I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Outlander

tn_outlanderMan, here’s a solid little movie with a clever genre-mixing premise, nicely acted and directed, a fun time, but owned by the Weinsteins. So of course it was barely released or advertised. These pricks got a quiet, sad drama based on a Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece, they’re gonna pretend it’s some sci-fi action movie. Meanwhile they got this one that actually is a sci-fi action movie, but they forgot they even had it. “Oh shit, did we release that viking thing? I can’t remember. Just send some DVDs to Blockbuster and tell them not to mention it to anybody.”

Oh well, at least it snuck out. The cover art is pretty cool too, and it uses one of those critic quotes that isn’t really a compliment but just a description: “PREDATOR meets BEOWULF.” And that’s accurate. A space ship crash lands in Norway, 709 A.D. A survivor climbs out wearing a space suit that looks alot like a suit of armor (surprisingly that doesn’t come up again later). He’s Jim Caviezel, and I wasn’t sure at first if I was gonna accept aliens that look just like humans, but when he looked up Earth on his computer it said we were an “abandoned seed colony,” so I guess we all come from the same place. Brothers from a different mother.

mp_outlanderAnyway, something deadly got off that ship. He goes after it, but it’s already decimated a village ahead of him. He ends up captured by the vikings (who think he’s a foreigner, not a spaceman) and blamed for the attack. The attack is a big deal because it could start a war between John Hurt’s people and Ron Perlman’s.

And then he becomes a viking. The spaceman part is less important than I expected, this is mostly a vikings vs. monster movie. Doesn’t matter that much that the monster is from space, it might as well be a dragon. The outlander has to prove himself as a warrior, convince them of the existence of the monster (called a moorwen) and help them kill it. The sci-fi angle is mostly important for the flashbacks, where we learn where the moorwen came from. That’s my favorite part of the movie. You find out this monster is basically an endangered animal on a rampage. You gotta feel sorry for that thing. I mean it’s like an elephant that gets loose from the circus or something. It’s dangerous, but what did you think would happen when you locked up an elephant and started beating it until it did tricks? This guy Caviezel knows what he did to the moorwens was wrong, but at the same time he feels it’s his responsibility to kill it (like the dragon in BEOWULF). So there’s some moral ambiguity there.

Ron Perlman’s not in it that much, but he’s a cool character with a bushy beard, bald head and face tattoo. The type of dude battle axes were invented for.

The monster is cool if not perfect. There’s parts where you see him running around and he has that weightless look most CGI monsters have. That’s a problem. But otherwise he’s great. He lights up from the inside, a good look in the dark. He’s a vicious fucker too, with one especially good move where he impales a guy on a light-up tentacle and then pulls him through a wall. His face looks a little like the American Godzilla, so I’m sure the other monsters give him alot of shit about that. Maybe that’s why he acts out so much.

If they ever did a sequel to this I’d want them to get some sci-fi weaponry vs. viking action. Maybe some asshole viking finds the laser gun that the outlander dropped in the water at the beginning, and it takes a whole army to stop him from fucking shit up. Or the other spacemen come back and try to colonize but the vikings fight back. You know, I just want to see an underdog viking vs. alien technology battle. It’s not something that comes up every day, so when it does you want to see some vikings swinging axes at flying saucers and shit.

This is one of those small surprise gems like what PITCH BLACK was to some people. I actually think it’s better, or at least the visuals and production value are better and I enjoyed it more than I did PITCH BLACK the first time. The monster is definitely better. There’s not a memorable badass character like Riddick, so that point goes to PITCH BLACK. But anyway, good movie. You wouldn’t guess it from the director’s resume either. He directed some kiddie movie starring Robert Hays and wrote UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS. But now he can hold his head high like a viking.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 19th, 2009 at 6:39 pm and is filed under Monster, Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

45 Responses to “Outlander”

  1. CrustaceanHate

    May 19th, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    Yeah, I finally got around to seeing this one a few weeks ago after hearing it was actually pretty good. It didn’t blow me away or anything, but it was a solid film. I heard it described as “vikings vs aliens” (BEOWOLF meets PREDATOR is probably a bit more accurate), so I was a little disappointed and I wish they’d played up the science-fiction angle a bit more. More hand-to-hand combat, vikings fighting vicious humanoid aliens. Could’ve done with a bit more Perlman, but that’s true of most films. Oh, and apparently the language that Kainan speaks with his computer at the beginning is Icelandic.

