Director/writer: Peter Hyams. Starring: Sean Connery, Frances Sternhagen, Peter Boyle, James B Sikking, Kika Markham. UK, 1981. Budget: $18 mln. Box office: $17-20 mln. IMDB: 6.6. RT: 58%. My rating: 3/4. Dark old-school science fiction in deep space with western flavour.
– Even in space, the ultimate enemy is man.
– If you’re looking for money, you’re smarter than you look. If you’re not, you’re a lot dumber.
– Then I’m probably a lot dumber.
– That could be very dangerous.
(a dialogue from the film)
”Outland” is quite a well-known 1981 sci-fi noir thriller, but the curious fact about it is that originally the director Peter Hyams wanted to do a western (critics often compared it to ”High Noon”… but I’m not a
movie snob critic). So what happened? Once again on this blog I have no choice but to mention Ridley Scott‘s iconic 1979 ”Alien” and its long-lasting influence, because ”Outland” was probably one of the first films trying to reproduce it. Maybe unconsciously. But it’s easy to feel. If you thought that the word ”reproduce” is too strong, then let me tell you this – often the film’s setting and the events make you feel like they’re taking place in the same universe…
What I liked. The film has an incredible production design. I mean it. Just look at these images… Just as on ‘Nostromo’, most people are over 30-40, everything is industrial, claustrophobic and looks like an old factory. Little light, little space. Heck, even the soundtrack of both movies was done by Jerry Goldsmith and bears some resemblance in its oppressive dissonance. The costumes designer John Mollo also worked on both films (he also contributed to two Star Wars movies, namely ”Episode IV: A New Hope” & ”Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back”, plus dark sci-fi ”Event Horizon” that I highly recommend). Star Wars movies are also the reason why the film I’m reviewing here turned out to be set in a galaxy far, far away….
But here’s a surprise… All this actually makes ”Outland” a good old-school sci-fi. Because even if Peter Hyams was obviously influenced by ”Alien” (which he denies), he also managed to develop the his first sci-fi feature film (well, if we don’t count ”Capricorn One” which was a different story) in its own key and tell a different story, where you can clearly feels its western roots. Almost forgot – there are no aliens in this film. The real monster here is the man. That’s the difference between making a rip-off and ”inspired by…”.
Another element that makes this film something bigger is obviously Sean Connery. The Scottish actor plays a very rightous type of guy, the one that will stop at nothing to get justice. Connery starred in ”Outland” 2 years prior to his final – 7th! – James Bond movie (”Never Say Never Again”) and if you think for a while why he was initially chosen to play James Bond, it’s easy to understand why in terms of characters Connery basically owns ”Outland”. Charisma. It’s all about charisma. Just watching Connery doing some stuff captures your attention – of course, that alone doesn’t make it a good movie, but add believable characters and impressive gritty techno noir visuals and you got the recipe.
The plot. Io, Jupiter’s moon. A police marshal is sent on a remote mining colony just to discover a drug-smuggling conspiracy several days later… Wait wait wait. Why am I telling you this? Even the movie’s logline was nicely prepared here with some stunning visuals:
As for the story, it is very simple and makes you even wonder why Hyams decided to create the sci-fi setting. Basically, ”Outland” is a cop story about the good guy fighting bad guys. Hyams did several cop movies prior to directing it – ”Busting” (1974) and ”Peeper” (1976). So the real question you could ask is whether ”Outland” is a cop story with a sci-fi flavour or is it a sci-fi movie with some cop story added to it? Even if the answer may vary on what kind of movie background you come from, I’d choose the first option.
Still, Hyams subsequent directing choices confirm that he became interested in both genres, as he directed other cop movies later in the 80-s, such as ”Running Scared” (1986), ”The Presidio” (1988, also with Sean Connery), ”Timecop” (1994, again mixing sci-fi and cops), but he also did some notable science fiction productions like ”2010: The Year We Make Contact” (1984) and ”Relic” (1997, sci-fi horror). Hyams also directed a pretty passable, in my opinion, ”End of Days” (1999, with Schwarzenegger and Gabriel Byrne).
