Underworld saga and TV’s Moonlight.
There’s a very welcome cameo from Ron Perlman, who – you’ll not be surprised to hear – is far from shy and retiring as the chieftain pledged to revenge himself on Hurt, who he blames for the loss of his family. He even manages to keep his accent consistent (which he failed to do in Enemy At The Gates). This is more than Jack Huston can do, as he plays his first scene with an American brogue before reverting to the dropped-aitches which now characterise ‘Brit’ for the US audience.
The CGI monster has its effective and not-so-effective moments. It’s a great concept, riven through with stripes of lava and boasting a tail that can cut your head off. To boot it has more teeth than a cog factory.
But it’s in the close-ups, as is still often the case with CGI, that you may need to get out and push, and I can only ascribe budgetary limitations to the lack of a proper prosthetic head, which would have been a welcome addition to the character.
The film develops a late taste for gore which is pretty shocking when it comes since, by this time, you won’t be expecting it.
The battles themselves are poorly spaced, though this doesn’t become apparent until the end. For a while Outlander has the great pace of a first-class 1980s action/monster movie: loads of action, a tense second act and a huge finale (pretty much the set-up in Dragonslayer).
Unfortunately it goes for the fourth act. And fifth. And Sixth. And (arguably) seventh. This movie just doesn’t know how to quit when it’s ahead (and it really does go along at a riveting pace until this point). Outlander needs the excision of at least three of its endings, which would bring it back to the 90-minute runtime that the story merits and is able to fill.
That said, it’s got a violent and frightening monster, dialogue which avoids the absurdity it could so easily have fallen into, good acting and plenty of action. It whirls along at a breakneck pace (and many are broken on the way), enthused by it’s boys-own bloodthirstiness.