Welcome to Con-Am 27, a small mining colony on the surface of Io, Jupiter’s third moon. The conditions are harsh with only one-sixth of Earth’s gravity and no atmosphere. The work is hard but the miners are paid good money for their hardship. As is said in the movie… they work hard and they play hard. So when Marshall William T. O’Niel arrives for his one-year stint here, he’s basically told to take it easy and look the other way from time to time. This angers him because that’s not the way he does things.
He’s played by the iconic Sean Connery, an actor who needs no further introduction, I think. O’Niel is a man who’s getting a little tired of being moved from one shithole to another just because the system finds him a bit “difficult”. He’s a man of principles who just wants to do right. He’s also saddened by the fact that his wife and son have to endure this life. She’s actually had enough and finally leaves for home. This has apparently been under way for some time because they’ve hardly had time to settle in before she leaves. And by the way, this is no spoiler, since this happens within the first 15-20 minutes. She wants him to come with them, but even though the job is as it is, it’s still his job, so he has to stay.
Outland opens with us seeing the miners working and hearing them talk “shop” while working. It’s very believable and this is actually consistent throughout the whole movie, with the dialogue and the way it’s delivered being “real” and convincing. Anyway, all of a sudden one of the miners starts screaming about a spider getting into his environment suit and he rips it open, causing him to decompress messily. You only get a few glimpses of the guy, but the actor is John Ratzenberger. You know… Cliff Clavin from the TV-show Cheers?
Later on another one of the miners steps out of an airlock without a suit and one goes crazy and beats up a prostitute and threatens to kill her. These incidents are explained away as something that happens here once in a while. Something to do with the place itself and the conditions they have to endure. O’Niel doesn’t buy that and starts to investigate this further. He enlists the help of the colony’s resident physician Dr. Lazarus, played wonderfully by Frances Sternhagen (Misery, Raising Cain). She’s a great character and every time she’s onscreen you can’t help but smile.
What they find out is that the victims have all been using a drug that makes them “work like a horse” before ultimately driving them crazy. They also discover that a drug-smuggling “franchise” is lead by the station manager Mark Sheppard. He’s played by Peter Boyle. You’ll probably know him from the TV-show Everybody Loves Raymond, but also from Young Frankenstein or Taxi Driver for instance. Sheppard is quite happy with the way things are running and doesn’t want O’Niel meddling with his business. And since the drug is making the miners work harder, thus making more money for the company… Well, the company’s happy too!
So you see, O’Niel’s not making any friends here! Well, except for the good doctor. He can’t even trust his own men to help him. One of them, Sergeant Montone, is portrayed by James B. Sikking. He’s also been in Soul Man and Up the Creek but many of you will probably remember him mainly from Hill Street Blues where he played Lt. Howard Hunter.
The station manager has finally had enough and sends for help in the form of two hit-men, and now starts a wait à la High Noon, the classic western starring Gary Cooper, and O’Niel prepares for their arrival. This is where he discovers that he’ll get no help whatsoever from anyone. He’s on his own!
Sean Connery is great in this movie and conveys the different emotions O’Niel has fantastically well. He’s actually very subtle in his acting and it’s with tiny facial expressions and the look in his eyes that makes you understand this man. The hopelessness and loneliness he feels after his wife and son leaves and also the anger against the system and his devotion to set things straight.
The director and writer Peter Hyams (Capricorn One, The Presidio, Narrow Margin) has made a taut thriller that could easily have been set anywhere, but just happens to be set in space this time. The sets in Outland look fantastic, very industrial for lack of a better word. They’re cramped, gritty and worn and manage to be very believable. Just like the dialogue! And I kind of like the idea that they use ordinary shotguns in this, instead of more futuristic weaponry which would, in all fairness, have looked out of place.
The music is composed by Jerry Goldsmith and you know what? I’m not even going to mention what he’s worked on, because the list is too friggin’ long and impressive! Let’s just say that he made some pretty good scores in his life.
And on that musical note… Until next time my friends!