Outlander (UK - DVD R2)
Leigh Riding's personal DVD buying equation; vikings + aliens = purchase
As the film opens, we see an alien spacecraft plummeting haphazardly toward Earth. The craft crashes in a lake, but as the pilot Kainan (Jim Caveiezel) emerges from the wreckage, we discover that the crash site is in fact Norway, circa 709 A.D. After exploring the land and finding a pattern of destruction, Kainan is set upon by a band of Vikings led by King Rothgar (John Hurt). Assuming Kainan is a Viking from a rival tribe, he is imprisoned. As similar assaults start to rain upon the clan's village, it transpires Kainan brought a deadly creature called a Moorwen to earth with him. Describing the beast as a 'dragon' to the clan, Kainan attempts to rally the group to defend the village from the sieges laid upon it by the ferocious beast.
Vikings and aliens. Vikings and aliens. There, I said it. The fifty percent of the readers that have just taken those words in and simply said 'no' to the film can now safely move on to another page. See you later; I understand the My Life in Film section's quite good. For the fifty percent that's left, let's talk about Outlander. While it's obvious that from simply reading the synopsis this is a popcorn-friendly version of the Beowulf tale, it's quite easy to envision the film as one of those Sci-Fi original movies that makes viewers eyes bleed. However, while the film is not a classic by any means, there is a level of craftsmanship and general filmmaking chops that lift it above dreck such as SS Doomtrooper (mutant Nazis) and Reign Of Gargoyles (stone monsters versus WWII bombers).
Outlander moves out of the realms of utter toilet due in no small part to writer/director Howard McCain, who tackles the Viking world with an agreeably authentic feeling. The village feels lived in, there is some really nice attention to detail, and it rings truer than it would if it was tackled by somebody with less authorship to the movie. It doesn't mean that McCain fails to deliver on the sci-fi monster movie staples, with some agreeable money shots and good kills. It's also quite hefty on the swordplay, which is full-blooded and fluid. McCain makes it all rather easy to watch, which is impressive seeing as even action maestro John McTiernan struggled with Viking action in 13th Warrior.
Of course, the film hinges on whether or not the Moorwen works, and by and large, it does. While it's a predominately CGI creation, and falls to the same odd sense of movement and gravity that ninety percent of these creatures tend to do, it's a cracking monster. Designed by FX supremo Patrick Tatoupolas, it's well designed and original and used sparingly, with a luminescent quality to it that I can't remember seeing on a movie monster before. The beast doesn't swamp the cast, thankfully. Caviezel puts a surprising amount of oomph into his role, and fills the role of action hero well. It really is a mystery why he wasn't a huge star after Passion. John Hurt is also strong in his role, and Ron Perlman turns up as the rival Viking head, and although he arrives a little late in the game, he leaves an impression. The strong cast helps elevate the production a great deal.
Outlander is a game of two halves. While it's technically polished, well written and strongly performed, there are still some serious pacing issues, with the film being at least twenty minutes and one plot thread too long, and it has a distinct lack of humour. For a genre mash up like this, there should be a lot more of a lighter touch than is on display here.
It's too hard to come down on Outlander completely. It's a wildly uneven picture to be sure, but there is an infectious energy to the film that makes it impossible to completely dismiss. It's a credit to the filmmakers that a daffy concept such as this works to the extent it does. It's not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but as it stands, I'd rather watched a flawed movie than I would a mediocre one, and Outlander falls into the former category; it's largely fun and I enjoyed it for what it was as opposed to being disappointed it wasn't more.
Outlander is presented in its original 2.35:1 format, and it's a nice sturdy transfer. It's a nice, sharp image, bursting with lush colours and solid black levels, with both mixing together well when the Moorwen's glowing red illuminations pierce the inky night in the forests. There is a little grain in there, although not enough to distract from the film, and on the whole it's a nice image that serves the film well.
A nice, full-blooded 5.1 track is offered here, ramping up the film's impact twofold. It's a bold track, dealing with the spaceship sections and the primitive swordplay equally well. Dialogue is always clear, the sword battles really ring around the surrounds, and the shrill noise that swells when the Moorwen becomes vicious is startling. The strongest element of the track comes at the cave based climax, where the monster attacks and the roaring of the waterfall behind Kainan utilises every speaker with clinical precision.
First up is the commentary from director McCain, writer Dirk Blackman and producer John Schimmel. It's a sprightly track, with a lot of banter that gets technical but never too deep, and is rather honest when it comes to budgets and production problems. Next up is a ‘Making of Outlander’ featurette, absent from the US disc, running at only about twenty minutes long and is decent enough. The featurette errs just on the right side of EPK, talking about the risk of mixing genres for studio films, the Beowulf connection, and an absolutely hilarious section where Caviezel tries to convince the interviewer that there's a social commentary thread in a Viking/alien movie. Also offered are twenty-five minutes of deleted scenes, visual effects tests, animatics, artwork galleries, and a trailer. It's a pretty good set for what is basically an independent film.
On page, Outlander is a daffy mixture of 13th Warrior, Pathfinder and Predator that should be abysmal. In reality, the film is at least two thirds enjoyable cross-genre action movie and one third cutting room floor material. Occasionally slow but mostly interesting, Outlander is a fun and diverting action adventure movie that won't change the world, but will deliver on its premise. Worth a look.
Review by Leigh Riding
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 31st August 2009
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: English HoH
Extras: Making of Outlander Featurette, Audio Commentary, Deleted Scenes, Visual Effects Tests, Animatics, Artwork Galleries, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Howard McCain
Cast: Jim Caviezel, John Hurt, Ron Perlman
Length: 111 minutes
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