Here is what you should know: Outlander is a retelling of Beowulf where the hero is an intergalactic soldier who, after landing on 12th century Earth, teams up with a bunch of Viking warriors to slay an alien monster that caused his space ship to crash.
That’s right. It’s about Vikings versus Aliens. If the premise alone isn’t evocative enough, this film includes a scene where the warriors attack the extraterrestrial Grendel with swords forged from the crashed space ship.
If that description strikes you as more head-shakingly goofy than fist-pumpingly awesome, than you will hate this movie. Also, we are not friends anymore.
It sounds like the type of high-concept drek that should air on the Sci-Fi channel some Saturday night between Mansquito sequels and in lesser hands it could have been. But high production values and a full-on commitment to the story keep Outlander in the realm of true pulp storytelling. All the actors seem to have fun with their performances without descending into pure camp. This movie is fun from start to finish.
Jim Caviezel plays the titular hero. He is a soldier named Kainan from an alien race who comes hurtling down to Earth in the opening scene. After he burns a computerized crash course on local language and customs into his retina, he sets about tracking down the monster (called a Moorwhen) that caused his ship to go down and killed his commander. He soon finds himself in Heurot, a Viking settlement where King Hrothgar (John Hurt) and his hot warriorress daughter Freya (Sophia Myles) like to pass the time practicing their sword fighting in the mead hall and contemplating an arranged marriage with bad-boy Wulfric, who soon becomes a rival/BFF for our alien hero.
If you have ever seen any movie ever, you should know the village soon comes under attack by the Moorwhen. Kainan has to help the settlement fight off the creature as well as attacks from a nearby town whose war-chief blames the Heurot for the slaughter of his own village. Perennial genre star Ron “Hellboy” Perlman plays the rival chief, and brings some welcome bad-assery to the film with a war hammer and celtic facial tattoo.
Most of the film revolves around Kainan slowly gaining acceptance into the Viking society. The story plays fast and loose with the Beowulf myth but includes many of the essential beats like the warriors settling down to party after killing a bear and mistaking it for the true monster and a climactic showdown in an underwater cave. There are a few digressions, including the budding romance between Kainan and Freya and an extended (to the point of becoming tiresome) exploration of some Viking drinking games (although the shield running sequence does come into play later). It bears a few cursory similarities to other retellings of the legend, but the fanciful space opera elements and the flashbacks to Kainan’s time as a colonial soldier set it apart. And the fact that the story is engaging, the cinematography is coherent, and the special effects servicable (excepting a few questionable scenes with the monster) set it apart from other recent Viking fare. I did not like Pathfinder.
I am a sucker for mythological remixes. I love to see Bewulf with aliens, The Odyssey in early 20th cenutry Dublin, or Orpheus as a rock singer. I also have a documented prediliction for awesome (and ridiculous) premises, and the very idea of Vikings fighting aliens is enough to get me into the theatre seat. So maybe I’m not the most impartial of judges for this movie, but from where I stand Outlander delivers on the premise and then some. Gimmicky? Sure, but the film is comfortable with that and so am I.
Four and One-Half Alien Spacemetal Swords (Out of Five):