Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Outlander (2008) - Movie Review - 9/10

What Could Have Been...

It's always frustrating to hear of how the Hollywood 'suits' treat some films, whilst throwing money at others. Outlander has been the unfortunate victim of bureaucratic idiocy.

Outlander was an independent feature, made on a moderate (by today's standards) budget of nearly $50 million, around which $35 or so went on actual production, and the rest on various legal fees, etc. The production, direction and effects help it stand out as a much more professional film than many of the recent crop of bloated big-budget pictures. Yet as a result of the 'Weinstein' company's decisions (The 'Weinstein' company in America gained the rights to cinematic and DVD release in the U.S.), it was essentially forgotten. They had apparently made little initial investment, and therefore (presumably) decided just to make a chunk of money back through the minimal effort of a DVD release, while avoiding the expense and effort of giving it a cinema release. So it is a tragic shame that we didn't get to see this as a sleeper hit, which I believe it may well have been, along the lines of something like Pitch Black.

But what of the movie itself, you ask? Spaceship crash-lands amongst the Viking Fjords on Earth, during the iron age. So enters our hero, the lone survivor of said ship, who joins with the local populace to defeat the terrible alien that was also on board, and has started slaughtering the nearby inhabitants. Yes, it sounds cheesy on the surface, but it's great fun. It's all been well thought out, and given far more depth and story than you would otherwise expect.

The production has managed to gather a fantastic cast, including James Caviezel (Frequency, Passion of the Christ) John Hurt (Alien, Nineteen Eighty Four, Hellboy, Harry Potter), Sophia Myles (Underworld, Thunderbirds, TV's Moonlight) Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Alien: Resurrection) and promising up-and-comer Jack Huston. They all have great fun with their parts, without hamming it up (Though Ron Perlman's role is somewhat shorter than expected).

In terms of general production, oft-used creature designer Patrick Tatopoulos (Stargate, Godzilla, Pitch Black) has created probably his best creature design since 'They', trying to come up with something original for the alien. Its face is perhaps a bit too reminiscent of his earlier Godzilla design, but the fiery glows and shapes really make the Moorwen (As the creature is called) stand out. Meanwhile Geoff Zanelli (Hitman, Disturbia) has written a suitably stirring and epic soundtrack score. Since this is one of his first few feature film scores, he could well be one to watch.

There are plenty of interesting characters in Outlander, all used in ways that are not too stereotyped. For example, Kainan (The lead character, played by Caviezel) bonds with a young boy, 'Shane'-style, yet this is not forced or overplayed. Likewise the slight hints of romance with Freya (played by Myle's). Other characters start off with certain stereotypical expectations, only to turn out more nuanced and interesting than you thought. Even Kainan has a story that you enjoy learning about, as he tells it in hushed tones. His personal tale is nothing original, but uses those types of cliché that only become that way because there are few better ways to motivate and emphasise a character.

Outlander is a wonderfully fun adventure in the greatest old style. The action is gory and exciting. The characters are interesting and make you want to follow their story. The filming is slick and polished, modern while not bowing to over-used 'trendy' techniques.

The director, Howard McCain, should be applauded for the job he's done here, considering he has only really started his career, and created a movie that, given a chance, puts to shame most of the recent blockbusters. There's not too much to say about Outlander, other than just enjoy it for what it is. There are so many films you could say it has similarities to, from Alien to Lord of the Rings, but even they have their own prior influences. Outlander adds enough of its own twists and fairly original turns to stand out, and hold its head proud. If you get the chance, just enjoy an old-fashioned science-fiction adventure.

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