When High Noon Went High Concept: Outland (1981)

Sometime after the release of Star Wars, Hollywood had the bright idea to set everything in space because surely it was the space setting that was responsible for Star Wars success, right?  Sometimes, the outer space stuff really worked and sometimes it didn’t (I was going to list examples but then I thought better of it because that’s all the comment thread would be about – “You thought that one didn’t work?!?!”) but one thing that Hollywood excels at is trying something ten, twenty, thirty… fifty thousand times until they’re absolutely sure they’ve bled it dry.  Usually by that point someone else has come up with another good idea that they can run through the “let’s kill it” machine until the box office rolls over and dies.  And when that doesn’t even work there’s always sequels and remakes.  There are ALWAYS sequels and remakes.   That said, sometimes that works, too.  And one of those cases came in 1981 when Peter Hyams wrote and directed Outland, a loose remake of Fred Zinneman’s High Noon from 1952.

Outland 001

One of the funny things about movies made at the dawn of the personal computer age (the personal computer, Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year” for 1982, was really coming into its own around this time) is how filmmakers assumed that the current technology would be the technology forever.  For instance, every text display shown in the movie is green on black with little beeping noises for each letter typed.  The film opens this way, in fact, in an inadvertently funny bit of expository detail.  Funny because the movie wants to show us the outer space special effects (Jupiter, Io, the space station) before the movie starts and everyone is holed up inside the space station for the duration but can think of no legitimate reason to do so unless they spend a ridiculous amount of time giving the viewer every possible detail of the environment.  There are stats on where we are (Jupiter and Io) and how far each is from the other.  How much time it takes to get from one to the other and the space station.  The gravitational pressure, the atmospheric composition, the name of the company running the mine, the amount of people who work for the mine, what their duties are, how many are assigned to each duty, what is mined there, the amount of time people work in each duty, etc.  And that’s a sincere et cetera.  There’s more that follows but that was the point I started laughing.  I mean, okay, start the damn movie already!

So the computer printouts and beeping stops and we’re led down the mines to several workers griping about their day and how the guys at the top don’t really work at all.  That’s when one of them starts screaming about a spider in his suit to which everyone assumes he’s joking because, hey, a spider in the suit is hilarious (apparently, working in a mine in outer space dulls the wit).  After a few moments of screaming without anyone helping to remove that spider he takes matters into his own hands and begins to remove his suit, the thing that’s keeping him from blowing up (that may not happen in real life – click here and scroll down to “fallacies” – but it sure makes for some awesome Scanners-like special effects scenes).  Once he removes it, his head, indeed, explodes inside his helmet.

Outland 002

Shortly after, a new Marshall shows up, William O’Niel (no, that’s not a typo – his shirt tag says “O’Neil” but everything else with his name says “O’Niel” so I’ll go with the majority), played by Sean Connery, which means I don’t need to tell you he does a superb job.   He immediately hates the General Manager of the operation, Mark Sheppard, played by Peter Boyle, which means I once again don’t need to tell you he does a superb job.  Sheppard welcomes the new Marshall by telling him in front of everyone that his miners work hard and play hard and if he’s smart he’ll leave them alone.   Not long after more strange suicidal incidents occur and O’Niel goes to the station doctor, Lazarus (Frances Sternhagen, which means I don’t… oh, you get it) to find out why.  Turns out there’s an illegal drug coming on board that heightens productivity but also makes the workers psychotic.   She discovers this in another great “technology of the moment” scene where she looks at a green grid on a computer screen that starts to undulate and make a funny UFO sound effect which, somehow, alerts her that it’s a narcotic.

But, of course, it goes much deeper.  O’Niel’s own men, led by Montone (the great and underrated James Sikking), are in on the scheme to the extent that they’re paid to look the other way.  Montone says as much in the middle of a racquetball game with O’Niel (the wall lights up the quadrant where the ball hits because, once again, lights means future).   O’Niel tells him to keep taking his money because he doesn’t want him, he wants Sheppard.  To make matters even worse, O’Niel’s wife and son have left him because they’re sick of living on space stations and want to go back to earth so he’s all alone, both at work and at home.

