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Film / Outland (1981)
aka: Outland

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"The ultimate enemy is still man."

Outland is a 1981 Space Western film written and directed by Peter Hyams, starring Sean Connery, Frances Sternhagen, Peter Boyle and James B. Sikking, and set in a mining colony on Io, one of The Moons of Jupiter. Essentially the plot is High Noon, but this time, in space!

The film's hero, Federal Marshal William 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 Mark Sheppard (Boyle), the administrator of the outpost, who is complicit in the drug-dealing. Sheppard has bribed O'Niel's deputy Sgt. Montone (Sikking) 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. Marian Lazarus (Sternhagen) helps him in a desperate kill-or-be-killed hunt through the colony.

A comic book version by Jim Steranko was serialized in Heavy Metal.

Unrelated to Berke Breathed's successor to Bloom County. Or to the 2011 Metroidvania-lite Outland. None of these are also related to the 2012 Australian TV series.

Outland contains examples of many tropes, including:

  • Affably Evil: Sheppard, who makes an effort to introduce O'Niel to the station (and is only one of two who bother to give him a decent welcome), never raises his voice or freaks out, even as his plans are unraveled, and warns O'Niel twice about what he's getting into before he calls the hit on him, but not before he engages in some friendly-ish banter with him about golf and life on the station.
  • 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 air conditioning 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 though his air tether.
  • Artistic License – Space: The film aims for an air of gritty realism, but there are plenty of examples of Hollywood Science:
    • Explosive Decompression: Outland loves this one! Frequent and messy! It's actually a plot point that because so many victims die of vacuum exposure, there's simply not enough left of them to perform an autopsy on. The director himself admitted that it wouldn't really happen in real life, but used it to provide visceral impact to the various death scenes.
    • In Space, Everyone Can See Your Face: A classic example. Every space suit has a ring of extremely bright lights on the inside solely to illuminate the wearer's face. At least it's justified this way.
    • 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.
    • Io's surface is a sulphuric Lethal Lava Land more akin to Mustafar rather than the titanium-rich rocky moon depicted by this film.
    • Io is in Jupiter's radiation belt, bombarding it with about seven times the radiation as considered a lethal dose for humans, making any mining operation, especially one that operates on the surface in mere space suits, extremely implausible.note 
  • Bad Cop/Incompetent Cop: Pretty much all of them except O'Niel.
    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.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Inverted. Clarke Peters' character Sgt. Ballard is the last to die.
  • Bulletproof Vest: Or strangle-proof collar.
  • Chase Fight: Spota leads O'Niel 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.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Subverted with O'Niel's spare shotgun. He stashes it in a panel just in case he loses his original one, which he does. When he goes to retrieve the spare shotgun, he finds it gone.
  • Combat Pragmatist: O'Niel takes out the two hitmen sent to kill him by putting on a spacesuit, going outside the pressurised base, and flushing them into space. The first he kills with a pre-placed explosive charge after trapping him in a corridor, and the other by tricking him into shooting out a window.
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: Jim Steranko did a well regarded adaptation for Heavy Metal magazine.
  • Company Town: The mining station in orbit around Jupiter.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Sheppard. He's only interested in increasing productivity, bringing in bonuses, no matter the cost to the actual workers.
    Sheppard: Let me tell you what you're dealing with here. I run a franchise. The company hires me to dig as much ore as possible out of this hellhole. There's a guy like me on every mining operation, all over the system. My hookers are clean; some of 'em are good-looking. My booze isn't watered. The workers are happy. When the workers are happy, they dig more ore - they get paid more bonus money. When they dig more ore, the company's happy! When the company's happy, I'm happy!
    O'Niel: Sounds wonderful.
    Sheppard: Nothing here is wonderful. It works. That's enough.
  • Damned by Faint Praise: The company prostitutes are clean, and some of them are even pretty.
  • Determinator: Apart from his general stubbornness, O'Niel plunges his bare hand into a pan full of boiling oil to retrieve evidence dumped there by a drug smuggler.
  • Disposable Sex Worker: A company prostitute is beaten and held hostage by a crazed miner.
  • Disney Villain Death: Downplayed. O'Niel rips off the oxygen tube of Ballard's suit before the latter falls down a bottomless dark shaft.
  • Dr. Jerk: Dr. Lazarus. Fortunately she's a Jerk with a Heart of Gold since she's the only one who sticks by O'Niel when the chips are down.
    Dr. Lazarus. I'm unpleasant, I'm not stupid. Of course I'm sure, I can count!
  • Face–Heel Turn: Deputy Ballard. Besides showing up at the last moment to kill O'Niel himself, it's implied that he's Sheppard's inside man, the one who steals O'Niel's spare shot gun and took out Spota.note 
  • Fantastic Drug: Polydichloric Euthimal is a powerful amphetamine that was tried out by the military to increase productivity. Unfortunately, it ends up driving its users psychotic after a number of months. Sheppard has it brought in to increase productivity, considering the deaths of the workers to be an acceptable loss. He's also not the only one. By his own admission, he's running a franchise and there's a person like him on every mining operation.
  • Frontier Doctor: Dr. Lazarus.
