Outlander (2008)


I was surprised when I turned on this movie to see a spaceship hurtling through the atmosphere, for glancing at the summary for the film on my online rental queue, it seemed like a costume drama. I almost turned it off after ten minutes but decided to stick with it a little longer and am glad I did. I'm not sure why Outlander didn't have a wide release and generate a substantial following, since it has all the elements needed for a great action film.


During the reign of the Vikings, a stranger from a distant land crashes in the middle of the lake. Kainan (James Caviezel) is haunted by the past but disconcerted to discover that his arrival coincides with the appearance of a new creature in the wood, a fire-breathing dragon-like lizard known as a Moorwen. At first he is believed to have had something to do with the murder of a neighboring village, but when he reveals knowledge of the dragon, he is taken before King Rothgar (John Hurt). Born of a dominating space race of super-advanced humans, Kainan inadvertently released the Moorwen from his ship when it went down. Now charged with the responsibility of helping hunt down and kill the monster he has unleashed on the Vikings, he finds an unlikely friendship with the future king, the courageous but somewhat rash Wulfric (Jack Hudson).


Rothgar's daughter Freya (Sophia Myles) is intrigued by this newcomer but as their first encounter included him knocking her unconscious, is not entirely convinced of his goodness, but as she comes to know him better, a flicker of romance ignites that might be threatened by the seemingly impossible task of destroying the Moorwen before it wipes them out. I confess that the first few minutes were rather strange and you would think sci-fi would not blend well in a middle ages setting, but I was surprised not only how quickly it convinced me of it, but what a fun movie it turned out to be. The characters are all interesting and likable in their own way. I was impressed with Wulfric in particular, since he could have easily been a "villainous" sort of character, but he is quick to accept Kainan and they even become friends. Their rivalry extends no further than a particularly amusing dinner scene in which they attempt to outdo one another's antics through various depictions of their battle skills.


Another thing I liked was that the romance was never too much or overstated -- it is there, and the audience appreciates it, but it's not overly important to the story so much as assists in building background. There's also a young boy that Kainan befriends whose cute, dirt-covered face made me smile. The acting is all very good, the special effects are tremendous, and the Moorwen is more than simply a blundering beast. One gets the impression that it is not a "dumb animal" but knows what it is doing, and is intentionally paying back Kainan for previous sins. In that respect, I must confess to experiencing some sadness for it, since essentially it is making a bid for survival as much as revenge. This may weaken the driving impulse of the film for some, but made it a multi-layered experience for me. The costumes and the music are also quite good, and I cannot stress enough how much I loved our introduction to Freya -- engaging in a practice swordfight with her father, while arguing about whether or not she will marry Wulfric.


Now for my confession. I popped this into my ClearPlayer expecting there would not be a filter for it, but there was, and as it was not a wide release, I cannot describe accurately the gore. I do know there is an f-word, among other scattered insults and crudities. There is no sexual content, but a man is shown urinating in a darkened wood, and someone grabs a man by his privates and tells him to think with his head. Freya shows various amounts of cleavage throughout and at the end, her dress is so torn she reveals a lot of thigh. I'm guessing from how much I did not see that the violence is extreme, ranging from decapitations and people being impaled to mowed down with arrows and bitten in half. The Moorwen kills a lot of people. Its offspring is blinded by a sword-swipe across the eyes, spurting green slime, and then killed with a sword. Lots of hacking and some blood. A massive explosion rips through a building; the Moorwen is seen on fire.


There is also a potential element that might offend believers. The priest makes some statements about Christianity that are sneered at by the nonbelievers in the village; he bravely walks out to the Moorwen and tells "Satan" to get behind him. He is impaled and killed. I personally was not offended by it, but others might find it another subtle hint at the hostility among filmmakers toward our faith. Overall, I was surprised how good the movie was. It was thoroughly enjoyable with moments of adventure, humor, and just enough mushiness to satisfy both genres, but I suspect that the violence might be a bit off-putting. It must be a popular release at least, since it has completely sold out at most major retailers. Excellent for fans of an unusual genre, but not for everyone.

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