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Outlander
cast: Jim Caviezel, Sophia Myles, Jack Huston, John Hurt, and Ron Perlman

director: Howard McCain

110 minutes (15) 2008
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Momentum DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by David Hebblethwaite
I liked the idea of Outlander from the first I heard about it: a spaceship (with alien monster on board) crash-lands on Earth - not in the present day, but in 8th century Norway. Now that I've seen the film, I still like the idea - but I'm quite disappointed with the execution.

The set-up: as I said, the ship crashes, and the sole (but wait) survivor is the 'outlander' Kainan (Jim Caviezel). Having used a handy (but painful) device to implant knowledge of language and culture in himself (this, I think, is one of the best sequences in the movie), Kainan goes exploring, comes across a settlement which has been massacred - then is found by a group of Vikings, and taken back to their village.

The Vikings want to know who Kainan is and why he's there. They don't believe him when he says he is hunting a dragon; but so he is, in a manner of speaking. Kainan realises that the devastation must have been caused by the Moorwen, a deadly creature which escaped from his ship, and must now be stopped. Meanwhile, the lovely Freya (Sophia Myles) is desperately trying to persuade her father, King Rothgar (John Hurt) not to marry her off to the odious Wulfric (Jack Huston). Will Kainan convince the villagers of the truth? Can he defeat the Moorwen? Will Freya be captured? Will she be rescued? Will Wulfric turn out to be a decent sort after all? Will Kainan triumph and get the girl? Well, what do you think?

This, I think, is the key weakness of Outlander: the rhythms of its story are over-familiar, and it plays into them too much. For example, Freya is characterised as 'feisty', yet her main function in the movie is to be rescued - and there's a sense that the Moorwen kidnaps Freya and keeps her alive so long just because her function is to be rescued. The story is constructed to serve its archetype, and it shows too easily.

Another problem with the film is that the main specifics of its plot and setting don't seem to matter all that much. For all that Outlander takes place in a Norse milieu and incorporates elements of science fiction, it might as well be another story of dragon-slaying set in a generic fantasy world - there's no sense of difference. Granted, there are a few nice touches, such as Kainan forging a sword with which to battle the Moorwen from the material of his ship (it's not named as such, but this is clearly an equivalent of the 'metal of the gods'), but they are only superficial.

So what does Outlander have going for it? Decent enough action sequences; interesting use of colour (a mostly dun-coloured palette, broken by the green of forest, the white of snow - and, naturally, the red of blood)... What I particularly appreciate, though, is the way that the movie brings out the harsh reality of life in its world; and that the actors don't try to make their performances larger than life, giving the film a vein of grit.

But, in the end, Outlander is, purely and simply, a monster movie, and struggles to be more than that (we learn that Kainan's people razed the home planet of the Moorwen, which would give the film a moral dimension; except that it doesn't matter because, on Earth, the Moorwen is just a monster that must be killed). Outlander is very much the sum of its parts, which is fine if that's what you want - but it's hard not to wish for more.

DVD extras: a commentary with director, writers and producers; deleted scenes; visual effects tests; animatics; Two Worlds, One Film - 'making of' featurette (16 minutes); artwork galleries; and a trailer.
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