Outland (1981) – Peter Hyams

Peter Hyams writes and directs this galactic update of the classic western, High Noon, that sees Sean Connery stepping into the Gary Cooper role of a lone marshall awaiting the arrival of men who are coming to kill him.

With a visual look that seems to marry it with the universe of Alien (aided by the fact that Jerry Goldsmith did the music for both films) and Blade Runner, a kinda of working class, corporate-owned dystopian future, the film has actually stood the test of time really well, and Connery is superb as Marshall O’Neil.

On Jupiter’s third moon, Io, there is a mining corporation that is turning a massive profit, but O’Neil, two weeks into his one year tour, has discovered that there has been a rash of deaths over the past six months. Deaths that haven’t been investigated, no autopsies conducted, and no one is saying anything.

While his marriage frays, and his wife and son leave to await the shuttle back to Earth, O’Neil, with the help of a broken down doctor, named (a little too on the nose) Lazarus (Frances Sternhagen), O’Neil discovers a flourishing drug trade that is causing these deaths, and with no records of them, someone in the company is involved.

This leads him into conflict with one of his sergeants (James Sikking) and the director of the outpost, Sheppard (Peter Boyle).

Once O’Neil begins laying down the law, interested in maintaining justice, things get dangerous for everyone involved, and soon, the marshall is alone, but for Lazarus, as the arrival of the shuttle and two killers, draws closer.

I love the look of the colony, it’s just racking upon racking of beds for the workers, shared facilities, and the only location that seems designed for any comfort is the outpost’s bar. There are zero gee holding cells, a greenhouse to produce food, hookers, drink and authorised tranquilisers to keep the working man content, sated and sedated, and all of it is designed to turn a profit for a company that doesn’t care about its employees, just their profit line.

I hadn’t watched this one in decades, but really enjoyed this revisit, and Connery seems perfectly at home in this kind of role. A man who stands for what he believes, and despite the fact that he loves his family, his mission comes first.

The film features some cool production design, and some surprisingly solid effects, and model work (though there are a few moments when it’s glaringly obvious that a model is being used).

Having checked this one out, I feel I want to hunt down science fiction films from the 80s I may have missed or forgotten about. I know I won’t enjoy them all but, some of them have to be hidden gems… right?

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