What I liked less. Somewhere in the middle of the movie, however, things start to slow down a little too much. There’s a lot to enjoy, but at its core ”Outland” is very simple (which is not a problem at all), however, what is worse, so are its characters. There’s no real drama, the plot development is pretty predictable and the characters, for the most part, are just too cardboard. An exception is Frances Sternhagen who won the Saturn award as supporting actress – she was quite annoying and the whole love story subplot felt a little strained (which is no wonder, given that initially her character was supposed to be male, just like Ellen Ripley). Still, these can be considered minor complaints. We don’t really watch 80-s sci-fi movies for a deep character drama… do we?
Pathos level: very low
Final vote: 3/4
Worth watching? Even if not perfect, it is easily one of the best lesser-known 80-s science fiction movies. ”Outland” may feel like one of those movies that somehow outgrew the intention of its creators, but it was no accident – Peter Hyams is a talented director and he had a good team which guaranteed the result. I can easily recommend this both for both crime thrillers and sci-fi aficionados. Just don’t expect it to be something groundbreaking. It’s a simple movie… with gorgeous visuals, fantastic designs and bombastic Sean Conney.
Bonus 1. It’s the first time ever I saw squash (the game) in a sci-fi movie! I’m an avid squash player so that was really nice and unexpected.
Bonus 2. The film was originally supposed to be called ”Io”.
Bonus 3. A curious excerpt from Hyams’ interview (thanks to mossfilm): “Sean had to expose parts of himself that I don’t think have ever really been exposed on film before. You could see it in him, it was like a horse before the race. That kind of strain. You could see him like start to paw the ground. The day before, he just sat around, and got very quiet, which wasn’t like him. I asked if he’d like to do the close up before the master? He said okay. And you knew, somehow or other, he would put it down on the first take, you just knew it. Sometimes you can just sense it, I guess it’s just part of your job. I had a feeling that there was going to be a special kind of intensity. Sean sat down and did it. When he got done, there were camera operators and grips crying. People applauded. It was a really special moment.”
As I mentioned yesterday…
“It” (2017) is about to become the biggest horror box office success ever, as its current box office of stands at… $666.6 million. Nice number. Just $6 mln away from beating M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense” (1999) with $672 mln…
…and then something clicked in my mind. Wait, was “Sixth Sense” a horror? Wow! Okay. Mojo knows better. So, given this curiousity and the upcoming Halloween, I decided to examine some other highest grossing horror movies…
- “The Exorcist” (1973) casted out $400,214,478 with dark magic and that means 3rd place.
- A solid death grip guaranteed 4th place Spielberg’s “Jaws” (1975) and impressive $470,653,000.
- On 5th place we see again that M. Night Shyamalan was still showing some signs of life in 2002… with $408,247,917.
- On 6th place “Hannibal” (2001) is chewing his $350,100,280 with a glass of Chianti (1991 “Silence of the Lambs” had $275,726,716 and that means 11th place).
- “The Conjuring” and “The Conjuring 2” were indeed good at conjuring an impressive amount of cash out of the horror-loving public – $318,000,141 and $311,270,008 respectively, so that would count as 7th and 8th.
- Then, things get rough. Various sources cite “Se7en”, “Ghostbusters”, “Shutter Island”, “Van Helsing”,
“Sex in the City”come on, guys, these aren’t really horrors. Even “Hannibal” is hard for me to consider a horror movie (but it had Anthony Hopkins whose smile is already scary by itself). But Bill Murray?
- Bill Murray is not scary.
