5.27.2009

Outlander Review

I saw the movie Outlander today and it was awesome, including the special features.

It's about a space marine who crash lands in 400-something AD in Norway. He is taken to a Viking village when he is mistaken for the one responsible for massacring a neighboring village. He tells them a "dragon" (that is, an alien monster) is the one who destroyed the village and after a while manages to convince the vikings to join him in hunting it before it kills everyone.

I heard absolutely nothing about it on any website, television ad, or friends. Michael (link to his review is at the bottom) merely said "it's aliens vs vikings" and I accepted it as nothing more than an action flick. How wrong I was.

First of all, we checked out the special features. They included a lot, including a commentary, animatics, CGI tests, and production art. The last one was what we mostly cared about. Now, this wasn't just a poster or two with some stills thrown in, this was wonderful. It had fully rendered set designs, backgrounds, creature, costume, and weapons designs. Not only did they have beautifully detailed paintings showing scenery (along with three different shots of the same alien landscape under different lighting) but they included a sculptured model of the alien and several props. Everything was of the highest quality.

The movie's CGI was really good. Instead of a Lucas-esque approach where actors are standing around in a green screen warehouse, this movie focused on using actual locations and tangible props where they could. There are maybe a couple instances where the CGI is slightly off, but that is only if I want to be nitpicky. The movie has a wonderful sense of atmosphere, and details to lighting in different settings looks amazing.

The monster is bioluminescent and has neon green blood. Instead of the glowing pinks, blues, and greens looking like black-light paint from a Schumacher flick, they light up at appropriate times and allow illuminate the skin and bones surrounding the patterns used to attract prey like a deep-sea fish. There are times the blood appears too bright, but it's so...pretty if I may use the word to describe such a thing, that it isn't too striking to the setting.

This moving perfectly blends its Norse setting with a sci-fi story. The space marine never mentions space, aliens, or planets, but opts for "farther up north," "dragon," and "islands." The spaceship is later used to make swords, halberds, and axes, and while only the king sword is shown in all its glory, the rest can be viewed in the production art. Also, humans are apparently a seed colony, so there isn't the question of "well, why is he humanoid?" A real nice subversion of movies featuring people learning techniques on-the-spot (Matrix immediately springs to mind) is that when Kainan, the space marine, hooks up to a device in order to learn Norse (English for the viewers obviously) and about Earth's history, he is visibly very bothered and uncomfortable. Imagine a glaucoma test anxiety times ten. It also makes his nose bleed, which seems to be traditional for brain-use problems, and the rush makes him get sick below screen.

Like I said, I thought this was just going to be an action flick ala Aliens vs Predator or something. Also as I said, I was wrong. This movie has really great action, and a couple huge explosions, but that isn't the main focus. It takes the time between attacks to develop the characters, some more than others, but almost all the main and supporting have enough development that you actually care about what happens to them and wonder what fate is going to wait them before the movie's end.

It's quite long at almost two hours, but it's certainly worth it. I saw it on a HDTV and can't wait for its Blu-Ray release to see it again in order to witness every little mark on the alien's skin and tendrils as it tears through the village. I didn't find the character developing parts to be too slow, and the amounts of action make up for any down parts. There are also some bits where I wasn't quite sure what was going to happen; not everyone dies at a predictable time. When people do die, it's usually in a cool or wicked way that made me leap to the edge of the couch with an exclamation of shock and excitement.

The production quality is amazingly high for a movie I heard nothing about, and has quite a good cast complete with Jim Caviezel, Sophia Myles, John Hurt, and Ron Perlmen. If you know these people from their other movies, some bits are extra amusing, such as when the Vikings are decrying Christianity when Jesus Christ himself walks in the door. Also, Hellboy and his father fight at one bit.

It's a really great movie and includes some of the coolest concept art I've seen in a while, and it's actually included on the disc. I just hope the Blu-Ray version has even more.

The concept art can also be viewed here.

For another person's opinion, read Michael's review at Movie Omelet.

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