Year: 1981 | Rating: R | Runtime: 1 HR 52 MIN
Aspect Ratio: 2:40.1 | Video Resolution: 1080P
Audio: Eng 5.1 DTS-HD MA, assorted foreign audio tracks| Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Japanese, German SDH, Italian SDH, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish
Director: Peter Hyams
Writer: Peter Hyams
Starring: Sean Connery, Peter Boyle, Frances Sternhagen, and James Sikking
On Jupitor’s moon Io a titanium mining operation is in full swing when the new Federal Marshall, William O’Niel arrives to start his tour of duty. After several miners die under mysterious circumstances the investigation points to a new drug that allows the miners to work for days without rest. The mine’s manager warns O’Niel to mind his own business or there will be consequences. O’Niel presses on and finds himself outnumbered and alone with no escape.
The original Star Trek is considered by many to be a space western but Outland takes the idea to a whole new level. Written by direct Peter Hyams, Outland is little more than High Noon in space where a sheriff must face off against deadly foes when his ‘town’ turns their back on him. Even though its not much more than a genre transplant Outland is a surprisingly effective sci-fi action-thriller. Sean Connery is no stranger to science fiction but his film’s rarely fit neatly into that one specific genre whether it be Zardoz, Highlander, or even Indiana Jones and Outland isn’t any different. Outland is a mostly forgotten film thirty plus years after its release but that makes it no less enjoyable.
The original DVD was released in November 1997; that DVD is an ugly, non-anamorphic mess that was almost un-watchable on late 90s video equipment so just imagine what that same disc would look like today. It was an early Warner Bros. effort featuring their notorious flipper discs (letterbox on one side, pan & scan on the other) housed in one of the ugly snapper cases. Outland did receive a DVD re-issue in 2007 that axed the pan & scan version and came in a regular DVD case but still sported the same ugly transfer from the 1997 release.
The new Blu-ray edition of Outland is nothing short of spectacular especially when you consider what fans of this film have been forced to watch since it left theaters in 1981. While it doesn’t look like a brand new film (thankfully) it does look amazing for its age. Gone are the large artifacts, the shaking transfer, the muddy and indistinguishable blacks and in its place is a transfer that has been given real care. The print used for the transfer was clean of debris like dust but was not scrubbed free of detail or grain. Colors are vibrant, black levels are respectable for the most part with only a few shots not holding up well, and the level of detail is outstanding.
The original DVD release states “Soundrack Remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1″ but in all honesty it’s a pretty miserable mix that I always thought sounded like I was listening to the movie through a roomful of police megaphones. Theatrically Outland was presented in Warner Bros. short lived Megasound format which was used to enhance the theatrical auditory experience mostly by adding a lot more bass than a normal theater could output at that time. The 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack is very enveloping leading me to believe that the original 70MM Six Track soundtrack was used in the remastering of the Blu-ray. Surround activity is on the lighter side but the three front channels and the LFE channel are as distinct as you’d hear in many newer films. Dialogue is well anchored in the center channel and Jerry Goldsmith’s score sounds properly un-Earthy occupying the rest of the front soundstage.
After being mostly ignored on home video for the past three decades I wasn’t expecting much in form of special features on Outland but Warner Bros. again blew me away. There’s not any new documentary or deleted scenes but there is an all new commentary track by director Peter Hyams. It’s a highly informative and entertaining track that must have been recently recorded because of some references to recently produced HBO programming. He shares his personal recollections about working with Sean Connery along with many tidbits about all aspects of the production from casting to the then cutting edge special effects. It’s definitely worth a listen. Also included is the film’s theatrical trailer presented in very cruddy looking standard definition. Give the trailer a watch just to get an idea of what the DVD looked like.
Outland receives a very high recommendation from me on Blu-ray. It’s not a forgotten masterpiece but it has been mostly forgotten by audiences and its studio until now. Warner Bros. has taken real care in restoring its visual and audio components plus kudos needs to be given for recording an all new commentary. If you’re a sci-fi fan, a Connery fan, or both you should definitely check out Outland.