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  • 15
  • Action, Adventure
  • 2008
  • 114 mins

Outlander

Outlander

Synopsis

Director and co-writer Howard McCain offers an outlandish mix of fierce Vikings and monstrous aliens

About

In the late fourth century BC, a Greek philosopher named Euhemerus transformed his nation's rich mythology into a semblance of history by rationalising its more fantastical elements (the gods, for example, were reinterpreted as great kings and heroes). Now, with Outlander, Howard McCain does something similar to Norse saga - although by explaining away monsters and magic weapons with elements from science fiction, and changing gods for heroic spacemen, he ends up euhemerising the implausible by replacing it with the only slightly less plausible. Yes indeed, this is essentially 'Beowulf' with aliens.

A spaceship crashes down to earth - or, more precisely, to early eighth century Norway - bringing with it a human survivor named Kainan (Jim Caviezel) and the monstrous alien Moorwen that has already killed Kainan's wife, son and fellow crew members. Separated from his futuristic weaponry, Kainan falls in with the Viking clan of Herot village as they face an uncertain future. Wise old Rothgar (John Hurt) hopes that the marriage of his free-spirited daughter Freya (Sophia Myles) to headstrong young Wulfric (Jack Huston) will temper the prince's more aggressive impulses before he succeeds to his late father's throne, but the recent wholesale destruction of a neighbouring village makes war with its chieftain Gunnar (Ron Perlman) inevitable - until, that is, Kainan reveals that all must unite against their real enemy, an insatiable, human-hating 'dragon' that is impervious to iron-age swords and spears.

For all its undeniably impressive creature effects (reminiscent of The Host), perhaps the most memorable scene in Outlander is the grand entrance of Perlman (himself a veteran of monster movies) as Gunnar, who announces his arrival at Herot by pulverising the skull of a villager between two giant warhammers - a moment that seems emblematic of the film's pummelling lack of subtlety. Of course, neither this, nor the sheer preposterousness of the plot (The 13th Warrior meets Predator!), need cause undue concern in what is, after all, a film designed to entertain rather than to edify - but there is so much wrong here that, even as a popcorn movie, it barely melts the butter.

Most of the film's failings can be traced back to the script. Co-writing with Dirk Blackman, McCain hangs his story together on some truly execrable dialogue that will have audiences sniggering at all the wrong bits. After getting a crash course, via Matrix-style neural implanting, in the local tongue, Kainan's first word is "Fuck!" - and a young orphaned child (Bailey Maughan, channelling the Feral Kid from Mad Max 2) is finally coaxed by Kainan into revealing his name to be Eric (the Viking). The silliness here sits oddly with the film's overall earnestness. For want of believable characters who actually emerge from the drama, McCain instead resorts to inserting little expository speeches here and there to tell us what each person is like, while Piere Gill's melodramatic soundtrack tells us exactly how to feel - and it is just as well that they do, for otherwise viewers would be left adrift in a sea of inchoate bland.

Outsider Kainan is a hero very much in the mould of 'new man', bringing wisdom and friendship to reckless loner Wulfric, equality and acceptance to proto-feminist Freya, and a natty short-cropped hairstyle to unkempt Eric, but he also brings a murderous monster to the entire village. Indeed, at its most interesting, Outlander flirts with the notion that we all harbour something monstrous (and alien) within ourselves, and that every pernicious beast is also, at heart, a wronged victim. It is as though there might be a half-decent idea buried somewhere in the subterranean depths of this film, just dying to get out.

However, all this good work is totally forgotten by the climactic scenes, when the monsters, far from being metaphors for the very human tendency towards rapine and ruin, are once again just slavering troglodytic behemoths needing to have their butts kicked. And when the dragon-slaying is done, you can be sure there will still be time for yet another cheesy voice-over...

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Bailey Maughan, Scott Owen, John E Nelles, Ron Perlman, James Rogers, Jack Huston, Petra Prazak, Sophia Myles, Jim Caviezel, John Hurt
  • Director: Howard McCain
  • Writer: Howard McCain, Dirk Blackman
  • Producer: Chris Roberts, Barrie Osbourne
  • Photographer: Piere Gill
  • Composer: Geoff Zanelli

In a nutshell

As clunky and ineffective as an iron-age weapon on an alien predator's hide, this retro-SF rationalisation of Beowulf could have done with less sword and more pen.

by Anton Bitel

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