Archive for the ‘Outland’ Tag

Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Io: Outland (1981)   8 comments

On a mining colony on Io, one of Jupiter’s moons, workers are acting strangely. They go outside the space station without spacesuits and cut their own air hoses and generally explode, spilling their guts all over. Is this a strange new space hobby? Why are they doing this?

Enter Marshall William T. O’Niel (Sean Connery), the new sheriff in town. O’Niel has just arrived at his new duty station with his wife and son. None of them is overjoyed with this new assignment, but O’Niel sucks it up and begins to learn about his new job. As soon as he heads off to work, O’Niel’s wife and kid hot foot it off planet and head back to Earth. So much for family.


“Yeah, dad can’t make it.”

Right off the bat, O’Niel gets the message from the mine’s general manager, Mark Sheppard (Peter Boyle) that since the miners work so hard, they also play hard in the bar and the company brothel and it’d be best if O’Niel looked the other way. O’Niel is not amused.


“I am not amused.”

When a miner (Steven Berkoff) goes on a tear and holes up in one of the leisure (read brothel) cells, threatening a prostitute with a knife, O’Niel and his men, including Sergeant Montone (the underrated James B. Sikking) arrive on the scene. The hostage situation goes a bit pear-shaped, but the ensuing autopsy shows the miner was on a powerful synthetic narcotic, polydichloric ethylene (PDE). Since Dr. Lazarus (Frances Sternhagen), who performed the analysis, assures O’Niel the colony lacks the facilities to manufacture PDE, it’s clear someone is smuggling it in. A bit of research leads O’Niel to the two men who must be in cahoots with the smugglers.


“Avoid spikes. This is my favorite part.”

Now the fun really begins. Since the whole compound is wired for camera and sound, O’Niel surveils the two suspected drug runners and catches them in the act. He wants to question them to find out who’s behind the operation, but things go poorly for the pushers. He confronts Sheppard with the news that he’s seized and destroyed the contraband, knowing Sheppard will have to call his superiors and retaliate. Now O’Niel is the target.

Peter Hyams wrote and directed Outland as a futuristic western. It’s High Noon in space. In Fred Zinnemann’s 1952 film. High Noon, Will Kane (Gary Cooper) tries in vain to get the townspeople to help him defend against an outlaw with a grudge who will arrive on the noon train. In Outland, Connery’s O’Niel fails to get any of the locals to help him fight off two hired killers, expected on the regularly-scheduled space shuttle. In both films, the directors ramp up the tension by showing shots of clocks to highlight the approach of the bad guys. The only difference is in Outland, the clocks are digital. Both directors also offer their heroes help from the women in their lives. In High Noon, Katy Jurado and Grace Kelly come to Cooper’s aid. In Outland, Frances Sternhagen’s wreck of a doctor (her words), serves as Connery’s only ally.


“Think it over.”

The sets in Outland are like the air-lock connected hallways in the 1979 film, Alien. They also have that same industrial look. The bar is a bit wilder, with it’s neon lights and nude performance artists. The club does nod to the western with its swinging saloon doors though and it works. Hyams is an artist and he dabs the dark sets with pops of color to accentuate certain features, like the huge digital clock counting down the arrival of the hit men. There are also stunning shots of Connery walking outside the structure in his space suit.


“One small step for—ah you know the rest.”

Peter Hyams directed a number of films, including The Presidio (1988), Narrow Margin (1990), and the space-centric films 2010 (1984) and Capricorn One (1977). He was also a painter and a jazz drummer, performing with Maynard Ferguson and Bill Evans at Birdland, the Newport Jazz Festival, and other prestigious venues.

Hyams adds a dose of paranoia and a mistrust of authority to many of his films, including Outland. The mining company, Con-Amalgamate, wants to boost production, so they dose the workers with powerful uppers that fry their brains, making them psychotic. They cover the deaths by jettisoning the bodies into space. Con-Amalgamate is also the company in Capricorn One that makes the faulty life support systems leading Hal Holbrook to devise his cunning plan.


“Is Kubrick here yet?”

I’m a big fan of Outland. I saw it in the theatre with my dad when it came out and it’s one of my favorite films from that era. We also saw The Long Riders the year before, so offbeat westerns must have been our thing at the time. I like the main characters a lot, too. Connery is terrific as O’Niel, a worn, but professional law enforcement officer who ticked off one too many superiors and wound up on Jupiter. He’s smart and resourceful. When he knows the hired killers are on their way, he prepares. He formulates a plan to compensate for his lack of help by closing airlocks, stashing weapons, and generally out thinking the criminals. He’s also lucky to have Sternhagen’s Dr. Lazarus on his side. She’s a joy in this. Sarcastic, self-deprecating, and smart as a whip, Lazarus makes a great partner. I wish she had more screen time.


“I’m unpleasant; I’m not stupid.”

There are a few oddities in this film. Sean Connery has a Scottish accent. Kika Markham, who plays his wife, is British. Nicholas Barnes, another British actor, plays their son, but speaks with an American accent. Why? Also, why does Connery have a shotgun in space? A shotgun blast might not be my first choice in a pressurized space cabin. That said, any film with Sean Connery busting baddies on an Io space station gets my vote.


“O’Niel. William T. O’Niel.”

I wrote this piece for the Outer Space on Film Blogathon hosted by Moon in Gemini. She’s @debbievee on Twitter. Thanks for having me!

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