Wearing it’s movie heritage like a badge of honour, elements of Highlander, Braveheart, Predator and Alien all seemingly thrown into a medieval melting pot and boiled down to their core constituents, Outlander is something of a throwback to 80s actioners.
The film tells of the arrival of a soldier from another world, Kainan (Jim Caviezel), on Earth in the time of the Vikings. Bringing with him an alien stowaway, the Moorwen, on his crashed ship, Kainan must convince his captors, Wulfric (Jack Huston) and King Rothgar (John Hurt), that he can defeat this seemingly unstoppable new enemy before it destroys them all.
During its opening moments, depicting the freefall of an alien spaceship through Earth’s atmosphere and into a Norwegian lake, Outlander impresses with decent FX, suggesting the high concept plot will at least entertain visually.
The introduction of Kainan is done with minimal dialogue and a dash of humour, allowing the story to get moving quickly rather than weigh itself down with exposition. Caviezel may not have too much charisma, but he certainly looks the part of the gung-ho warrior.
From here the film picks up pace, Kainan’s discovery of a destroyed Viking village soon leading to his capture by Wulfric and his introduction to his new home. Kainan’s lack of concern at being trapped in such a locale isn’t touched upon in the script and there’s a distinct lack of culture clash references that might be expected.
What isn’t expected is the back story given to Kainan and the Moorwen, a very modern take on the traditional monster offered up via various flashbacks. Without spoiling anything, it’s rare for a film to offer compassion towards a pure killing machine but there are a few times when Outlander comes close.
Sophia Myles’, poster girl for the sci-fi/fantasy genres and someone who deserves much more time on both cinema and televisions screens, pops up as love interest Freya, an equal to the testosterone-fuelled men around her. Although Myles holds her own on a few occasions, odd cutting of scenes renders much of her work redundant, things happening just off-screen once too often.
Editing is one of the areas that the film succeeds and fails. The decision to have the Moorwen appear in shadow for the first half is sensible, both setting up a sense of curiosity in the viewer and saving a few pennies of the precious budget. Sadly this judicious editing also stops some scenes dead in their tracks, not something you want in an action film.
While Outlander is efficient in its storytelling, it also can’t help but fall into the trap of rehashing genre cliches that threaten to ruin its otherwise decent work. Unusual dialogue decisions also come across as plain sloppy, characters often remaining silent when they have the opportunity to explain their motives and thereby save lives.
Towards the end of the film, the plotholes are so big you could sail a Viking longboat through them, the last five minutes making little sense if the audience just remembers Kainan’s backstory.
Still, there just aren’t enough alien-Viking-action-romance movies out there today and Outlander passes muster as a fun genre romp that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Outlander is due to open in UK cinemas on 24 April 2009