He rounds up Sheppard’s dealers, confiscates the drugs and destroys the whole operation, temporarily.  Sheppard tells him he’s dead and when the hired killers come on the next shuttle, no one will help him.  He’s the true western loner, standing by himself while everyone looks away, putting his life on the line for the good of all.

Outland 003

If you’ve seen High Noon, you have a pretty good idea of where Outland is going with this but what’s surprising is how well Outland succeeds.  Peter Hyams directs a tight suspense thriller here that also manages to comment on the exploitation of the occupants of the lower economic strata without any hammer to the head nonsense.  Connery’s O’Niel stands by and for his principles without seeming pious or unrealistic as a character, that is, he doesn’t seem like a stand-in for an idea.   The movie moves swiftly and uses the lessons learned from Alien and Star Wars before it for its look and feel.  The space station feels run down, dirty and on its last leg.  Nothing seems new or shiny but dingy and depressing.  And the movie manages to hold up after thirty years without seeming too dated, or as undated as a futuristic setting has the chance of being.  Obviously, with advances in technology, the slow beeping download of green photos on a computer screen seems silly in the age of tumblr, pinterest and photos anywhere and everywhere they can be posted but it almost works for the film.  That is to say, you could believe this space station would have technology seventy years old to cut costs.   And as far as unofficial remakes of established classics go, it’s not bad.  It manages to be out there with being… outlandish.

0 Response When High Noon Went High Concept: Outland (1981)
Posted By Doug : December 23, 2012 11:53 am

Another example of getting educated in a fun way at Morlocks-I have never seen this movie, but it sounds good. Connery is good in just about everything.
Greg, as I’m reading your post,I’m thinking:I wish someone could make a movie of Heinlein’s “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”. Outland sounds similar in some respects.
The outdated (but so far advanced) computer stuff reminds me of all of the expense and trouble the makers of “2010-the year we make contact” went through just to make a pen float in mid-air.
Googling that movie to make sure of the title what do I find?
Also made by Peter Hyams. What a small universe!

Posted By Doug : December 23, 2012 11:53 am

Another example of getting educated in a fun way at Morlocks-I have never seen this movie, but it sounds good. Connery is good in just about everything.
Greg, as I’m reading your post,I’m thinking:I wish someone could make a movie of Heinlein’s “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”. Outland sounds similar in some respects.
The outdated (but so far advanced) computer stuff reminds me of all of the expense and trouble the makers of “2010-the year we make contact” went through just to make a pen float in mid-air.
Googling that movie to make sure of the title what do I find?
Also made by Peter Hyams. What a small universe!

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 23, 2012 12:00 pm

2010 isn’t bad as a kind of political space adventure but as a sequel to 2001 it’s too different in tone and feel to really even feel like a sequel. I think of it as a stand alone movie that happens to have characters from the other movie (well, one character). The pen though, I think you’re thinking of 2001 unless I’m forgetting it in 2010 which I well could be. My favorite retro-future moment in 2010 is the laptop on the beach, a laptop so bulky with a screen so small you can’t imagine it could do anything but basic calculator functions.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 23, 2012 12:00 pm

2010 isn’t bad as a kind of political space adventure but as a sequel to 2001 it’s too different in tone and feel to really even feel like a sequel. I think of it as a stand alone movie that happens to have characters from the other movie (well, one character). The pen though, I think you’re thinking of 2001 unless I’m forgetting it in 2010 which I well could be. My favorite retro-future moment in 2010 is the laptop on the beach, a laptop so bulky with a screen so small you can’t imagine it could do anything but basic calculator functions.

