In 1979, a new independent production company, The Ladd Company, was formed by the departing studio executive team at Twentieth Century Fox that green-lit the likes of Star Wars. Although it didn't achieve commercial success at times, its output has gone on to provide many excellent memories. Its most successful film, Police Academy, spawned several sequels, but it is in the lesser successes that it has created a fine, lasting legacy. Amongst these films are the likes of Body Heat, The Right Stuff and Mel Gibson's call to freedom, Braveheart, which won the Oscar for Best Film.
It is impossible to imagine watching the Ladd Company's most visible offering, Blade Runner without the 'Tree' logo, accompanied by John Williams' horn-based music over the top in each of it's three versions from 1982 through to 2007, but the logo also featured at the start of another cult science-fiction classic from 1981, Peter Hyams' Outland, which finally gets a Blu-Ray release this year through Warner Home Video's 'Platinum Collection'.
Regarded as a sci-fi version of Fred Zinnemann's High Noon, Outland chronicles the trials and tribulations of a Federal Marshal, O'Neil (Sean Connery), who has been transferred to a productive and bonus-based mining operation on Jupiter's moon, Io. His wife, Carol (Kika Markham) and son Paul have become increasingly disheartened and disillusioned by the constant uprooting to another 'lousy assignment' (as O'Neil admits to his wife at the outset of the film) and his work is not made any easier by a sudden onslaught of suicides prompted by psychological trauma. Investigations into the deaths lead him to Dr. Lazarus (Frances Sternhagen) who reluctantly helps him try and get to the bottom of what is actually going on '85..
Made two years after Alien (and shot totally at Pinewood Studios) the look of the film does lend itself to Ridley Scott's classic, but interestingly, it pre-empts the ideals and dynamic of James Cameron's Aliens (you cannot help but think the opening credit sequence of that film resembles that in Outland). The workers on this colony would get on famously with the likes of Hicks, Hudson and Vasquez. The world of these space miners is encapsulated firmly, thanks to Philip Harrison's striking production design and Lethal Weapon cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt's textured camerawork.
Connery leads the cast in a fantastic performance, but it is Frances Sternhagen all but stealing the show as the cynically witty Dr. Lazarus, more than matching Connery's old-style male O'Neil. Good support as well from the likes of Peter Boyle (as the colony head, Sheppard) and Stephen Berkoff adds a brief trademark moment of madness, as is his wont.
Outland is an FX fan’s treat, with the the effects expertise of British legends John Stears and Roy (Superman) Field on show. The FX stand up very well in this enlightened CGI-friendly era.
Historically, Outland was one of the first UK VHS releases to go out with a Stereo soundtrack and this was the perfect outlet to showcase another of Outland's key strengths, the magnificent score by the late-but-ever-legendary Jerry Goldsmith (which is available on import in a 2-CD Special Edition, as well as in a release with another Goldsmith score, Capricorn One, another of Peter Hyams' sci-fi classics).
That's not to say that Outland is flawless. It is a hangover from a time when every sci-fi film was aspiring to be as spectacular and imaginative as Star Wars, but it does demonstrate a desire to do something that doesn't resemble a galaxy far, far away and, nearly four decades on, remains enjoyably entertaining. It will certainly hit home on all manner of plasmas and sound systems, not to mention being a great showcase for anybody wanting to show off their recent purchase of one.
OUTLAND (1981) / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: PETER HYAMS / STARRING: SEAN CONNERY, PETER BOYLE, FRANCES STERNHAGEN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW