Outlander (2008) is the first movie I watched on my brand, spanking new telly. I chose it despite a clutch of poor reviews, because it seemed to be about Vikings fighting an alien monster. What, I wondered, is not to like? It turned out to be well worthy of an HD screen - the scenery and sets are gorgeous, cinematographer Pierre Gill doing grand work. There's striking imagery throughout, including a huge, picked whale carcass in a sacked village, and a monster which is a very decent effort for a movie of this size.
Ah, films that start with crashing space ships. Pitch Black, Alien 3 - and Outlander. I am a simple enough creature and I have to confess that any movie opening with such a scene will need to work hard to lose me. Good casting helps too, and this was no slouch, with John Hurt as a pigtailed Chieftain (always good) and Sophia Myles doing a decent turn as his warrior daughter. However, any film that casts Ron Pearlman as a rival Chief, then does absolutely nothing with him, is going to frustrate me.
After the Pearlman madness my mind wandered a bit and I started to think about the way Vikings are depicted in the movie. I really enjoyed the shields game sequence - second and final element in our hero's acceptance into Viking culture, after slaying a bear. But the Viking warriors reminded me of Costner-esque Merry Men or Jackson's Gimli - gruff with hearts of gold. I know academics frown upon portrayals of Vikings as rampaging savages - but might it have worked here? Could it have been interesting to have the hero caught between two breeds of beast, as opposed to protecting noble primitives from a "dragon"?
Look, I enjoyed the movie - I probably only started thinking about different stories because there is a definite lack of good lines in the movie. I don't really mind the cuddly Vikings as long as they have a strong script to get their teeth into. In this case, for me, there just isn't enough for Hurt, Myles and Caviezel to say. It's not a terrible script - it doesn't make you groan too often - it's just that it doesn't ever fizz. Frustrating, because I really think one more draft could have significantly improved the movie's overall effect.
I still don't know what to make of Jim Caviezel. My instinct is to say that he's atrocious, but then I must have watched his super-hammy Count of Monte Cristo movie a hundred times. Yes that's mostly about the scene chewing Guy Pierce sneerathon, but I couldn't get the whole way through if Caviezel was poor, surely? Plus I kind of like the way he mutely blinks through the first ten minutes of Outlander, after learning norse through a robot eye device. Maybe he should do more silent movies...