Posted By Gideon : December 23, 2012 12:19 pm

Wow! Great review. I saw Outland as a kid before I saw High Noon. When I finally did see it, yeah, fell in love with it. I’d recommend both to any fans of film.

I really love this era of scifi film making, the 70′s/early 80′s. As stated, everything has a used, real feel to it many modern scifi flicks lack. If you’ve not seen Moon with Sam Rockwell, directed by Duncan Jones, I highly recommend it. The minimalist setting, corporate slant, lack of CG and lived in set really works.

Other movies that really have that feel…Blade Runner, Dark Star, Saturn 3, Alien. Not saying ALL are perfect, but all fit that used, lived in scifi setting I really dig.

Again, thanks for the review, always love hittin the site to see what you guys spotlight next! Keep up the great work!

Posted By Gideon : December 23, 2012 12:19 pm

Wow! Great review. I saw Outland as a kid before I saw High Noon. When I finally did see it, yeah, fell in love with it. I’d recommend both to any fans of film.

I really love this era of scifi film making, the 70′s/early 80′s. As stated, everything has a used, real feel to it many modern scifi flicks lack. If you’ve not seen Moon with Sam Rockwell, directed by Duncan Jones, I highly recommend it. The minimalist setting, corporate slant, lack of CG and lived in set really works.

Other movies that really have that feel…Blade Runner, Dark Star, Saturn 3, Alien. Not saying ALL are perfect, but all fit that used, lived in scifi setting I really dig.

Again, thanks for the review, always love hittin the site to see what you guys spotlight next! Keep up the great work!

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 23, 2012 12:30 pm

Gideon, those movies you mention all have a great lived in feel which makes them still feel undated today except for the technology stuff that happens in every futuristic movie (like the absurdly slow and methodical photo analysis in Blade Runner that seemed cutting edge at the time but now seems antiquated).

I saw Moon when it came out and loved it. Great performance by Sam Rockwell and honestly, I didn’t see where the movie was going. Very interesting work.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 23, 2012 12:30 pm

Gideon, those movies you mention all have a great lived in feel which makes them still feel undated today except for the technology stuff that happens in every futuristic movie (like the absurdly slow and methodical photo analysis in Blade Runner that seemed cutting edge at the time but now seems antiquated).

I saw Moon when it came out and loved it. Great performance by Sam Rockwell and honestly, I didn’t see where the movie was going. Very interesting work.

Posted By B Piper : December 23, 2012 1:13 pm

Almost all movies taking place in the future are at the mercy of current technology — look at FORBIDDEN PLANET, where the super advanced Krell technology is patterned on the latest gadgetry of the 1950s. The only one to sidestep this was Gene Roddenberry who nearly two decades before OUTLAND had computers you just talked to. We’re still trying to catch up.

Posted By B Piper : December 23, 2012 1:13 pm

Almost all movies taking place in the future are at the mercy of current technology — look at FORBIDDEN PLANET, where the super advanced Krell technology is patterned on the latest gadgetry of the 1950s. The only one to sidestep this was Gene Roddenberry who nearly two decades before OUTLAND had computers you just talked to. We’re still trying to catch up.

Posted By Emgee : December 23, 2012 5:25 pm

I never knew it was based on High Noon; nice to find out.
Over the years i recalled this movie several times, but then forgot about it. I’m going to rewatch it for sure.

@ B Piper: and surely we can credit Gene Roddenberry with thinking up mobile phones?

Posted By Emgee : December 23, 2012 5:25 pm

I never knew it was based on High Noon; nice to find out.
Over the years i recalled this movie several times, but then forgot about it. I’m going to rewatch it for sure.

@ B Piper: and surely we can credit Gene Roddenberry with thinking up mobile phones?

Posted By Arthur : December 23, 2012 7:54 pm

Yes, Outland was a pretty good film. And the first time I saw it, I really did not connect it to High Noon. What really made no sense, however, was why would such an advanced technology need miners to simply handle drills. Surely that would have been automated.