- Obviously I would love to skip all these “Resident Evil” remakes and prefer to do a Halloween costume for a hamster plus I love “Event Horizon” but…
- …but “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” (2017) grossed $312,242,626 and “Resident Evil: Afterlife” (2010) – $300,228,084. Now I’m curious, how many years will pass till they reboot the franchise? 2? Whatever. 9th and 10th places are theirs. “Resident Evil: Retribution” (2012) had $240,004,424, by the way, which guarantees 17th place.
- Lets move on. “Annabelle: Creation” (2017) is the only horror sequel more successful than the original with astonishing $291,100,361, that is 11th place. The first film, “Annabelle“, has the privelege of being the only horror movie on the list with a sweet name and $256,873,813. That counts as 13th place (don’t ask me where is the 12th, because it means you weren’t reading carefully and I’ll cancel you from the subscription lists).
- Ah, almost forgot. In the old times, when Harrison Ford wasn’t only rebooting all kind of franchises (sorry, old joke) and Robert Zemeckis was an interesting director to follow, there was a film called “What Lies Beneath” (2000). It had $291,420,351. I didn’t watch it because my parents didn’t allow me to look at Michelle Pfeiffer…
…at the age of 11, so if anyone thinks it is a horror… that would be 10½th place.
- “The Village” is supposed to come 14th with an impressive $256,697,520 but since it’s not nice to have 3 M. Night Shyamalan movies on the list lets move on. But it was a scary film. I watched it when I was 15 years old on a big screen. So not sure how scary it would be now. But it made a long-lasting impression.
- “Get Out” was creepy, but it wasn’t really a horror. A good tense thriller? Yes. As Jay said, “…Peele isn’t exactly trying to horrify you; he’s trying to unsettle you. And he’s doing that exceedingly well.” I love the film and it was a nice debut, so lets just mention it had $252,434,250 which is a lot for a film like that.
- The American remake of the classic Japanese horror “Ringu” grossed $249,348,933 in 2002 and could have taken 15th place… but that was a remake. By the way, guess which movie was the first on the list of the scariest eyes in horror?
- I would like to admit that I deliberately skipped “Prometheus” with its impressive $403,354,469 (potential 3rd place) and “Alien: Covenant” with $238,862,031 (potential 18th place – yes, they call it a box office flop now) because I don’t think they were horror movies although some may consider them such. The 1979 “Alien” was a horror movie. The rest was just tense science fiction.
- To end things on a positive, hm, note… “Blair Witch Project” takes 16th place with $248,639,099.
- And the winner is… “Paranormal Activity” with its $15,000 budget and $193 mln box office. But it’s not in the top since we weren’t discussing most profitable horror movies which is what really matters, not the box office.
End of line.
Almost forgot. Since it’s Halloween, I must admit that I’ve always been rather indifferent to this holiday (and it’s not celebrated so much here in Europe), but seeing many fellow bloggers dedicating the whole month to horror movies, trashy costumes, DIY-s, beautiful Halloween cupcakes and soul cakes (soul cake…beautiful name) makes me love a little bit more.
Director: Slava Tsukerman (also co-writer, co-producer). Starring: Anne Carlisle, Paula E. Sheppard, Otto von Wernherr, Bob Brady, Sousan Doukas. USA, 1982. Budget: $500,000. Box office: $1.7 mln. IMDb: 6.1. RT: 94%. My rating: 2.5/4. A crazy dive into the 80-s punk, new wave and fashion youth subcultures in New York with an unexpected alien visit.
– Young people with no faith in their heart must be punished; but there are more creative ways of doing that and such film as “Liquid Sky” is a prime example of this.
– Come on, teach me. Are you afraid? You’re right, because they’re all dead. All my teachers.
(Margaret, one of the film’s main main characters)
– I’m sorry, but duty is more important than shrimps.
– Oh. Well, the duty is yours, the house is mine. And in my house, shrimps are more important than duty.
(The German scientist is being seduced)
Sometimes remembering the experience of watching a film provides more enjoyment than actual viewing, and Slava Tsukerman’s first foreign experience may be a good example of it (and, to some extent Alex Cox’ cult film “Repo Men” – both films share a lot in common, even if the latter is much an easier watch for an unexperienced viewer).
