Sean Connery is the lone lawman on the space frontier of OUTLAND
“Don’t misconstrue this. I’m not displaying character. Just temporary insanity.”
A movie that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle when it comes to examples of great 80s sci-fi cinema is Peter Hyams’ 1981 space western OUTLAND. The story takes place on Jupiter’s moon Io where a titanium mining colony (“Con Am 27”) has been constructed. Sean Connery plays Federal Marshal William O’Niel who has been assigned to perform security duties at the large station owned by Conglomerates Amalgamated. With productivity on the rise thanks to the manager Mark Sheppard (Peter Boyle) everything seems to look good on the surface. Meanwhile O’Niel’s wife Carol (Kika Markham) has become unhappy living in this lonely, foreign environment and chooses to return to Earth with their young son causing grief for him. Trouble soon arises when several workers begin showing signs of psychosis due to after effects from a highly potent amphetamine being distributed. O’Niel and the station’s Dr. Lazarus (Frances Sternhagen) investigate further and uncover that drugs are being given out to the miners so they’ll be able to work long hours. O’Niel confronts Sheppard who is intent on continuing the drug dealing, leaving O’Niel in a critical predicament. With O’Niel set on holding up law and order, Sheppard contacts his supplier and has some professional hitmen sent to the colony to take O’Niel out. Director Peter Hyams had always wanted to make a Western but in 1981, the genre was pretty much dried up and producers wouldn’t take a chance on it. He instead set his Western story inside a sci-fi genre film, taking much of the inspiration from Fred Zinneman’s classic High Noon (1952), and using the mining colony as the substitute for the Old West frontier society. To create the film’s outstanding effects sequences a new in-camera technology called Introvision was created which expands the standard front projection technique to include foreground, mid-ground and background visuals so actors can be right in the center without need for bluescreen. The film’s score was composed by Jerry Goldsmith who had previously worked with Hyams on Capricorn One (1978) and did the music for Ridley Scott’s hit Alien (1979). The film’s tagline “In outer space, the ultimate enemy is still man” was a direct response to ALIEN. Both films have a similar claustrophobic atmosphere and while there are obviously no creepy creatures, the suspense and thrills are just as intense. For me, this film is one of Sean Connery’s best outside of his Bond films. It’s the kind of sci-fi thriller that will be just as good in 50 years from today as it is 30 plus years after it was made.