  2. I really enjoyed this. Reminded me of the glossier 80’s sci fi action films – Predator, Highlander, etc. Kinda made me realise they don’t really make those kinds of films anymore. I guess they target the same audience with homoerotic import car movies now or something.

    I thought that the harsh economic necessity of CGI would make it less soulful than its practical fx 80s brethren, but kudos to them for giving the monster a fairly original look and gimmick.

    One thing that bugged me was SPOILER you don’t get a shot that shows you the monster is REALLY dead this time, so you keep waiting for the obligatory final “i’m still alive bitches” jump scare but it never comes.

    I read on aint it cool that they had actually done the “it’s really dead” shot, but Harvey Scissorhands was so strict on his completely arbitrary running time, that they had to cut it. As Jim says in the movie: “fuck!”

  3. I thought this could have used a bit more action and Jesus was pretty bland in the title role, but I guess that’s just the way he rolls. Overall a nice effort though and definitely watchable as long as you don’t expect a genre masterpiece. Can’t agree on Pitch Black, though, which I think was way better than Outlander.

  4. I don’t get the fucking Weinsteins at all. If you’re only going to release the film on DVD anyway, what does it matter if it’s five minutes longer. It’s not like anyone is going to look at it and say “shit, this is 120 minutes, too long dude… I’m not gonna buy/rent this”.

  5. SPOILERS!

    Exactly what I was thinking , Vern. They included the shot of Caviezel opening the space armor in the trailer , so I was expecting at least , in the final showdown , an use of more advanced gadgets and shit.Maybe some kind of salvage of super technology from the ship , with an A-Team like scene when they build something , but no luck.I think that in this way they try to make him more like a foreigner , and it works , but the “fully armored spaceman with vikings VS space dragon” is just too fun to not consider.

    But I like the movie , it’s clever and the acting is good. I like Caviezel , and I’m also a fan of “Highwaymen” (I own the Italian DVD) , another movie with a fantastic idea: Cadillac Eldorado VS Plymouth Barracuda!!!!

  6. I agree with Andrew,I would’ve liked a conclusive death but at least we didn’t see a nest with baby monsters at the end :>.Nice film,the sort of nice surprise that I used to find in the video shop during school holidays when I thought I’d rented everything…………..

  7. I think the comparison made by Andrew and others to the great 80s B-grade sci-fi/fantasies are apt. More than anything, I like the idea that this thing has none of the lame meta snideness that seems to be all the rage now. Its fun and conceptually a little goofy, but it also knows that it has to take itself seriously enough to qualify as badass. No in-jokes about pulp sci fi flicks, no cute references to other movies, nothing that would make it hip and palatable to anyone who can’t buy into the basic concept.

    I also dig that just like a lot of those 80s B flicks, they rounded up a great supporting cast who are game to take this kind of thing seriously. Having the likes of John Hurt to sell this concept makes it much easier to buy the universe and take it seriously, which is what a lot of the b-movies these days completely forget. In the end, its always gonna be the actors, not the effects, that sell a reality.

  8. Excellent point, Mr. Subtlety. This point was lost on the makers of the new Terminator, who got a bunch of good actors and gave them fuck-all to do, thus turning the wall-to-wall special effects into the world’s most expensive screensaver.

  9. Fun fact: in the book “Designing Movie Creatures and Characters” Patrick Tatopoulos, designer of both American Godzilla and Moorwen, relates that he’s so fond of the jutting jaw silhouette thing because it worked so well for the character of Shere Khan in Disney’s “Jungle Book”, which was a favorite of his as a kid or something. So next time you see Godzilla or a suspiciously similar monster in a movie, feel free to imagine a cartoon tiger.

    Didn’t like Outlander at all, but it did give me the weird notion that I’d love to see Caviezel play a Terminator. Motherfucker looked *cold* in this.

    P.S. Should have rounded up the vikings and went looking for that plasma gun thing he dropped in a stream in the beginning.

  10. Majestyk —

    haven’t seen the new terminator yet but it doesn’t surprise me at all that it’s a special effects reel in search of a movie.

    I suspect that part of the problem with this sort of film these days is that CG effects are so easy and cheap these days that it’s easy just to let a film coast on spectacle. Back in the heyday of movies like “outlander,” using practical effects to coast on spectacle just wasn’t really cost-effective. It was expensive and there were severe limits on what they could do. Consequently, they HAD to focus on the cast. Not even the story, really; plenty have pretty poorly thought out stories. But they had to get a cast which would be interesting to watch, creating unique and colorful characters. Why? Because the role of the cast was to carry the film and entertain the audience, not just to stall for time between big action pieces.

    One thing I liked about “Doomsday” (sorry, Vern — ) is that it seemed like Neil Marshall was thinking about this too, about creating unique and colorful characters with the strong collaboration of a cast of dynamic and invested actors. You can argue about how successful he was doing this (Malcolm McDowell actually ends up contributing nothing interesting, while Alexander Sidding and Craig Conway do more than you might expect) but I felt like I could really at least sense that he was making a concerted effort to cultivate character along with the so-so staged action. The movie itself never quite comes together but I’d wager that one of the reasons some people (including myself) responded positively to the effort was his eye for this kind of detail (more present and effective in “the Descent”). Yeah, the characters are genre cliches, but hell, genre films are expected to have these sorts of cliched characters. They become classics or fade into obscurity based on how they’re developed and how much life they can instill in the part and, moreover, the movie.

    It’s like punk rock… look, The Dead Kennedys sound virtually identical in tempo, song structure, lyrical themes, keys, and presentation, to about a million other punk bands. Its just that they take those same tropes and just do it so much better and with unique touches. Its the little things that make it, and to get those right you have to have a vision and talented enough people to invest in that level of detail.

  11. been putting this one off for a long time, but with a Vern stamp of approval i feel confident in wasting my time on it. thanks man.

  12. Subtley-

    I agree. I’m not asking for three-dimensional characterizations. I’m just asking that some effort be put into making the characters entertaining and memorable. Christian Bale is just such a lame duck in Salvation–both because of his usual “I’m growling so you have to take me seriously!” performance and because the script leaves him with nothing to do–that the movie has no impact at all, regardless of the fairly awesome FX.

  13. Sounds alright. What are you referring to though when you talk about the Weisteins having a “sad drama based on a Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece, they’re gonna pretend it’s some sci-fi action movie”?

  14. Vern, is it possible for their to be a badass to be conversational, or is quietness a cornerstone of every true badass? Off the top of my head I can’t think of anyone outside of a couple Tarantino characters.

  15. John McClane is rather chatty.

  16. Good one, but what about others. It can’t be just him.

  17. Martin Riggs, Jack Burton, Axel Foley, Action Jackson, Harley Davidson, the Marlboro Man…

  18. God I can’t wait to see this. Been following its production since before it was anywhere near being made; back when Karl Urban was attatched to play Jesus-from-Space or whatever.

    I just wish the UK wasn’t so fucking behind with getting this stuff! No, wait: I wish we weren’t so fucking behind with getting any stuff! Bah.

    Oh, cool review, btw.

  19. Although, I just checked out play.com to see what’s what, and if this ( http://www.play.com/DVD/DVD/4-/8697388/Outlander/Product.html# ) ends up being the actual DVD cover art then I might be willing to forgive the delay. That is pretty fucking badass right there, in my opinion.

