What Peter Hyams does at the end of Outland–cutting away from Sean Connery to a shot of the mining station with a superimposed message from the character to his wife–ought to be a crime. Hyams gets one of Connery’s better performances out of him and then cheats both Connery and the viewer from giving the character a proper sendoff. Instead, the superimposed message and some really sentimental Jerry Goldsmith music. It’s particularly unfortunate, as Hyams makes very few mistakes in Outland and Goldsmith’s score is otherwise excellent. It’s even excellent two seconds before the cut to the exterior.
One could dismiss Outland as High Noon in space, but, in actuality, only the last third is High Noon in space. The rest is an effective, if derivative (from Alien in a lot of ways, particularly Goldsmith’s score), cop fighting corruption (in space) movie. There are a lot of Western elements, but Hyams nicely adjusts everything for the future setting. Strangely, his greatest strength is the human element, whether it’s Kika Markham as Connery’s fed-up wife (most of her scenes are video messages, in which she’s excellent, but Connery’s also good watching them), James Sikking as his shady assistant or–and here’s where Hyams really excels–with station doctor Frances Sternhagen. Connery and Sternhagen have maybe six scenes together and every one of them is fantastic. They’re Connery’s best moments, so maybe Sternhagen somehow got him to act. There’s this one scene, where Connery explains himself to her–short, maybe thirty seconds, forty-five, and he stunned me. Hyams’s dialogue is fine, but Connery’s delivery and Hyams’s composition make it a gold star moment.
Hyams has gone on to shoot his own films, usually poorly (with some excuse about natural light), but here he’s got Stephen Goldblatt, who makes Hyams’s shots look wonderful. Hyams knows how to compose for Panavision and he knows how to make the most out of a limited effects budget. When there finally are a bunch of sets at the end, Hyams concentrates on the enormity and the surrounding emptiness and pulls off a great concluding action scene.
The acting is all good–except Nicholas Barnes as Connery and Markham’s kid, he’s terrible–though Peter Boyle really doesn’t have enough to do as the bad guy.
A lot of the exteriors in space are excellent. Goldsmith’s score is great. Connery’s good, sometimes better. Sternhagen’s a joy. Shame about the last thirty-five seconds though.
Written and directed by Peter Hyams; director of photography, Stephen Goldblatt; edited by Stuart Baird; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Philip Harrison; produced by Richard A. Roth; released by Warner Bros.
Starring Sean Connery (O’Niel), Peter Boyle (Sheppard), Frances Sternhagen (Lazarus), James Sikking (Montone), Kika Markham (Carol), Clarke Peters (Ballard), Steven Berkoff (Sagan), John Ratzenberger (Tarlow) and Nicholas Barnes (Paul O’Niel).