Posted By Arthur : December 23, 2012 7:54 pm

Yes, Outland was a pretty good film. And the first time I saw it, I really did not connect it to High Noon. What really made no sense, however, was why would such an advanced technology need miners to simply handle drills. Surely that would have been automated.

Posted By Richard B : December 23, 2012 8:00 pm

Io Noon.

Posted By Richard B : December 23, 2012 8:00 pm

Io Noon.

Posted By Tom S : December 23, 2012 11:56 pm

@B Piper

Roddenberry did miss out on our complicated ‘seat belt’ technology, so nobody’s perfect

@Emgee

I dunno, I think Dick Tracy’s watch communicator devices are at least as close.

Posted By Tom S : December 23, 2012 11:56 pm

@B Piper

Roddenberry did miss out on our complicated ‘seat belt’ technology, so nobody’s perfect

@Emgee

I dunno, I think Dick Tracy’s watch communicator devices are at least as close.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 24, 2012 12:20 am

B Piper, Emgee, Tom – The technology thing is interesting. Just recently, Samsung used 2001 as a prior technology basis for its lawsuit with Apple (see here).

The big one I’m waiting for is the holodeck. The only confusing thing about the holodeck is why you wouldn’t use it all the time for everything. Just live in the holodeck and make it a brand new house/apt/location every day. Why even bother with real world surroundings?

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 24, 2012 12:20 am

B Piper, Emgee, Tom – The technology thing is interesting. Just recently, Samsung used 2001 as a prior technology basis for its lawsuit with Apple (see here).

The big one I’m waiting for is the holodeck. The only confusing thing about the holodeck is why you wouldn’t use it all the time for everything. Just live in the holodeck and make it a brand new house/apt/location every day. Why even bother with real world surroundings?

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 24, 2012 12:22 am

Arthur, true. If you can build a space station out by Jupiter to mine the ore from Io, you’re probably advanced enough to automate the drilling. Of course, then you’d have no plot so we’ll just overlook that.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 24, 2012 12:22 am

Arthur, true. If you can build a space station out by Jupiter to mine the ore from Io, you’re probably advanced enough to automate the drilling. Of course, then you’d have no plot so we’ll just overlook that.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 24, 2012 12:23 am

Richard, they definitely should have gone with that title instead.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 24, 2012 12:23 am

Richard, they definitely should have gone with that title instead.

Posted By swac44 : December 24, 2012 3:08 pm

Thanks for the reminder to check out Moon, it’s in my to-watch pile at home, with dozens of other titles. Haven’t seen Outland in years, but I recall it fondly, and wonder how Connery would do in an actual western. Then I remember Shalako and I wonder no more.

Posted By swac44 : December 24, 2012 3:08 pm

Thanks for the reminder to check out Moon, it’s in my to-watch pile at home, with dozens of other titles. Haven’t seen Outland in years, but I recall it fondly, and wonder how Connery would do in an actual western. Then I remember Shalako and I wonder no more.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 24, 2012 3:15 pm

Never seen Shalako and I’ll be honest, I probably never will. I’ll stick with Outland.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 24, 2012 3:15 pm

Never seen Shalako and I’ll be honest, I probably never will. I’ll stick with Outland.

Posted By SergioM : December 24, 2012 4:15 pm

I remember when this film came out it was a BIG deal at the time. And I love the whole grungy, smelly, rotten. well worn look of the film. I still like up until the final 20 minutes or when the hit men arrived to kill Connery. Suddenly the film, all of a sudden, gets real stupid. The killers become the three most incompetent, bumbling killers in the entire universe. Like first they start taking out their guns and loading them right in plain view of a security monitor camera and that’s for starters. Connery easily manages to depose of all three of them. Kind of ruins the suspense and tension in the film.

