Outlander (2008)

'From the Producer of...' Always a sure sign of quality.
‘From the Producer of…’ Always a sure sign of quality.

“It destroyed his world. He won’t let it destroy ours.”

Directed by Howard McCain
Starring Jim Caviezel, Sophia Myles, Jack Huston, John Hurt and Ron Perlman

A spaceship crashes in Iron Age Norway. The only surviving crew member, Kainan (Caviezel) goes on the hunt for the creature that killed his crewmates and caused the crash, an alien predator called the Moorwen. Captured by the local Vikings, Kainan is forced to integrate in order to gain their help and prevent them suffering the same fate as his own colony.

Kainan impresses King Hrothgar (Hurt), but clashes with his nephew Wulfric (Huston) over their status as warriors and the affections of Hrothgar’s sassy daughter Freyja (Myles). There is also local rival Gunnar (Perlman), who thinks that the Moorwen’s massacre of his village was Wulfric’s doing, and a brief digression with an enormous bear.

After an attempt to trap the Moorwen goes badly wrong and a second beast appears, Kainan, Wulfric, Freyja and a few other warriors remain for one last hunt, while the bulk of the village move out of the beast’s territory. Forging new swords from the metal of Kainan’s ship, they descend into the Moorwen’s lair for the final confrontation.

What’s wrong with it?

Outlander is Beowulf with aliens. It’s a very silly concept, but is done with rather agonising seriousness.

The hull-metal swords look goofy as hell.

Ron Perlman is assaying some sort of bizarre Billy Connolly impression.

The relentless grimness of the lighting and the weather occasionally borders on abuse of pathetic fallacy.

What’s right with it?

The backstory is a little more layered than might be expected, with the Moorwen among the last of an intelligent species almost annihilated by human colonists who wanted their planet.

Caviezel’s soulful earnestness works well with the guilt-haunted Kainan, who blames himself not just for leaving his family to go to war, but for participating in the extermination of the Moorwen in the first place.

All the players are pretty good – well, almost – and the use of an American Kainan to stand out from the predominantly English ‘local’ cast works quite well.

The Moorwen is an interesting beast, with bits and pieces from other monsters, but its own thing with its glowing lures and whip-tail.

How bad is it really?

It’s just so sombre. There are a lot of actors in the film who excel at dry humour, and it’s a shame that they never get to flex those muscles.

On the other hand, it’s better than Beowulf.

Best bit (if such there is)?

  • After the bear hunt, Wulfric challenges Kainan to ‘shields’, the two chasing around a ring of shields held up by the other warriors. It’s a fun scene and a break from the relentless seriousness of the rest of the film.
  • Freyja gets captured and the boys rush to the rescue (being as she’s in the Moorwens’ lair, it’s where they were going anyway.) Kainan tries to pull her through a crack in the wall as the smaller Moorwen charges, but the gap is too narrow, so instead he gives her a sword and she turns around and cuts the Moorwen’s head off.

What’s up with…?

  • The ‘abandoned seed colony’? Kainan’s computer describes Earth in this way, which feels like a longer and more interesting story waiting to be told.
  • The whale? I think Gunnar’s people dragged a whale carcass up on the beach before being killed by the Moorwen, but it’s still a bit left field.

Ratings

Production values – Surprisingly good on a budget that comes in $15 million short of The 13th Warrior and less than a third of 2007’s straight version of Beowulf. I’m not convinced that the costumes are 100% period authentic (the furs are pretty convincing, the leather pauldrons – or possible spaulders – a little less so) but the overall look is effective, and the effects work is good. 5
Dialogue and performances – Basically pretty good, although the philosophical moments are a bit heavy handed. 6
Plot and execution – The film is pretty much just a series of fight scenes, and perhaps one too many of them (although I’m not sure which you’d lose). The relentless seriousness is a problem here, robbing the in-between sections of the zip they need to keep the pace up. 12
Randomness – Given the basic premise of ‘Beowulf from outer space’, the film pretty much sticks it out without going anywhere crazy. 4
Waste of potential – Man… there was potential for something very good here – Vikings and aliens; what’s not to like? – and the end result is… just okay. It’s a shame, because they had all the pieces to be good. 13

Overall 40%

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