  20. Stu – I was referring to THE ROAD. Probaly should’ve explained myself. The book is about a father and son walking across a wasteland after an unexplained apocalypse, trying to get to water, but not knowing what they’ll do when they get there or if they will even live long enough. It’s a very sad and beautiful story about their relationship, it was on Oprah’s book club, it won the Pulitzer prize. The movie is by the director of THE PROPOSITION and by all accounts is the same as the book. The director described it as “the anti-ROAD WARRIOR.”

    So of course the Weinsteins made a trailer with fast edits, the same dramatic music they use in every action or horror trailer, a tacked on montage of news footage not from the movie, and a bunch of titles about “SURVIVE” and “KILL” like it’s some thrilling action movie.

    It just pisses me off because the people they’re trying to trick would DEFINITELY say it was the worst movie they ever saw, and the people who liked the book might believe the trailer and not want to see the movie. Just stupid.

    But I bet Viggo gets another Oscar nomination.

  21. I don’t know, Vern. I just watched Outlander, and I was pretty disappointed with the action, especially the fights between people. It was the kind of thing where they just do a bunch of quick cuts that don’t match up.

    For instance, when the outlander guy tries to escape from the vikings the first time, there’s a bit where one of the vikings swings a chain at him. You get a medium shot of the viking swinging the chain, a medium shot of the alien falling down, and some other stuff. Then, when the fight’s over, they pull back to a wide shot, and you see that the chain’s wrapped around the outlander’s ankle. Oh, so I guess that’s what happened. Okay.

    They didn’t have a shot of the chain wrapping around the guy’s ankle. They didn’t have a shot of the other guy yanking on the chain to pull him down. Hell, at the time, I thought the viking just hit the alien with the chain and knocked him over.

    And all the fights are like that. I’m trying to enjoy the action, but I can’t even follow what’s going on. The monster attacks were better, I guess because they wanted to show off their CGI creature, and they couldn’t do that with a bunch of confusing quick cuts.

  22. I saw this little movie last Saturday, and i agree 100% with your opinion.

  23. The Weinsteins are in kind of a tough spot with that one though. If they sell it as an art movie, then they can pretty much kiss any chance of an opening weekend goodbye.
    On the other hand, if they try to sell the horror-y stuff they’ll just piss off and the stupid people who pack the theater hoping for enough tits and blood to hold them over until the new Friday the 13th (which I liked by the way) gets a sequel.
    Having said that, that trailer they cut really was just the worst possible way to cut the movie. People were saying that the film had clearly left the book behind, when actually if you watch it you’ll see that pretty much every word and scene looks lifted right out, but just buried under the quick cuts, titles, shit music, and dumb disaster footage.
    Here’s what I’ll bet. The trailers they put out will probably all follow the same kind of trajectory, until about a month before release. Then when folks start seeing the movie and pouring in praise for the design, Viggo, the kid, other stuff, alll of a sudden the new ads will all be Prestige Picture style, all about the awards buzz.
    God, y’know sometimes it’s easy to forget about how much leeway they give Tarantino and Rodriguez and just really hate the fucking Weinsteins. Especially Bob.

  24. And to Mr. Majestyk for the list: good point. Although you ay want to think about taking Jack Burton off that list, seeing as how he was designed to be the anti-badass. All good mentions though, so OK, yeah a person can carry a conversation and still be called a badass.

  25. He might have been designed that way, but c’mon. He killed Lo Pan with a knife. Point is, he got the job done. Is Ash any less of a badass because he’s also a complete dullard?

  26. Yeah, Ash was a dullard, I guess, but he was also extremely capable when it came to dropping one liners, right crossing undead monsters, and bedding 13th century poontang. Jack Burton gets his ass kicked over and over again, to the point that in the big climatic battle he gets knocked unconscious after two seconds, leaving the fighting to Wang. Or when he and Wang challenged a bunch of dudes to a battle, and Jack spent the whole time trying to a pull the knife out of his boot, while Wang busted out some wire-fu against three or four guys. And he won. (To be fair, that Lo Pan kill has to be one of the best finishing moves in a movie ever. As a single act of badassery, it’s up there with some of Snake’s better moments). This is fun.