Posted By SergioM : December 24, 2012 4:15 pm

I remember when this film came out it was a BIG deal at the time. And I love the whole grungy, smelly, rotten. well worn look of the film. I still like up until the final 20 minutes or when the hit men arrived to kill Connery. Suddenly the film, all of a sudden, gets real stupid. The killers become the three most incompetent, bumbling killers in the entire universe. Like first they start taking out their guns and loading them right in plain view of a security monitor camera and that’s for starters. Connery easily manages to depose of all three of them. Kind of ruins the suspense and tension in the film.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 24, 2012 4:25 pm

Sergio, the ending is a bit of a disappointment. The killers are not only stupid but really, Connery could have just waited for them outside the tunnel they showed up in and shot them before they could even react. All the elaborate setups were really unnecessary.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : December 24, 2012 4:25 pm

Sergio, the ending is a bit of a disappointment. The killers are not only stupid but really, Connery could have just waited for them outside the tunnel they showed up in and shot them before they could even react. All the elaborate setups were really unnecessary.

Posted By Emgee : December 24, 2012 4:31 pm

To the folks at Samsung: Kubrick didn’t invent the tablet; he just imagined it. Very different thing.

Posted By Emgee : December 24, 2012 4:31 pm

To the folks at Samsung: Kubrick didn’t invent the tablet; he just imagined it. Very different thing.

Posted By chris : December 24, 2012 4:55 pm

The problem I always had with 2010 was that 2001 was of a much epic scale: to me 2001 was about the evolution(and future evolution) of man. 2010 was just “here’s a bunch of new planets to exploit”.

Posted By chris : December 24, 2012 4:55 pm

The problem I always had with 2010 was that 2001 was of a much epic scale: to me 2001 was about the evolution(and future evolution) of man. 2010 was just “here’s a bunch of new planets to exploit”.

Posted By SergioM : December 24, 2012 6:39 pm

Actually I’ve seen Shakalo and call me crazy it isn’t that bad really. Yeah Brigette Bardot is totally miscast and completely lostr in the film, but it’s very watchable

Posted By SergioM : December 24, 2012 6:39 pm

Actually I’ve seen Shakalo and call me crazy it isn’t that bad really. Yeah Brigette Bardot is totally miscast and completely lostr in the film, but it’s very watchable

Posted By Jenni : December 28, 2012 11:03 am

I dimly recall seeing Outland as the storyline, the spider in the suit, seems familiar to me. James Sikking, as you said, never gets any honorable mentions, and always did a good job in his roles. I tivoed the revenge flick, Point Blank, off of TCM a couple weeks ago that starred Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, Dean Wormer(John Vernon-a good actor, I know,but in our house, when we see him in a film, we always call him that!), Carroll O’Connor,Keenan Wynn, and James Sikking. He portrayed a character,imho, similar to his Hill Street Blues character of Howard. In Point Blank, he portrayed a sniper supreme, always smoking a pipe, wearing that short, clean-cut hairstyle, and sporting sunglasses, too. In your above shot of Sikking with Connery, I did a double-take, wondering if that was Sikking, as he is almost unrecognizable with that shaggy beard, longish hairstyle look.

Posted By Jenni : December 28, 2012 11:03 am

I dimly recall seeing Outland as the storyline, the spider in the suit, seems familiar to me. James Sikking, as you said, never gets any honorable mentions, and always did a good job in his roles. I tivoed the revenge flick, Point Blank, off of TCM a couple weeks ago that starred Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, Dean Wormer(John Vernon-a good actor, I know,but in our house, when we see him in a film, we always call him that!), Carroll O’Connor,Keenan Wynn, and James Sikking. He portrayed a character,imho, similar to his Hill Street Blues character of Howard. In Point Blank, he portrayed a sniper supreme, always smoking a pipe, wearing that short, clean-cut hairstyle, and sporting sunglasses, too. In your above shot of Sikking with Connery, I did a double-take, wondering if that was Sikking, as he is almost unrecognizable with that shaggy beard, longish hairstyle look.

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