The ultimate enemy is still man.Outland is a 1981 science-fiction film written and directed by Peter Hyams, starring Sean Connery, Frances Sternhagen, Peter Boyle and James Sikking. Set in a mining colony on Io, one of The Moons Of Jupiter, this underrated film is generally regarded as a Space Western, and often lazily dismissed as High Noonin space.The film's hero, Federal Marshal W.T. O'Niel (Connery), is assigned to a one-year tour of duty in Con Am 27, a titanium ore mining outpost on Io. O'Niel investigates a series of violent deaths among the miners, which have been dismissed as accidents or suicides by corrupt mine management, cynical police and indifferent medical staff. He discovers that the dead miners have been using an amphetamine called Polydichloric Euthimal which enormously increases their work output, but eventually causes psychotic behaviour that leads to their deaths in the dangerous mining environment.O'Niel tracks down and arrests one drug dealer, and follows the trail to Sheppard (Boyle), the administrator of the outpost, who is complicit in the drug-dealing. Sheppard has bribed O'Niel's deputy Montone to turn a blind eye, and it quickly becomes clear to O'Niel that he cannot rely on any of his fellow officers. Even his wife, frustrated that he considers his duty more important than his family, abandons him, leaving a message pleading with him to return with her to Earth.Undeterred, O'Niel intercepts and destroys a large shipment of drugs. He confronts Sheppard, who asks him why he bothered when nobody else wants the drug shipments stopped, because they make the workers happy, so production is up, so the corporate owners are happy, so Sheppard is happy. O'Niel vows to expose the entire scheme, and Sheppard notifies his contact on the space station who sends two off-world hit-men to murder him.Sheppard puts out the word that the killers are due to arrive on the next shuttle. As the time to landing counts down, O'Niel's corrupt deputies desert him, and his attempts to recruit help from the mining station staff are met with contemptuous rejection. In the end, only the outpost's medical officer Dr. Lazarus (Sternhagen) helps him in a desperate kill-or-be-killed hunt through the colony.Unrelated to Berke Breathed's successor to Bloom County.
Outland contains examples of many tropes, including:
Air-Vent Passageway: When one of the miners goes berserk, O'Niel gets a maintenance worker to unlock the door and tries to talk him out, while Montone creeps though the airconditioning duct with a shotgun.
The Alcatraz: O'Niel keeps his prisoners suspended in a spacesuit in airless zero-gravity cells. Unfortunately the prisoner's helplessness makes it all too easy for someone to kill him by cutting his air tether.
O'Niel (entering the company mess hall. Everyone falls silent): "I could use a little help." (no one speaks up.) "I thought so."
Rudd: "You're supposed to protect us! You're the police. It's your job! Where are your men?"
O'Niel: "My men? My men are shit."
Big Brother Is Employing You: O'Niel can listen in on phone conversations and uses CCTV cameras installed inside the colony to track the conspirators. Later those same cameras are used to track O'Niel when he's fighting for his life.
Chase Fight: Spota leads O'Neil on a lengthy chase through the equipment room, dormitories and mess hall of Con-Am 27, bowling over dozens of workers and culminating in a brutal fistfight in the kitchen.
Hologram. Naked holographic figures dance (and copulate) in the bar used by the miners. In the novelization by Alan Dean Foster, the dancers are, in fact, human, and skilled professionals, to boot.
Idiot Ball: Sheppard, Montone and the drug dealers have a summit meeting in a crowded bar even though Montone for one must be fully aware that the station's CCTV cameras are up and running and that O'Niel might be watching them, which, indeed, he is.
Meaningful Name: Dr. Lazarus. O'Niel's persistence pushes the cynical, indifferent doctor, who couldn't be bothered to perform autopsies on any of the dead miners, into discovering traces of the fatal drug in the blood of a recent victim. Inspired by her success, she rediscovers her self-respect and helps O'Niel defeat the assassins.
Mega Corp.: Con Am's unseen executives are willing to look the other way as long as mining production is up.
