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If you needed a space marshal to come to the rescue, I suppose you could do a lot worst than a gruff, no-shit taking Sean Connery. The former James Bond actor plays Marshall William T. O’Niel, a lawman on a moon-based oil rig-type joint on one of Jupiter’s moons, where a series of killings are taking place. O’Niel’s investigation leads him to the facility’s boss Mark Sheppard (a pre-“Everybody Loves Raymond” Peter Boyle), who doesn’t take the Marshal nosying about his business too kindly, and lets it be known, essentially setting up a “High Noon” in outer space situation.
Writer/director Peter Hyams (“Timecop”) makes it pretty clear in the film’s commentary track that he was making a Western, one that had to be set in outer space since, according to him, Hollywood was no longer willing to back a big-budget Western. So the whole basis of “Outland” is pretty clear — a Marshall, alone, must buck the company that runs the town. That’s made more difficult since everyone depends on the company for their livelihood. Fortunately for the good citizens, Marshal O’Niel is played by Sean Connery, and they don’t come any tougher than this guy. Have shotgun, will fight back, as it were.
As with 99% of all sci-fi/special effects-heavy films made in the early ’80s, “Outland” boasts impressive production set designs that were, no doubt, state-of-the-art back in the day. You tend to forget that films actually had to construct their sets back then, with clever camera angles used to hide their size. Nowadays you just hand the scene over to a small army of computer jockeys and voila. “Outland” features great claustrophobic sequences, buoyed of course by the usual good work of Connery in the lead. Connery has great chemistry with Kika Markham as his wife, and Frances Sternhagen as the facility’s doctor is amusing. “Outland” also boasts an entertaining (and bearded) Peter Boyle as the heavy. Who knew Raymond’s sarcastic dad could be so menacing? Less an action movie than a drama, “Outland” can get pretty intense at times, and a space rig has never looked more uninviting.
Available for the first time on Blu-ray, “Outland” features a full-length audio commentary by Hyams, who offers a mostly even keel track. Tthe man is in his late ’60s, after all, so you probably can’t blame him for not sounding like an excited teenager talking about his first love. Still good, though, with great background on why he wrote/directed the movie and the production. You also get a theatrical trailer, and that about does it for bonuses. The film looks nice for a 1981 sci-fi movie, and the physical sets really play well.
It’s not every day you get to watch a movie where Johnny Depp is the bad guy, but that’s one of 1999’s “The Astronaut’s Wife’s” main draw. The other is Charlize Theron, who was still a fresh new face back then, and even sporting that awful pixel Mia Farrow haircut, was still absolutely gorgeous in the movie. Of course, the fact that both Theron’s character and Depp’s look like identical siblings at times probably lends to the film’s overall creepy vibe. If you had to carve out a perfect couple from clay, these two would be what you’d come up with.
“The Astronaut’s Wife” stars Depp as Spencer, a NASA pilot whose mission into outer space is cut short after a little mishap. Spencer returns to Earth with his partner, who quickly ends up dead, along with his wife, both under very mysterious circumstances. But the world movies on, and soon Spencer knocks up his lovely wife, schoolteacher Jillian (Charlize Theron). Which you would think was a good thing, but not with Spencer acting all strange and such, and Jillian quickly growing suspicious that he might not be the same man she married and loves. Also, a former NASA employee (Joe Morton) is trying to warn Jillian that something sinister happened to Spencer during that space incident. What’s a wife with a pixie haircut, who is preggers with her now strange husband, to do? Blair Brown has some suggestions…
Although I have no proof of it, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that “The Astronaut’s Wife” probably had the prettiest couople of 1999. It’s hard to beat Theron and Depp back then, and the duo certainly give the film their all, despite the sometimes silly script by writer/director Rand Ravich (who would go on to create the fantastic “Life” TV show starring Damian Lewis). Ravich knows where he’s going, obviously, but at times watching the characters trying to piece the obvious plot points together is downright painful. It’s a good thing, then, that we’re able to occupy ourselves with pretty people creeping each other out. Plus, I absolutely love Miles Dyson (er, I mean, Joe Morton) as the paranoid NASA guy. I could watch an entire film with just this dude.
“The Astronaut’s Wife” is making its Blu-ray debut, which unfortunately doesn’t come with any special features except for a theatrical trailer. On the plus side, the Blu-ray transfer is excellent, all the better to enjoy Theron and Depp’s matching blonde ‘do. If you have a nice sound system, you’ll also be able to properly enjoy Johnny Depp’s Southern accent, which I still can’t decide is utterly ridiculous or dead-on. Either way, it’s … something.
Oh, time travel. So convenient, and yet so, so strange dangerous. In one of his early starring roles, Jim Caviezel plays John Sullivan, a cop in the year 1999 who accidentally discovers, through the magic of ham radio (just go with it), that he can communicate with his diseased father 30 years back in the past. Their contact just happens to come days before dad goes off to work as a fireman and dies. John saves his father, but by disrupting the past, he causes problems in the future — namely the murder of a woman very close to both of them. Like I said. Time travel — dangerous business, that.
First of all, I love time travel movies, so “Frequency” was very much up my alley. And while no one actually hops into the past in “Frequency”, the whole “talking to someone from 30 years ago through ham radio” still qualifies as time traveling in my book. Directed by Gregory Hoblit (“Fallen”), “Frequency” has a handful of very clever moments as the two Sullivan men get to know one another all over again — and for the first time. Dennis Quaid as the father is terrific, and though they are never actually in the same room together for much of the movie, the work by both Quaid and Caviezel are so good that it resonates. “Frequency” may be classified as a sci-fi/murder mystery, but it’s also one heck of a great father-son drama.
“Frequency” features a strong supporting turn by Andre Braugher (“Homicide: Life on the Streets”) as a friend of the elder Sullivan in the past and a police partner to the younger Sullivan in the present. A pre-“Lost” Elizabeth Mitchell plays the very important woman in both Sullivans’ lives. There is some action in “Frequency”, but this isn’t really an action movie. The main mystery — the identity of the killer then and now — is enough to drive the narrative, with both father and son, in both timelines, racing, quite literally, against the clock to make things right. “Frequency” is a great, clever movie with a nifty, if farfetched premise, but as with most time-travel movies, you either go with it or you don’t. Go with “Frequency”, and you’ll be rewarded with a good, underappreciated movie that hasn’t really gotten the love it rightfully deserves.
“Frequency” was released just 12 years ago, so the Blu-ray transfer is pretty good. There was an earlier 2010 Blu-ray release for the film, so I’m not sure how much of the 2012 version is new or were just ported over from that and previous DVD releases. Nevertheless, special features on this edition include two full-length audio commentary tracks, one by director Gregory Hoblit and another by the brothers Emmerich, screenwriter Toby and actor Noah (who would go on to have a short, but memorable stint on “The Walking Dead”). Both tracks are pretty active, with Toby easily dominating the Emmerich-centric track, which makes sense since he wrote it. A series of mini-docs (about 6 to 8 minutes each) make up a “The Science and Technology Behind Frequency” featurette, along with some very short visual effects designs. There’s also a third audio track with the film’s music composer, which is strangely interesting in its own right. And finally, you get about 5 and a half minutes worth of deleted scenes, as well as the film’s original theatrical trailer.