Movie Review: Outlander

“Outlander” on IMDB

Sci-fi, 114 Minutes, 2008

A friend of mine suggested this one and I have no idea how I missed it.  Apparently it was in theaters and everything!  Good actors and a significant budget carry it a long way.  Some interesting ideas carry it further but a few unfortunate missteps keep it from real greatness.

The story revolves around Kainan (Jim Caviezel), a soldier unwittingly transporting the last of the Moorwen, huge luminescent predators responsible for (perhaps justifiably) destroying his colony and family.  When the stowaway attacks and causes his ship to crash onto a backwater planet and sink beneath a lake he finds himself in 8th century Norway with little gear and no allies.  After some misunderstandings and significant bloodshed he convinces the local feuding clans, led by John Hurt and Ron Perlman to work together and hunt the creature.

I’ve recently read the entire run of the excellent, but sadly cancelled, Northlanders and am completely sold on the dramatic potential of the ancient Norsemen.  Where many movies portray them as loud, primitive barbarians this script treats them with a refreshingly sincere respect.  Ron Perlman is always a joy when allowed to let loose and scream and my only complaint is that he didn’t get nearly enough screen time.  The action is broad and expansive and well-choreographed even if Caviezel never really seems to be truly comfortable with it.   There’s also the expected romantic side-plot that proceeds by-the-numbers but is kept from stalling the momentum.

I’ve often lamented the dull sameness of many hollywood creature effects lately and while the Morwen deserves some criticism on this score it’s still nicely effective.  Leathery-skin, skeletal features, drooling fangs are all standard fare but there’s an excellent musculature at work – like a cross between an ape and a panther – that makes for some truly gorgeous animations.  The quality of the movement is highlit by the impressive bio-luminescence effects and a highly dramatic reveal.

There are a few brain-breaking items that will smack you around if you let them.  Humans transplanted to Earth from elsewhere is a peeve of mine.  In the climax we have our heroes climb down the village well and emerge in a cave system rivaling Grand Central Station.  You’ll be forced to wonder why anybody would salvage some random bits of metal instead of, say, a big-ass gun.  The ending hinges on a silly-but-harmless sequence involving a rescue beacon that can’t be explained properly without spoiling it but you’ll know it when you see it.

Regardless this is still exactly the kind of movie that I absolutely love.  Likable characters, bombastic action and lovingly drawn effects all overcome clichéd tropes and questionable circumstances.  It is flawed (maybe even deeply flawed) but if you cork the part of yourself that demand that every aspect of a story make sense you’ll have a hell of a lot of fun.


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  1. Hey Jim – Thanks for the mostly positive review. I agree with many of your criticisms, however I feel compelled to correct a few of your comments. a) The story very clearly states how a human came to Earth 1000 years ago. First, the beacon computer tells the hero that Earth is a former seed-colony of theirs that has been abandoned and is therefore in a much more primitive state. Second, the hero tells the king that the monster somehow snuck onto his ship when he returned to his home (ie planet) to gather the body of his wife and child, and in the ensuing fight, caused his ship (ie spaceship) to crash to Earth. b) Regarding the “silly sequence” at the end, you are logically correct, but remember, at this point the movie is “running for curtain” and I just wanted a simple, fast way to end it. So I chose something I felt was more poetic and representative of the basic idea of what happened, than something I would have to show all the logical mechanics of. It may have been the wrong choice, but at least you know why I made it. c) You are also right about the size of the cave system, but we where completely aware of it at the time. I even researched the geology of the region the story took place in and immediately recognized that this element in the story was impossible. (As if the rest of the story was some how more possible? )However the 13 year old boy in me won out, and I just wanted to stuff every cool cave environment I could into that last section. Lastly, just so you know, we had very, very little money to make this movie. Most Hollywood, effects driven movies of this type cost well over 100 million. We had 30 million, very few shooting days and a whole host of huge compromises just to get it done. Although making an Alien/Viking movie may not seem like it, this was really done as a labor of love. Anyway, I am glad it brought you some pleasure for a moment and hopefully I will do even better for you next time. Best, Howard McCain Writer/Director of OUTLANDER.

    1. Howard – thanks for commenting! I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to respond and your graciousness when under fire from an anonymous fat-man on the Internet. The devotion and care you have for your work is evident in the film itself and humbling.

      The whole concept of humanity being transplanted to Earth is a peeve of mine and I’ll admit I may have set my jaw a bit too much on that point. Being a science geek and evolution supporter it bothers me (but – let’s be clear – pretty much nobody else) when all the evidence for evolution (and human evolution in particular) on earth isn’t given its due.

      As much as I loved “Stargate” I always cringed when they brought up “The Ancients” and I much as I loved “Battlestar Galactica” I nearly popped a vessel at the ending. As a final example: one of the biggest complaints I had about “Avatar” was that the Navi didn’t have six-limbs like all the other animals on the planet.

      So that’s my kink. I can’t see how it would matter at all to most people but for the minute you’re unfortunately stuck with me.

      As for the other points – I am sorry. I’ve re-watched it (which means, if nothing else, “Outlander” has earned another rental fee on Vudu) and have reworked what I got wrong and clarified/changed other points. I also eliminated my complaints about the reveal of the creature – upon second viewing my original comments made no sense.

      I’m greatly looking forward to whatever you come up with in the future. As much as I may complain (and I am a complainer) this was the best Sci-Fi movie (and one of the better movies in general) that I’ve seen in some time. Thanks for it.

      1. Thank you, Jim. Also, I think my personal beliefs coincide a 100 percent with yours regarding evolution and science. But as a story teller, especially one who deals in the fantasy genre, your canvas has to be pretty large. Mythology, science, religion and the supernatural become your sand box and you get to have fun thinking “what if…” Or at least it is that way for me. Anyway, keep up the good work and I will continue to check out your site. Best, Howard

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