After a series of strong hits for 20th Century Fox --
-- especially the surprise summertime success of STAR WARS in '77 --
-- and the "R"-rated sci-fi/horror film ALIEN in 1979 --
-- the then-president of the company, Alan Ladd, Jr., split off to form The Ladd Company --
-- in association with Warner Brothers.
How to follow-up a hit as monstrous as ALIEN and guarantee a similar sure-fire summer blockbuster for the company's yeoman venture?
Ladd's motto -- Listen To The People:
1. Make sure to have a cool sci-fi setting -- say, some kind of ALIEN-like refinery in space --
-- in this case, on IO (eye-oh), one of Jupiter's satellite moons.
2. Make sure to have plenty of dingy, grimey rooms -- like in ALIEN --
-- and impractically shaped fluorescent-lit hallways --
-- and meeting-rooms. Point of reference would be -- oh -- say, ALIEN maybe?
Ya know... for that "lived-in" sci-fi feel. Like in ALIEN.
3. Make sure to have a cool, protracted sci-fi "landing-pad" sequence.
Perhaps along the lines of the one in ALIEN.
4. Make sure to have a few cool ALIEN-esque sci-fi/gothic mecha-bio-organic landscapes and exterior structures.
5. Have a nifty genre gimmick that could slide itself into the facade of a cool sci-fi adventure. Sort of like ALIEN again... But not a horror angle... Something different...
And who better to entrust such a project to than that ever-reliable cinematic efficiency expert and self-proclaimed 'people's director' -- Peter Hyams.
Thru-out his childhood, Hyams had been schooled as an artist and musician.
According to his IMDB mini-bio:
"Even before he became a CBS-News anchor man in New York at the age of 21, Hyams had been a drummer with such important jazz musicians as Bill Evans and Maynard Fergusson and had played at Birdland, Small's Paradise and the Newport Jazz Festival. His paintings have hung in such prestigious galleries as the Whitney Museum of American Art. Hyams brings to film direction essential elements of music and painting. From music comes a special sensitivity to structure and rhythm; from painting a hightened sense of light and color. These important insights help Hyams to achieve his goal of creating films which "reach people's emotions, not their minds.""
It was Hyams emotional devotion to mindlessness which, no doubt, won the trust of Alan Ladd, Jr.
...And the result of their joint efforts?
OUTLAND's main gimmick was to blend ALIEN's scifigothicindustriodinge with a simple western plot:
There's a new sheriff in town --
-- complete with loving wife and son --
-- his problem: he's a good, honest man who can't turn a blind eye to his town's profitable corruption racket --
-- and is forced to stand alone while taking down expert killers hired to assassinate him.
A universe of suspense is attempted with many, many shots of clocks ticking down to, not just the arrival of the elite squad of interstellar hit-men, but also, their transformations beyond the physics of the story and into the metaphysics of cinema.
Now remember, since Hyams and Ladd had made a conscious pact with mindlessness, we won't take issue with what is, no doubt, an entirely intentional catalogue of, shall we say, impaired scientific and story reasoning. No we won't. Not here. Instead, what we will examine are three inspired dummy-deaths of three universally uninspired dummies.
Not exactly the brightest stars in the galaxy...
Let us correct ourselves for a moment -- there are actually many more than 3 dummies that die in OUTLAND and probably many more that don't --
For example, here's this brilliant specimen --
-- who, smiling, walks into a high-pressure elevator without wearing his protective high-pressure space-suit.
His transformation into the realm of modeled rubber and plastic is made with a quick distraction to/for the men whose point-of-view we, the audience, rely on --
-- and presto! The substitution/deception/transformation is complete!
And then there is this exceptionally intelligent individual (pictured above).
The whys and hows or even the whats we need not go into for this picture speaks a thousand words...
But, to its credit, the film actually opens with this Mensa Warrior (pictured below) --
-- and his elasticized crossing-over to the other side.
Hyams preps for the deception/transformation by utilizing strobing, sparking lights --
-- and an actor whose expressions of panic and pain are already naturally stretched to abnormal limits.
A simple cut-away to his shocked and helpless co-workers --
-- so as to simultaneously suture the audience's point-of-view with theirs --
-- and distract us from Hyams' first big switch-a-roo.
Another quick cut to the worker's head popping inside his helmet.
This being a summer blockbuster, is there no coincidence in the acute resemblance between this poor unfortunate -- and Kool-Aid Man?!!!
Perhaps there is some subconscious product placement at work here?
Perhaps not as mindless as those crafty craftsmen would have us believe...
After much more meticulously mindless "plot" and "science" we finally skid our way into the arrival of our final two superlatives. The hired killers.
"The best," the chief bad guy, Peter Boyle, is promised.
Faster than you can say "High Noon in space" our hero is introduced to this dynamic duo by observing their stealth skill on full display via surveillance camera the very minute they disembark from their transport ship.
They assemble and load their weapons under the sheriff's (and our) watchful eyes.
Rare tactical brilliance on parade for all to see.
And then, it's swiftly onward to our next transformation/substitution/deception as Genius #1 wanders down some cool, dingy, fluorescent-lit, "lived-in", ALIEN-esque sci-fi hallways -- realizing, a little too late, the disadvantages of genius...
Some pyrotechnics --
-- and our ever-reliable friend --
-- the dummy. An equation for perfection!
Never one to repeat himself (though, um, he's actually just repeated himself), Hyams spirals us into his most cleverly constructed piece of calculatedly commercially-minded mindlessness.
Genius #2 somehow suspects that the sheriff is hiding in the outer-space greenhouse.
He's wrong. The sheriff is hiding outside the greenhouse.
The sheriff somehow tricks this advanced thinker into mistaking him for a large sheet of metal falling past a window.Give this boy an "A+" as he fires at the obviously regulation strength outer-space window glass -- which shatters upon immediate impact with the bullet from the ace killer's rifle.
Nothing quite like the moment when a genius first acknowledges his own genius.
Blue-screened actor hurtles to his character's fate --
-- which is to be sucked into space through the cracked hole in the window --
-- and pressurized into strands of galactic jelly.
So, it's helmets off and three cheers for Peter Hyams and company for a job well done (the very theme of this film in particular and many of Hyams' other films in general)!
And thanks for three masterful dummy-deaths so singular in their execution that forever-on such dummy-deaths can only be considered OUTLAND-ish!
"I've never done anything that's totally worked for me. It has always been very painful to watch what I've done. Filmmaking, by definition, is a process of failure and because of that I always seem to be looking for the blemishes in my work."
- Peter Hyams