The James Clayton Column: Aliens vs. Vikings – pitch perfect!

James is imagining alien apocalypse sagas in medieval settings...

The nasty in Outlander. For this we need Uzis, not arrows.

It didn’t take a tantalising teaser trailer or any glowing critical reviews for Outlander to captivate my attention. My interest in the upcoming release, directed by Howard McCain, can be boiled down to two words that seldom appear in the same sentence together. Here they are: Vikings. Aliens.

According to the plot synopsis, Outlander starts with a spacecraft landing on Earth, and from the extraterrestrial ship emerges a pilot named Kainan, played Jim Caviezel. Unfortunately for our cosy corner of the solar system, a vicious alien creature called the Moorwen also touches down on the planet and proceeds to unleash widespread death and destruction. So far, so conventional, but these events take place in Norway, 709 AD. Indeed, the invaded population are the Norse peoples of Scandinavia. Thus, Vikings – one of the most imaginatively stimulating warrior cultures from history – get combined with aliens, the source of so much sci-fi fantasy and excitement across the ages in one movie. Friends: this is freaking cool…

Not only is this prospect geektastically exciting but it’s unique. Indeed, why is it that alien Earth-landings always take place in the present day or in the future to come? Off the top of my head, I can’t recall any movies that have featured extra-terrestrials invading our planet in epochs past beyond last year’s Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. It’s actually slightly odd that despite a decent backlog of conspiracy theories speculating on extra-terrestrial intervention in Earthly affairs, it’s only really Doctor Who, Stargate and the recent Indy flick (the cosmic crystal crania were the property of the Incas) that have dabbled in this sort of thing.

You’d think that the possibility of sentient organisms existing in outer space was only conceived after the 1947 Roswell incident from popular culture considerations of alien invasion, and that’s a great shame. The Martians that paralyse parochial Victorian Britain in The War Of The Worlds may be retro for modern readers, but it was the contemporary, quotidian experience of H.G. Wells when he wrote it. I can’t help but wonder how the story and subsequent movie adaptations might have been spiced up a bit had Wells turned the clock back and unleashed the extra-terrestrials around 250 years before his time to cause a commotion in the über-puritan days of Commonwealth England. They beheading King Charles, but how would the Roundheads have handled the Martian heat-ray?

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It’s even more exciting to speculate on how an alien invasion would’ve gone down in the medieval era. Imagine intergalactic armies interrupting the Crusades, crash-landing on castle battlements and engaging in combat against the knights of the realm, suckered tentacles versus broad swords and lances. How great would it have been if Invasion Of The Body Snatchers was set during the golden age of the Roman Empire? How much cooler would The Blob have been if the space gunk had landed in the Paris during the French Revolution?

Considering that the Viking invaders rarely came up against anything more fearsome than hysterical monks and submissive traders on their raids, I wholeheartedly approve of offering up a giant alien beastie as opposition. Why the hell shouldn’t the Scandinavian warriors be set against the most nefarious creatures of the galaxy? The archaic Nordic raiders are meant to be really tough so, by great Odin’s raven, let’s have some proof by pitting their axes and belligerent battle aggression against the mighty Moorwen.

Despite potentially being a supreme piece of entertainment, I’d say that it’s most likely that Outlander is sadly doomed to be an obscure box-office flop that plays in few theatres and goes down as a cult intriguing oddity to be rotated around on late-night cable TV. Nevertheless, those involved shouldn’t be downcast. These people, in fact, deserve extensive praise for pursuing their inspired imagination and for having the balls to throw caution to the wind on a quixotic endeavour in the face of the mainstream movie industry’s creative stagnation and conservatism.

Outlander as a new movie sounds to me like it embodies the old-school clash of the cross-cultural titans tradition of films like King Kong Vs. Godzilla and the fanboytastic genre-splicing of stuff like Hong Kong kung fu  pirate action comedy Project A (see what I mean when I talk about cult material?). Vikings versus an alien: I’d have loved to be a fly on the wall of the pitching session that saw the nucleus of Outlander form as an idea for a movie. These kinds of concepts usually come together after marathon pot-smoking sessions or after copious amounts of alcohol have been consumed. Alternatively, maybe there was some conscious scheme employed in the realisation of this radical movie pitch…

Someone once told me that David Bowie used to write songs by putting random words that he liked together and jumbling them around on paper, and I like the idea of taking a haphazard ‘let’s see what happens’ approach in the imagining up of new creative works. Intrigued by this and the kind of ‘let the Universe decide’ ethos that Philip K. Dick employed when he was writing The Man In The High Castle (he used the I Ching, a key part of the novel, to discern where the plot should go at particular points), I reckon that random probability should be looked to more when new movies are pitched. Because everything is targeted so tightly and calculated so carefully in the modern movie marketplace, how about going with the flow as we greenlight fresh projects for a change?

Galvanised to shake some spontaneity into the system, I’ve grabbed a fez (for a touch of Near-Eastern mysticism and a dash of Tommy Cooper magic) and noted an array of appealing concepts down on paper. An able and relatively-attractive assistant now draws out the scribed scraps two at a time to form film pitches in the Outlander vein…

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Coming out of the hat we have: “RoboCop” and “Giant Iguana”, which promises a fierce franchise reboot as the cyborg law enforcer fights supersized lizard. Next up, “Were-Kitty” and “Ancient Egypt” could give us a nice horror flick about a pharaoh who becomes a monstrous moggy when the Nile dries up. Finally, “Taleban” and “Samurai” presents the prospect of feudal Japan’s finest cutting up Osama bin Laden and his fellow fundamentalists with their katanas. Not only are we making exciting movies, we’re obliterating global terrorism as well. Who needs more uninspired sequels when random selection from an item of headgear is so much more fun? Ask the Universe and leave it to fate…

James’ previous column can be found here.