“And I am androgynous not less than David Bowie himself. And they call me beautiful, and I kill with my cunt. Isn’t it fashionable?”
The first 30-40 minutes of the film captivate you with its striking origininality, an attempt to express the feeling of alienation through real aliens and a dive into a sexual androgyny that was widely discussed in the media at the time. However, later the films starts to replicate itself, and the middle part is just overly long, even if the final episode proves to be quite a big satisfaction.
New wave and punk scenes that celebrated themselves, sex predation and drug addicts, sexual promiscuity and fashion industry, aliens and alienation – all these wonderful elements intertwine into one hallucinating mix in “Liquid Sky“. This independent film, created on a rather small budget ($500,000), quickly acquired a cult status among cinephiles of that time and was well received by American critics, and it’s no wonder – imagine Andy Warhol shooting some cheesy 50-s science fiction, because this is how “Liquid Sky” looks like.
“Me and my rhythm box! Me and my rhythm box!”
Glam and decadance. The film made a certain effect when released and was even profitable. Many call it a cult. Now, from my unbiased-2017-point-of-view the film seems to be slowly fading into oblivion, just like “Hardware“… However, if you browse across the web, there are various references to the film here and there, or even inspired photoshoots or mockery:
The plot. A tiny alien spaceship (imagine the size of a salad bowl) lands in New York, right above the house or Margaret, once a well-behaving girl from Connecticut and now an aspiring bisexual model (by Anne Carlisle, who did a double role in the film). The bodiless visitors don’t interact with humans, their aim is unknown. However, a German scientist Johann, another alien in the Big Apple, seems to have a theory – invisible aliens thrive on a substance produced by the human brain during the orgasm, which they manage to extract from the victim, killing it in the process. Margaret, who is going deeper and deeper into the downward spiral of promiscuous sex and violence, grasps this concept quicky and starts to use it for her own benefit…
The film is shot in a totally deadpan manner with a little amount of humour. Apathy and indifference prevail the minds of this self-absorbed youth, and that is supported by a gloomy monotone synth soundtrack and flamboyant, acid colours and designs.
Worth watching? “Liquid Sky” is a particular film, not in good or bad sense of the word. I love weird slow stuff. I enjoyed some early Harmony Korine’s film (“Gummo“). But with this… I felt that there was more style than substance, and that’s the case when you need to love the style to enjoy the film. So I cannot recommend it directly to anyone due to its prevailing sense of otherness and dazzling individuality – decide by yourself. Played mostly by non-professional actors and shot by newly arrived in New York Russian immigrants-filmmakers (hence the dominating sense of an alienation, probably?), it’s a time capsule of the New York club scene of the 80-s and shows many kinks many of us could’ve never imagined, and does it from an unusual perspective. Finally, this is why we watch the movies, isn’t it?
“Liquid Sky” is one of the favourite films of Nicholas Winding Refn (who directed one of my all-time favourites “Drive“, plus he did a confusing flick called “The Neon Demon“…), among “Suspiria“, “Videodrome“, “La Dolce Vita” and some others. All these movie are well-known for their style domination. Have you seen anything the Danish director did? 😆
Final vote: 2.5/4
P. S. Здесь красочное интервью на русском языке.
In short… “It will prove invincible”.
It’s well known that the author never saw the entire film – Philip K. Dick died too early. But he did visit the production set, and there was a special screening organized just for the writer. “Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner“, a recent book by Paul M. Sammon says that after watching the footage Dick didn’t say a word and just sat there like a statue for 20 minutes.
Then he asked to see the footage again. The writer praised what he saw infinitely, saying that the whole spirit of what he imagined when writing the book was totally transformed to the screen.
This is the letter Philip K. Dick wrote to the production company responsible after seeing the footage.
The old man got it right.
