Outland (1981)

Toby Frost

Well-Known Member
Jan 22, 2008
Marshall O’Niel (Sean Connery) is the newly-appointed chief of police on Con-Am 27, a bleak mining colony on Io, one of Jupiter’s moons. He soon finds himself in a plot involving corrupt cops, drug-crazed workers and sinister company bosses, and has to fight for his life when he refuses to compromise his principles.

Peter Hyam’s Outland (1981) is generally remembered as High Noon in space, which isn’t quite fair. The actual High Noon elements – the countdown to the villains arriving in town, the quest for allies, and the making of preparations for the fight – only take up the last third of the film; before then, it’s really a police thriller.

A more interesting comparison, I think, is with Alien. The look of Com-Am 27 is very similar to that of the Nostromo, and there’s a notable overlap of personnel: Jerry Goldsmith did the music for both films, and John Mollo designed the costumes. The title sequence is much like that of Alien, and one version of Outland uses the Alien-esque slogan “Even in space, the ultimate enemy is man”. And both films have the same sense of paranoia, that of the little working guys against the faceless power of the Corporation.

The interior design of Com-Am 27 looks superb. It’s essentially an oil rig the size of a town, complete with grim living quarters, bleak canteens and a joyless brothel. The whole place probably smells like an unwashed vest. The exterior shots are slightly less good, because they’re more ambitious, but are still very decent. There are some comically dated shots of computers doing “computer stuff”, none of which looks more powerful than a ZX Spectrum.

I’m not normally a great fan of Connery, whom I find pretty wooden, but I think he manages all right here, mainly because he’s not required to do much except look troubled and tough. Peter Boyle makes a credibly smarmy villain. I can’t decide whether Frances Sternhagen, as O’Neil’s ally (Galaxy Quest fans will be interested to note that she’s called Doctor Lazarus) is over the top or actually doing a rather subtle bit of acting as someone who puts on a front. Also, look out for a cameo from Steven Berkoff, frothing and ranting as a drug-crazed miner.

Outland fits with Moon and Alien in depicting a very blue-collar science-fiction world, where work is hard, beer is vital and the boss is always out to rip you off. If it has a main flaw, it is perhaps that it isn’t science fictionish enough, in that it transfers a cop story to space too literally. Ultimately, I think it is a decent film that deserves to be better-known.


|-O-| (-O-) |-O-|
Nov 6, 2008
NIce review. I really love the dirty, scummy world that they created with this movie. Pretty underrated in my opinion.

Similar threads