  27. True, but even though Egg’s big speech at the beginning was demanded by the studio and not part of Carpenter’s original script, it was still true: Not a lot of guys would have done what Jack did. It was his first time dealing with demons and magic and kung-fu motherfuckers, but he jumped in with all-American gusto. That makes him a badass in my book.

  28. Credit where credit is due, that’s a good point. I guess for me my issue is that while attitude and intention wise he fits the criteria perfectly, he simply has no effect on any event that happens in that movie, other then the very end. I’ll call him a hero for his willingness to dive right in to help a buddy, but a badass? No, I gotta draw the line there.

  29. Sometime’s being a badass is just about talking a good game and not backing down when somebody calls you on it. That’s Jack Burton all over.

  30. Brendan – I don’t really think the Weinsteins are in a tough spot with that, because they’re the people who got an (in my opinion) shitty movie about a Nazi pedophile learning to read nominated for best picture. I’m pretty sure THE READER is the only successful movie they’ve had since they started their own company. THE ROAD was never gonna get I AM LEGEND box office and if that’s all they’re interested in obviously they should’ve not bought the rights to it. There is no doubt in my mind that being honest about the movie would make more money than advertising it as a shitty movie that it’s not. Especially considering the Oprah-sanctioned popularity of the book, at least there is a built-in explanation of what it is.

    And I mean, if you wanted it to be an action movie would that trailer look impressive to you? I think more people will just say “What is this shit?”

  31. Vern, I agree with you, it’s a dumb thing to do. So is cutting fight scenes out of a kung fu movie, but that didn’t stop them from doing just that. Multiple times. I stand by what I said earlier, that when it gets closer to release day, they’ll start amping up the art-house, Oprah loves it, should get Oscars side, but right now the goal is to get people who would buy shit like the Day of the Dead remake for ‘fun zombies’ excited to buy tickets. Is it wrong? Is it unbelievably stupid and a complete betrayal of McCarthy, of the filmmakers and actors who, by all accounts, slaved to make this a truly great movie? Abso-fucking-lutely, no question. So why did I ask the question? I don’t know, made sense at the time. My point I guess is that the Weinsteins are dopes who don’t deserve to keep getting their hands on great titles. Which is also your point. And the point of most other people that love movies and aren’t jackasses. I have no idea how to end this post, so I’ll just stop by saying I’m watching Tom-yung-goong and some guy just hammer threw an elephant. God bless Thai people.

  32. And I’m pretty sure the Reader got so much money because it got nominated right around the time it went into wide release, if my dates are right which they might not be. The Road comes out in October so if it and Viggo do wind up with nom’s (which I hope happens because they owe him for Eastern Promises. I love Day-Lewis, but he didn’t stab a guy in the eyeball while bare-ass naked, so I can’t help but think Viggo got shafted), then it’ll be to late to get any sort of reward. It’s a bullshit way to think about movies and getting them in front of people, but they’ve been doing it for like twenty years now, and until recently it hasn’t backfired. Hey, regardless of how shitty the ads are, at least there’s a The Road movie and it looks to have been made by a bunch of incredibly dedicated and talented people. So fuck how other people get to the theater, just point me in the right direction.
    And Vern, tell me you’re not itching for the AICN talkbacks to start pouring in with people saying it’s boring and just a long commercial for Coke, and McCarthy is a bad writer who has nothing on the edgy thrills of a Dan Brown kind of writer and Viggo topped with TCM 3. Somewhere in my brain I’m already giggling at the prospects. And crying a little.