And for dessert, ladies and gentlemen, we have more concept art by Syd Mead, who also worked on “Aliens“, “TRON” and many other futuristic projects.
(All images used in this post belong to 1982 The Blade Runner Partnership. All rights reserved. ©)
Plus some supercalifragilisticexpialidocious unofficial artwork.
As if I haven’t published enough posts about TRON universe just recently, here’s more of it. A quick comparison between ”TRON” (1982 movie), ”TRON 2.0” (2003 videogame) and ”TRON: Legacy” (2010 movie).
(Am I the only one who thinks the images on the right look…just a little duller?)
However, the latter disc designs are an exception. They look pretty cool.
Because the old version just makes me think of mosquitoes…
The light cycles look awesome too. In all versions.
Note that in 1982 they didn’t wear a helmet when riding the light cycle, but just the same helmet as in any other scene. The same applies to 2003.
Let’s hope for the sequel, it seems we have all grounds for it now.
I guess most people reading this post have watched (or at least have heard of) “TRON“, a 1982 movie produced by Disney and starring Jeff Bridges. It wasn’t successful at first, but it was a visual masterpiece with a very original and distinctive style, that had foreseen a lot in the technology development that came later.
The film had a commercially successful sequel in 2010, “TRON: Legacy“. Most of you have heard for sure of this one too.
But not many know that there was another release in 2003 and it was considered for a while an official sequel to the original 1982 film, just to be later declared non-canon right before the release of “TRON: Legacy” in 2010.
Here’s some background. In 1982, “TRON” performed worse than Disney expected – $33 mln box office with a $17 mln budget… The film didn’t appeal to the major public at its time since in 1982 the computers were not as wide-spread as now. It was too early. With years the film gained a cult following though… and it took just about 17 years before somebody started to consider making a sequel/reboot. In 1999, there were rumours that Pixar was interested. But the thing didn’t work out. And for a film, a much bigger budget was required, thus too much risk… So in early 2000-s Monolith Productions (“No One Lives Forever“, “F.E.A.R.“, “Blood“) initiated developing something else.
It was a 2003 videogame, “TRON 2.0“, and not only it contributed to and developed the TRON universe in a significant way (you bet it did, with +20 hours of gameplay vs 96 minutes of film…), but it successfully solved the main problems from which both movies suffered. The characters, the plot, the story.
It wasn’t my intention to write a game review, so I will just sum up main points:
- Main characters were voiced by the same actors as in 1982 movie – Bruce Boxleitner and Cindy Morgan.
- Sid Mead, who worked on designs of “Aliens” and “Blade Runner” developed the new “light cycle” designs
- “TRON 2.0” is a very rare case when the game was developed not as a cash-in
- The music, or rather the electronic ambient soundtrack, perfectly fits the digital world. It really makes you feel like you are inside, among the bits and bytes.
- The style is a mix of a quest, role-playing game and action
- It goes without saying that the visuals were stunning
- Just like the original film, the game didn’t sell well, although it received excellent reviews and with years gained a cult following too. But for the most public it was something too original. It wasn’t a pure action, it wasn’t an RPG, and finally it wasn’t just a faithful adaptation of the original film, but the development of it, maintaining however the essence and the spirit.
- Like the best cyberpunk game “Deus Ex” (2000), the world is full of details, secondary and tertiary characters, dialogues and it’s just up to you how deep you want to enter this world.
Due to an extensive gameplay and the technologies present in 2003 in our real world, the game expanded the whole concept of what it means inside the computer. You will find yourself sneaking through the firewall, literally portrayed as a giant red wall, escaping the disc format and fighting the viruses by joining your forces with a local antivirus program. Heck, there is even a level when you are transported to a PDA (anyone else here still remembers palmtops?!). Obviously, that level features a very minimalistic design and limited space. 😊
What happened next? Disney finally had the guts to develop a real blockbuster, with a score by Daft Pank, $170 mln budget plus Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner reprising their roles. “TRON: Legacy” received mixed reviews, but who cares, because it grossed $400 mln worldwide, thus being the first commercially successful product in TRON universe (although I am sure Disney expected much more). The film for praised for special effects, but you can also find it often in various top lists of missed opportunities. And I can understand why – it suffered from exactly the same problems as the original film.
