Posts Tagged ‘Jim Caviezel’

One of the things about my lifestyle through most of the latter part of the 2000s was that I was away from English-speaking cinemas a lot of the time. I still did my best to keep up with the major releases, and if it was a film I particularly wanted to see I would even brave seeing it in a foreign language, intelligible or not. But, at the same time, minor releases slipped past me: I am still coming across films I would probably have seen, had I had the chance when they were new, but of which I am utterly ignorant.

A case in point is Howard McCain’s Outlander, the existence of which was unknown to me until Sophia Myles mentioned it in an interview in the current issue of DWM. A proverb featuring the word ignorance in conjunction with the word bliss powers its way to the forefront of my mind, but I’m not sure that’s entirely fair.

Now, I know what you may be about to ask, and no, it’s not the Sean Connery space western based on High Noon – that’s Outland, a different dubious movie. Outland is an attempt at a genre mash-up that ends up being a bit self-important and dull, but Outlander is a… oh, hang on. No, they really are different movies.

Strictly speaking, Outlander looks like lots of different movies. It kicks off by restaging the opening sequence of the Carpenter Thing, as a stricken spacecraft plunges into the atmosphere of Earth, where it frightens the local wildlife (cue close-ups of nervous deer and traumatised fish). From here we’re into a re-enactment of the beginning of either of the first two Planet of the Apes movies as that intense charisma-vacuum Jim Caviezel emerges from the wreckage, buries a comrade, and tries to make sense of where he is.

It turns out he’s in 8th century Norway – Earth is described as an abandoned colony of his home civilisation, an intriguing detail that’s not really explored. Feeling the need to fit in, Caviezel uses a handy gadget to learn the local lingo in about ten seconds flat. I try to have an open mind about new technology but as this kind of app could potentially put me and many of my friends out of work it is obviously the handiwork of Satan. (On the other hand, after requesting to be taught ‘Old Norse’ the very first word Caviezel comes out with is a well-known Anglo-Saxon expletive, and later on he is required to deliver the immortal line ‘There is no gods’, so there are clearly still glitches with the system.)

Outlander‘s gambol through notable films of recent years continues as we, along with Caviezel, encounter a tribe of Vikings. There is a wrinkly old King (John Hurt), a feisty young warrior-princess (Myles) and a slightly nutty young warrior prince (Jack Huston), and the characterisations, costumes and set designs are so astoundingly similar to those of the Rohan characters in Lord of the Rings that it is frankly baffling: did no-one at any stage in the production notice this? Is it in fact supposed to be an intentional homage? (There’s even a major character called Boromir, too.)

Oh well. Anyway, it turns out the reason Caviezel’s spaceship crashed in the first place was that there was a nasty slavering alien monster on board, and the beast is on the loose amongst the fjords. Caviezel is horrified upon first sighting this menace. ‘MOORHEN!!!!!’ he cries in anguish. Well, actually, the monster’s not called a Moorhen but a Moorwen, but I think you will agree this is still not the most fear-inspiring name for a predatory alien.

Needless to say, Caviezel earns the respect of his new friends, especially when he starts going a bit native and turns up to a feast in semi-tribal dress. ‘Now you look like a real Viking!’ declares the King. Hmm. As his chosen outfit consists of very baggy trousers, an extremely well-fitted vest, a big fluffy waistcoat and a dodgy-looking leather harness, I would suggest that he looks less like a real Viking than a dentist making a nervous first visit to a rather specialist nightclub.

You probably know how the rest of it goes – trouble with the monster, bonding, incidental messing-about, dab of romance, more stuff with the monster, set-backs, etc, etc. By about twenty minutes in I had rumbled to the fact that I was in Bad Movie territory, and sticking around to the end of Outlander‘s not-exactly-concise running time was a bit of a challenge, as virtually nothing surprising or original happens at any point.

Even stuff which looks like a sure thing on paper somehow doesn’t quite work – Sophia Myles, usually a reliably beautiful woman, is saddled with a brunette hairdo which really does her no favours. The same cannot be said for Ron Perlman as a rival Viking chieftain, as he is as bald as the proverbial moorhen. Sorry, coot. Perlman shows signs of his usual awesomeness but just isn’t in the movie long enough to make much of a difference.

On the other hand – and I really am struggling to find nice things to say about such a pedestrian and derivative piece of work – it looks perfectly acceptable, although the CGI is nothing special. The script is quite well-paced, even if this does mean that both Caviezel’s backstory and the political situation with the Vikings are a little unclear to begin with. The development of the relationship between the spaceman and the Viking prince is genuinely well-written, as the two go from being hostile and distrustful of each other to sharing a genuine friendship in a convincing fashion.

But none of this really saves the film. It’s a story about a fight between a space monster and some Vikings, so it either needs doing with total conviction and considerable style, or as a piece of fluff with a sense of humour about itself. Director Howard McCain doesn’t have the chops or experience for the former, but seems to be attempting it anyway. Casting someone like Caviezel probably made this inevitable: he plays the entire film with an earnest, humourless intensity that really isn’t appropriate.

In the past I have occasionally said that there are no really bad films, only boring ones: and Outlander is the best example of this I’ve seen in a long time. Obscurity is sometimes well-deserved, and the kindest resting place for this kind of movie.

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