  33. And Majestyk, I guess this is where we differ on basic Badass theory, because for me, you have to be able to back your claims up when the chips are down. Going back to Ash, if he spent the entire trilogy getting rescued from every fight, but still kept up the one liners and attitude, there’s simply no way in hell Bruce ascends to the man-god status he now has.
    I got a question. Who is THE Bruce? Is it Lee, or Campbell, Willis, or someone else I haven’t thought of. There is only one Clint, one Bronson, one McQueen, and on and on. Discuss.

  34. Wasn’t The Bruce that punk-ass noble who sold our Braveheart?

  35. That was the bruce. I’m asking for THE Bruce. If that makes sense. Might not. Whatever.

  36. Bruce Lee was great but I think Willis has earned the title The Bruce. I wouldn’t worry to much about the Weinsteins it really sounds like they are on they’re last legs as film makers or distributers. I hope anyway. the reader got plenty of attention but I don’t think anyone really cares about it. People did care about certain Dimension horror movies that the Weinstiens cut and made incomphrehensible (sic) in some cases and people don’t forget that.

  37. I agree Brendan, I expect THE ROAD to be great. I just hate those Weinstein fuckers and they never cease to try their hardest to ruin everything. Hopefully they’ll try to convince Tarantino to cut INGLOREUSSS BAZTIRDS and he’ll get pissed and stop working with them and that will be the end of them.

  38. Agreed Vern. By the way, did you ever get around to watching the real version of Tom-yung-goong, the one where Dirty Balls’ character is made to look like a hard boiled cop on the edge and the villian is a transsexual? It’s amazing how different people can make a movie with one avid kit.

  39. Vern, if QT didn’t stop working with the Weinsteins after what they did to Grindhouse, he’s NEVER going to stop working with them. Sadly.

  40. As regards silent badasses, I remember reading one good review around the time JACKIE BROWN was released. The critic made the point that Elmore Leonard preferred his protagonists (generally badasses) to not say much, and when they did, it was something damned important. The same critic went onto say that for all that Tarantino owed Leonard in terms of dialogue and character, he took the opposite approach to his leads: at this point, Tarantino was riding high on RESERVOIR DOGS and PULP FICTIONS, both movies where everyone talks an awful lot.

    Personally, I prefer my badasses to say very little, and to have a history that is only hinted at.

    Also, is THE ROAD the only Oprah bookclub recommendation to feature a (SPOILER, I think) baby getting spit-roasted and eaten?

  41. No, I think James Frey ate a baby in his book, but it turned out he was exaggerating and people were disappointed.

    I gotta agree with the stoic badasses being better, in fact I can’t really think of anybody else on the level of John McClane that does much talking. Eastwood characters often have funny things to say but they have long quiet period in between.

  42. So apparently the Weinsteins are trying to convince QT to cut up to 40 minutes of Basterds. Could Vern soon be getting his wish? Here’s hoping we won’t have to sacrifice a great Basterds theatrical run to have that wish be granted.

  43. Death Proof was way, way, way too long so maybe just this once the Weinsteins are right.

  44. If QT was cutting the movie because he wanted to form a tighter narrative with a quicker pace, then that is totally cool for him to pursue his artistic vision. But as far as I’ve read, that isn’t the case. The case is that these dipshits want to increase the number of showtimes they’ll be able to cram into theater schedules to increase revenues. Fuck that and fuck them.

  45. I just watched the DVD of it and I got no real idea what to think of it. It’s full of good ideas and nice touches*, but it felt like the movie was afraid of really playing everything out in a satisfying way.

    *I liked that they first portray that Wulfric guy as the “Billy Zane in Titanic”. And of course everybody expects some love triangle between him, the princess and the astronaut, but then he not just turns out to be a good friend, the love triangle also never happens. I also loved that they establish early in the movie that the princess not just knows how to fight, but also that everybody knows about it and seems okay with it, so that there won’t be any scenes where she has to dress up as a man to participate in a battle, because daddy wants her to stay in the kitchen when it gets dangerous.

Leave a Reply





XHTML: You can use: <a href="" title=""> <img src=""> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <b> <i> <strike> <em> <strong>