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Film Reviews

Monster Mash-Up: Outlander Reviewed
Dean Sobers , April 24th, 2009 12:10

New sci-fi/fantasy hybrid Outlander boasts an excellent premise that pits Vikings against an extraterrestrial foe. But Dean Sobers is not impressed, and wouldn't be even if he could remember anything that happened in it

115 minutes of disappearing ink. James Caviezel crash lands in a lake in 8th Century Scandinavia. He is a warrior from a colonising race and he's brought a monster with him — a tentacled, dragon-like predator called a Moorwen — that's already slaughtered his crewmates and totalled his ship, and now claims the Norwegian countryside as its 'territory'. The monster and Caviezel's Kainan both bear personal grudges against each other. Kainan enlists and equips a Viking tribe to join the bug hunt. Amid the general chaos there ensues something that is almost a love triangle, something that is almost a rivalry, and a minor twist.

How could it have been good? Well, the successful pitch probably relied on the fact that it's got everything. It opens a little like The Thing; there's at least one War Of The Worlds bit. The beast itself could be on loan from The Host and used for stunt work in The Mist. It's Final Fantasy: The Spirit Within, as discussed by Pirates of the Carribbean and Beowulf. Stargate, too, has a seat at this crowded table. Reign in your usual suspects — Aliens, He-Man, Big Trouble In Little China . . . maybe even Pinnochio — when accounting for the inexplicable lakeside whale carcass. No wonder this stuff took two people to write.

But to actually go about the business of making it good? Well, obviously you'd start by opening the bag of tricks available to imbue similarly humourless, quasi-Arthurian movies with sufficient mythical portent and grandeur. John Hurt's on tap for gravitas, as a mildly melancholic king. Can't remember a flipping word he said, though (some nugget of troubled wisdom about ruling with your head — or was it heart? — and not your sword). Sophia Myles plays his headstrong daughter, Freya, who supplies all the rhetoric that isn't centred on mead or battles — sample quote: “If you truly believe that you write the tale of your own life, then the end is up to you” — and then proceeds to get in on the battling herself, for titillation's sake. Geoff Zanelli's familiar sonic gloop is duly ladled over every conceivable frame: a portentous porridge of strings with bits of ocarina, flute and jabbing choirs floating around in it.

No, it's clearly not a film designed to break new ground; neither does it feel like it's taken much of a run-up to compete with the summer blockbusters (though has allegedly been cooking as a concept for around 17 years). It's probably what they'd call a genre film: a creature movie with some Vikings in it; lava caves and waterfalls; men forging double-hard swords out of bits of spaceship and swearing brotherhood. And it clocks in at just under two hours — which by contemporary standards is forgiving.

Problem is, it's all lost (as distinct from wasted) time — a kind of amnesia trip, like frittering away several hundred unaccounted-for pounds on minor purchases. Okay, so there's a Viking orphan called 'Erick', which is sweet but which also illustrates how all the characters here are only recognisable either as the actors portraying them or as characters from other films for which they serve as analogues. This means that, after the credits roll, you're left with just a weird scaffolding of other films you've mentally erected to somehow invest yourself into this one. And even young Erick gives himself an Anakin Skywalker haircut (in a bid to emulate his childhood hero, Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai, or perhaps Christian Bale in Rescue Dawn or Reign of Fire).

Every plot turn is fleetingly amusing for similar reasons but, even a few hours after watching, you'll need to consult IMDB to recall even half of it. Inexplicably deciding to play this thing straight, director Howard McCain divests the movie of any potential impact. At least with Battlefield Earth you had John Travolta and Forrest Whittaker pretending to be eight foot tall, dreadlocked Ferengis.

There are plenty of equally nebulous films around that have done better than this. But they, at least, were based on computer game franchises or epic fantasy literature. Outlander — as far as I'm aware — doesn't have these things as crutches. And while I'd absolve its numerous contemporaries in this unfortunate niche from comparison, it would be equally difficult to remember them as well.

Perhaps see Moon 44 — a film produced when this one was conceived — instead. It's a different example of similar rubbish, available for just one pound if they've still got it down your local Sainsbury's. Even with about seven minutes of sound missing in the middle, it still makes more of a lasting impression than Outlander.

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