The future of the franchise is unclear right now. A spin-off animated series “TRON: Uprising” premiered in 2012. Some sources say that “on February 28, 2017 during a Q&A session with Joseph Kosinski, he revealed that Tron 3 has not been scrapped, instead saying it was in ‘cryogenic freeze’. A few days later, it was reported that Disney is supposedly looking into rebooting the franchise with Jared Leto attached to portray a new character named Ares, who originated from the Tron 3 script. Disney has not officially announced as to whether a reboot is officially in development.”
Here I did a comparison of various TRON design versions.
P. S. Read an interesting opinion about Disney and their attitude towards TRON here: Disney/BVG didn’t have the balls to stick by their product and see it through the rough times…
Here is my Top 10 Soviet sci-fi movies with a dozen of modern trailers I made specially for it while studying some video editing.
Beautiful new ambient, shoegaze, dreampop, synthpop and techno soundtracks included.
1. ”Stalker”, 1979.
A cerebral timeless masterpiece by Andrei Tarkovsky, probably the most renowned and influential Soviet/Russian director. Loosely based on a story by important Soviet science fiction writers Strugatsky brothers (and seen by many as a prophecy for several upcoming catastrophes including Chernobyl), “Stalker” could be interpreted as a philosophical tale about destiny and choices. But there’s much more that that. It’s simply one of the most important cinema achievements ever, let alone science fiction. The story follows three men as they penetrate deeper into into a mysterious area called “The Zone”, each of them for a different purpose. A thinking sci-fi geek’s must-see. This movie is like a Universe, there are always new layers to discover. Read more here and here.
Music by Bowery Electric.
2. ”City Zero”, 1988.
Theatre of the absurd, a mysterious tragicomedy, a dark metaphor. The late 80-s, without doubt, were the most prolific period for the underground culture in Soviet Union, especially rock music but also cinema. ”City Zero” is the finest dark offspring of that epoch. The film is normally classified as sci-fi/mystery – but if you analyze every single scene separately, there’s nothing completely impossible. It’s the sum of all parts that is greater than the whole… The famous headcake scene actually happened once in Russia. But looking at the whole story makes you feel like slowly drowning in the swamp… It’s kind of ”Donnie Darko” goes on ”Mulholland Drive” in ”The Twilight Zone” atmosphere. My full review here. Watch online here.
Music by Auktyon (Аукцыон).
3. ”Dead Man’s Letters”, 1986.
Directed by K. Lopushansky, surely the most faithful of all Tarkovsky’s followers (he worked as assistant on ”Stalker” set), this film is a heavy and realistic portrayal of the end of the world. Endless piles of rusty metal, interminable yellow twilight, dirty radioactive puddles of mixed water and blood. And dead bodies. Dead bodies everywhere. Men, children, women. Everywhere. There is no hope here. It’s finished. There is no ”if”. The doomsday clock has moved. We are just witnessing the final decay of small group of survivors that will last several months, probably. There is not even a single hint about their survival. It’s a death rattle. Just a matter of time. My full review here. Watch online here.
Music by Ital Tek.
“And so, what is a film? It’s a mosaic made of time.” (A. Tarkovsky)
Dreamy and poignant posters for several films of the great Russian director, by Curzon Artificial Eye. These are definitely most beautiful posters of his works I have ever seen (including probably the original posters) as they reflect carefully the poetic nature of these films, which continue to influence modern filmmakers, such as Dennis Vileneuve who directed the best science fiction movie of 2016, ”Arrival”.
And probably will make the best sci-fi of 2017. And who is currently working on Blade Runner 2049.