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Movie Details

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Directed By
Peter Hyams

Written By:
Peter Hyams

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

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Outland (1981)
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Movie Review by Jarrod
January 13th, 2011

On my current marathon of Sean Connery movies, I arrive at 'Outland', billed as a sci-fi remake of High Noon, with Connery in the Gary Cooper role, though it is not until the last 20 minutes or so that it begins to bear any resemblance to Fred Zinnemann's classic 1952 Western. Connery plays O'Neil, who arrives at a mining colony on Io, one of Jupiter's moons, where he has been hired to serve as the marshal, trying to keep law and order, not an initially tough job, until a sequence of mysterious events begins to occur, with workers going insane and killing themselves, or demonstrating extremely violent behavior.

He discovers a link between these episodes and a powerful narcotic, smuggled into the colony and used to increase productivity, being secretly distributed by Sheppard (Peter Boyle), the influential mine manager, who is concerned only with making more money, both for himself, and the corporation he represents. This corporation is never seen, and rarely mentioned, but its complicity is undeniable. Sheppard communicates with his shadowy superiors, and assures them that he will deal with the pesky marshal, who cannot be bribed. Apparently, the drug is supplied by a third party, and when O'Neil gets too close to the truth, two assassins are sent to kill him.

The emphasis on time is perhaps the biggest nod to High Noon; a shuttle approaches, with the assassins onboard, and O'Neil makes preparations, trying to recruit help, from his own deputies, and from the workers themselves, who don't seem terribly interested in his plight. His only ally is the smart-mouthed doctor, Lazarus (Frances Sternhagen), who comes to respect him, and is compelled by her duty to save lives, and by her boredom, not much happens in her clinic, and she is itching for some genuine excitement.

And O'Neil certainly provides her with that. The eventual showdown is between a wounded O'Neil and two men, both of whom seem easily trapped and disposed of, as O'Neil dons a space suit and heads outside into a zero gravity environment. I mean, why would only two men be sent, rather than a whole team of well-trained, heavily-armed professional killers? Presumably, things are to be kept discreet, and a lot of the fighting occurs in and around O'Neil's living quarters, or beyond the walls of the facility, while everyone seems to be packed into the bar, where Sheppard is waiting for news of the marshal's demise.

Connery's performance is really quite perfect, as he exudes dignity, authority, courage, charisma, and toughness, convincing in those few isolated action scenes, but then, could we expect any less from James Bond? It is more or less a one-man show, and Connery runs with it, but Sternhagen is delightful as the stubborn, sarcastic Lazarus. The film is not especially big on ideas, and its production design borrows quite a lot from Alien, but is still nonetheless remarkable, despite some occasionally generic settings, and, by today's standards, laughably antiquated technology for a story set in the future. There is an emphasis on atmosphere, and claustrophobic realism.

And O'Neil is a nicely developed character; his job consumes much of his time, and this presents a dilemma for his wife, who wants him to be around more, and also wants to take their son back to Earth, and raise him in a natural human habitat. O'Neil promises to join them when his task is finished. Everything works out a little too neatly, and predictably, but, despite this, it is still an entertaining, well-paced movie, that shows a future that is far from utopic, in fact, nothing has really changed at all, and crime and corruption are still very much a part of human nature.

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