Science Fiction is tricky genre to tread; it offers an unlimited landscape of possibilities, but seldom does it work effectively. Howard McCain’s Outlander, finally out on blu-ray, is a perfect example of when B movie science fiction material works. Absolutely. Charged with limited, but largely effective special effects and an interesting – if somewhat outlandish – narrative, Outlander fires on all cylinders and delivers pure popcorn entertainment.
Crash landing near a Norwegian fjord in 709 AD, Kainan (Jim Caviezel) surfaces from the depths of a very cold lake only to discover that his captive – a dragon-like monster known as Moorwen – has escaped the wreckage. Before he can catch his own family-murdering monster, Kainan is captured by Wulfirc (Jack Huston) and taken to a group of Vikings – led by King Rothgar (John Hurt) and his daughter, Freya (Sophia Myles) both hell-bent on blaming him for the disaster that has befallen the clan they are at war with, a warrior tribe led by Gunnar (Ron Perlman). What transpires, as legions are formed against the escaped Moorwen, results in Kainan’s purging of his past as he stands to fight for a future on an alien planet.
Caviezel is an absolute marvel in this picture. His quiet demeanor rivals most actors and communicates so much emotion within the tightness of his facial expressions. While perfect as a humanoid alien, there is an emotional mythology he is toying with here and, as presented, opens as easily as a hardback book does. This might be a low budget affair, but his earnestness communicates a natural energy to his performance that outsells the minor pacing issues of the slightly overlong tale.
Writer/director McCain knows his source material. Like The Thing and Alien before it, most monster films are judged on the quality of their creature. That being said, McCain’s monster design is eerily real and layered with rich neon-like design – even if it is named after the creatures in H.G. Welles’ The Time Machine. Grossly effective and frightening, Moorwan’s appearance – especially in the daylight scenes of the narrative’s climax - is handled quite well and reveals little flaw in the production’s low budget.
Outlander may be light and frothy on emotional depth, but its acting is not; it might even be largely predictable, but it does present Kainan’s journey in full heroic spectrum; this is solid entertainment that really does challenge the bloated budgets of most summer films. From beginning to end, the narrative is richly structured, properly acted, and knows exactly what it is in B movie mode. Engaging in both form and function, Outlander is tasty sci-fi adventure on a strict Lean Pockets diet.
Available on Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD, On Demand and for Download - May 18, 2010
Screen Formats: 2.39:1
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Audio: English: Dolby Digital 5.1
The color palette on the blu-ray transfer is a little on the cool side. This works well with the picture until the night scenes come along. Then, unfortunately, blacks are washed gray and slightly unpolished. This distracts from the overall experience of the movie considering that the night scenes are where most of the action takes place involving the monster. The Blu-ray also includes Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in English and French as well as optional French subtitles. The features on the blu-ray are as follows:
Audio Commentary – with writer/director Howard McCain, writer/executive producer Dick Blackman and producers Chris Roberts & John Schimmel. This is very, very dry and technical. Not for most people.
Deleted Scenes (40 minutes) – Twenty-seven deleted scenes are included – mostly unfinished.
Visual Effects Tests – A collection of five sequences (Moorwen Walking Cycle Test, Moorwen Running Cycle Test, Moorwen "Garbage Bag" Test, Spaceship CG Model Test, and Visual Effects Demo Compilation) that are primarily responsible for showcasing the effects behind Moorwen.
Animatics – This section includes animated storyboards for a few scenes. They include: Crash, Alone, Language, Herot, First Attack, Moorwen Attacks (Deleted Scene), Intro to Shield Hall, Flashback, The Trap and Waterfall.
Artwork Galleries – Concept drawings and clay models covering the costumes, creatures, locations, props, and scenes from Ninth Ray Studios and WETA Workshop.
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