Mundane Dogmatic: Outland falls at the hard end of Mohs Scale of Sci-Fi Hardness, subject to the Space Does Not Work That Way exceptions below. The hero and the leading lady are middle-aged, unattractive (by movie standards) and cynical. The bad guys are not aliens or galactic emperors, but drug-dealers, corrupt cops and venal businessmen. The weapons are shotguns. It takes a year for spaceships to travel from Earth to Io, with the passengers in cryo-freezing units.
Mind Screw: O'Niel to his prisoner, kept in an airless zero-G cell.
"You know, you're going to love being here, though most people do start to go a little crazy at night when they can't feel the floor. Oh, and sometimes the air tether gets knotted and the man suffocates but, ah, that doesn't happen too often."
Pre Ass Kicking One Liner: O'Neil to Spota, who goes for a knife while O'Neil has a shotgun. O'Neil first brackets Spota with a few shots before taking aim squarely at his head. "Think it over."
Race Against the Clock: A large digital clock is in the bar showing the exact time-till-arrival of the weekly supply run. When word gets out that the two hitmen are arriving on the 12:00 shuttle to kill O'Niel, this clock takes on the role of a Ticking Countdown of Doom.
"The Reason You Suck" Speech: From Sheppard to O'Niel, who later admits to Dr. Lazurus that maybe the reason he's sticking his neck out is to find if he really is as worthless as everyone thinks he is.
Rustproof Blood: When O'Niel surreptitiously takes a blood sample from a miner's body (who's been dead for almost a day) for Dr. Lazarus to analyze, it comes out looking like cherry Kool-Aid instead of the brown, viscous goop it would likely be. This is addressed in the novelization, where O'Neil uses a machine-assisted syringe that can draw the semi-coagulated blood from Sagan's body.
Science Marches On: Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 reached Io in 1979, around the same time as Outland was being conceived, but the film did not incorporate any of the new information about the moon's highly unstable volcanic environment. The film also ignores the very high level of radiation around Io, which was discovered by Pioneer 10 in 1974.
Short Range Shotgun: According to the novelization, the shotguns used by the cops use shaped charges that allow the guns' range to be adjusted. The idea is that they can cut down a person, but not blow out the wall behind them and decompress the room.
Space Is Noisy: In the scenes outside the station in "zero pressure", the environment seems to be just as noisy as if there was an atmosphere.
Space Western: A frequently-heard criticism of the film is that it is "High Noon in space", which misses the point completely, as should be obvious to any reader of this wiki. However the basic concept of a gun-toting lawman in a corrupt frontier mining town, fighting a lone battle for justice, is definitely drawn from the Western genre.
One of the hitmen sent after O'Niel is ridiculously easily baited into shooting the glass in the greenhouse sector, the only thing between him and the vacuum. Justified in the novelisation - one shot won't blow open the whole dome - but it does weaken the glass enough for O'Niel to finish the job with a heavy object he's carrying for the purpose.
O'Niel is darn lucky he's the hero, given how he constantly informs Sheppard about how his investigation is going, and does nothing with the hard evidence of the conversation he records of Sheppard ordering his death.The novelization includes a scene of O'Neil trying to contact outside authorities, only to find that the long-range communications system is, mysteriously, not available.
Used Future: Outland depicts a mining "colony" that is as dirty, cramped, overcrowded and "used" as the crummiest oil-rig of today.
What You Are in the Dark: O'Neil is given every chance to cooperate with the Corrupt Corporate Executive, is advised to do so by his own deputy and ridiculed by both his wife and the doctor that his attempt to clean up Con-Am 27 is pointless and futile. He, himself even has doubts about his own moral standings and if he's really a hero type, which he admits out loud to Lazarus when she asks him why he's not running away.
"Because maybe they are right. They sent me here to this pile of shit because they think I belong here. I've got to find out if they're right. There's a whole machine that works because everyone does what they're supposed to. I found out I was supposed to be something I didn't like. That's what's in the program. That's my rotten little part in the rotten machine. Well, I don't like it, so... I'm going to find out if they're right."
You Know Too Much: Montone kills the berserk miner, presumably so he won't say anything about the drugs.