Howard McCain’s “Outlander” is one of those genre movies that you either instantly wanted to see when you first heard about it or you pressed the “back” button on your browser. There’s no in-between – the premise of a spaceman falling to Earth in 702 A.D. Norway during the time of the Vikings either instantly appealed to the genre fiend in you or your mind wandered off to whatever silly hijinks Kate Hudson had gotten herself into today. Apparently it didn’t appeal to a whole lot of people running the movie studios, because “Outlander” has been sitting on the shelves for a while now, and after a planned brief stint in limited release (to fulfill contractual obligations, no doubt), the movie will be heading to DVD where fans who have been following its progress since 2007 can finally get a taste of the real thing. So was the wait worth it? Oh hell yes.
As the film opens, Kainan (James Caviezel) has just crash-landed on Earth in his spaceship. He is not alone, but he mind as well be. Everyone on board is dead, and the alien creature responsible is now on the loose. In hot pursuit of the beast, Kainan stumbles across a burnt out village before finding himself prisoner to a Norse tribe led by Rothgar (John Hurt). Rothgar is getting old, and plans to pass on his reign to the temperamental Wulfric (Jack Huston), and wants his free-spirited daughter Freya (Sophia Myles) to marry him for her own sake. She refuses, of course, being one of those independent women, and instead falls for the tribe’s prisoner, Kainan. You know, one of those instant cinematic connections that must not be denied. Of course it helps that Kainan is the first man Freya has met who didn’t sniff her; plus, he looked deeply into her eyes when they talked. Our spaceman is sensitive that way.
But the beast must feed, and it’s now set its sights on Rothgar’s tribe. To make matters worse, Gunnar (a tattooed and primal Ron Perlman), whose own tribe was recently ravaged by the beast, believes Rothgar’s people are responsible, the result of an old outstanding grudge between the two tribes. Gunnar is thus determined to launch a full-scale war in retaliation. What’s an aging King to do? Well obviously the smart thing would be to unchain Kainan and let him lead the fight against the rampaging space beast, but of course that would deny us a conflict-filled first act as the different characters get to know each other. Plus, who isn’t used to seeing Jesus all chained up and beaten by now? Eventually, the barbaric Vikings do come around, and it’s mano-a-beast with swords and arrows against a creature that seems nothing short of unstoppable. Where’s a ray gun when you need one?
So what’s the verdict on “Outlander”? It’s pretty simple: if you’ve wanted to see the movie when you first heard about it, then you won’t be disappointed by the finished product. The film is everything you thought it would be – badass Viking action meshed with futuristic creature sci-fi. At nearly two hours long, the film certainly has plenty of room to develop its character, in particular leading man Kainan, who is revealed to be quite the tortured soul. Kainan’s backstory, and that of the creature, makes you question who is the monster. Of course, being that the beast is threatening to slice off the head of the gorgeous and blue-eyed Sophia Myles, we’ll have to take Kainan’s side on things, though it was a pretty close call.
The script for “Outlander” is by director Howard McCain and co-writer Dirk Blackman. The two men have gone on to pen the recent “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans”, as well being attached to two other period epics, the reimagining of the “Conan” franchise and “Amazon”. The duo certainly show a talent for crafting period action-adventure fare, as “Outlander” meets and exceeds its own premise of Vikings versus monster action. The direction by McCain, here making his feature film debut, is a nice balance between allowing leading man James Caviezel to do what he does best, which is sell the emotions of the character, while still piling on the bloody action and general mayhem. My only complaint is that there isn’t enough spaceman action (i.e. Kainan loses his weaponry pretty quickly, and ends up with a sword for the rest of the movie), but I suppose giving Kainan the ability to vaporize the beast with a single shot would have been counterproductive, story-wise.
Those familiar with the oft-told Beowulf and Grendel tale will instantly recognize a lot of “Outlander’s” story beats, including the climax, which has the heroes going into the beast’s lair for the final confrontation. Though the film is obviously patterned after the Grendel story, McCain and Blackman put enough originality into the screenplay that it’s not a simple case of “been there, done that”. Of course, the whole “spaceman in Viking world” approach to what is a very old (and repeatedly told) legend was also a very nice touch. Speaking of which, once Kainan’s ship crashes into the lake, you’ll scarcely notice that this is a science fiction movie. The beast is nicely rendered with pulsating red blood lines and killer appendages. This thing strikes with lightning speed and bloody-thirsty fury, taking out swaths of Viking and chowing down on men, women, and children with equal abandon. The blood, as do the limbs and heads, fly early and often.
“Outlander” is a must for anyone who enjoys good ol fashion Viking action, or just period swordplay movies in general. The film is Rated R, and there’s a good reason. The beast shows no mercy when it attacks, and the human-on-human killings are just as vicious and limb-impairing. I would have liked to see more from Ron Perlman’s Gunnar, a real highlight when he finally makes his appearance, but is alas dispatched way too early. James Caviezel looks a little odd running around the movie’s setting, first in his spaceman armor and then later in some amusingly ill-fitting Viking fur, but that won’t stop you from feeling Caviezel’s pain anyway. The guy is just a good actor, enough said. Sophia Myles provides able support as the leading lady, while Jack Huston liven things up as the hot-headed Wulfric. I was never really sure in which direction the writers were going with Wulfric, but was very satisfied with the direction they ended up taking.
If you saw the previews for “Outlander” and thought it might be something up your alley, I can safely tell you that it is. The film delivers on its premise, and it’s a shame not more people will get to see it, even those who didn’t exactly jump for joy at the premise of a space-faring man in primitive Viking land in the first place. Pick it up when you see it. If nothing else, Jesus swinging a broadsword and Sophia Myles’ ridiculously gorgeous blue eyes are worth the rental.
Howard McCain (director) / Dirk Blackman, Howard McCain (screenplay)
CAST: James Caviezel … Kainan
Sophia Myles … Freya
Jack Huston … Wulfric
Ron Perlman … Gunnar
John Hurt … Rothgar