    Dr. Lazarus: You know, you haven't your medical all-star here. Company doctors are like ship's doctors. Most are one shuttle-flight ahead of a malpractice suit.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Dr. Lazarus, Montone.
  • He Knows Too Much: Montone kills the berserk miner Sagan presumably so he won't say anything about the drugs.
  • 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.
  • Hope Spot: Of the three miners that die in the film from the effects of the drug, O'Niel comes close to saving Sagan. Sadly, Montone kills him.
  • 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. However, there are lines that you don't cross with them. Bellows points out that if they knew what was going on they'd "clamp down like a vise".
  • Mind Rape: O'Niel warns Spota, kept in an airless zero-G cell, about this. Spota is not having it.
    O'Niel: 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.
    Spota: O'Niel, piss off.
  • Mundane Dogmatic: Outland is a hard science fiction film, subject to the Artistic License – Space exceptions above. 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 with wooden stocks, and the most hi-tech it gets are infrared scopes on said shotguns. It takes a year for spaceships to travel from Earth to Io, with the passengers in cryonic-freezing units.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Sagan, the miner holding the sex worker hostage, starts to come back to reality and realizes that he has done something terribly wrong.
  • Never Suicide: How Caine's death in the airlock looks to O'Niel.
  • No Delays for the Wicked: The supplies shuttle arrives once a week, at noon (local station time) at the earliest. This is mentioned early on in the film, and it is heavily implied that it has never, ever arrived earlier in the history of the station (to the point that the obligatory MAD Magazine spoof short comic even outright states it) and O'Niel plans accordingly. But the shuttle with the people hired to kill him in the passenger list? Arrives forty minutes early, forcing everybody to scramble like mad to get ready to accomodate it for landing, and O'Niel to go into Indy Ploy mode.
  • No OSHA Compliance: Building a Domed City with non-bullet-proof glass walls for the greenhouse structure is asking for trouble. If bullets can shatter it, just imagine if Io was hit by a micro meteorites shower.
  • Novelization: Alan Dean Foster penned a book that's often considered as good or better than the movie.
  • Office Golf: Sheppard plays an interactive videogame version due to the limited space in his office.
  • Oral Fixation: Spota the drug dealer is always chewing gum. Menacingly.
  • Our Graphics Will Suck in the Future: Not a graphic user interface in sight. The golf videogame is pretty awesome though.
  • Patrick Stewart Speech: Subverted. O'Niel looks like he's going to give one of these to Sheppard, then says "Oh, fuck it!" and just decks the man.
  • Peek-a-Boo Corpse: Montone.
  • Pre-Asskicking One-Liner: O'Niel to Spota, who goes for a knife while O'Niel has a shotgun. O'Niel first brackets Spota with a few shots before taking aim squarely at his head.
    O'Niel: 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. And it ends up arriving forty minutes early.
  • "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.
    Sheppard: I've misjudged you. You're not stupid - you're crazy. You think you caused more than an inconvenience? Is that what you think? Why don't you go home and polish your badge? You're dealin' with grown-ups here! You're out of your league.
  • Recycled In Space: High Noon ON A MOON!
  • Redemption Equals Death: Montone, the only cop who lands on O'Niel's side, is strangled.
  • 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'Niel uses a machine-assisted syringe that can draw the semi-coagulated blood from Sagan's body.
  • 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.
  • Shout-Out: To High Noon, with the killers arriving on the 12:00 shuttle.
  • Sleeper Starship: The trip from earth to Io takes a year so the travelers are put into cold sleep.
  • 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.
  • Spell My Name with an S: Yes, the hero's name appears to be the odd spelling O'Niel rather than the normal O'Neil or O'Neill.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • 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'Niel trying to contact outside authorities, only to find that the long-range communications system is, mysteriously, not available.
    • Sheppard himself considering the dangerous nature of the drug he's selling.
  • 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'Niel 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.
      O'Niel: Because maybe they are right. They sent me here to this pile of shit because they think I belong here. I want 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. I don't like it, so I'm... going to find out if they're right.
      Dr. Lazarus: Your wife is one stupid lady. You want to get drunk?
    • Dr. Lazarus. She has the option to join the others and wait things out, but ends up giving O'Niel much needed help at a critical moment.
  • When the Clock Strikes Twelve: As per the High Noon homage, the shuttle passengers (including the Hired Guns) usually offload at exactly 12:00. The shuttle with the aforementioned hitmen, however, arrives at 11:20.
  • You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!: Montone has this reaction when, during the morning reports, a deputy tells him that missing nuclear detonators were simply "found", but has no other details. Montone quickly sets him straight.
    Montone: Nelson, what about the detonators?
    Nelson: Oh, they were found.
    Montone: Where?
    Nelson: I don't know, the... shift foreman reported them "found", then told me to forget about it.
    Montone: Nelson, we're talking about nuclear detonators. You just don't lose them and then find them. You lose your comb and then find it, not detonators. Now I want to know where they were found and who found them. You get my drift?
    Nelson: (chastised) Yes sir.
    Montone: Good for you, Nelson.

Alternative Title(s): Outland