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Outlander Review – Too Many Vikings, Not Enough Aliens

Outlander Review – Too Many Vikings, Not Enough Aliens” width=”560″/>

“Aliens vs. Vikings” may be one of the greatest loglines in genre film history: Simple and hugely kitschy, yet brimming with possibility. After all, though Norse mythology and extraterrestrial scifi are worlds apart, they are both undeniably awesome. The combination of the two has a primal appeal to the part of my brain that fell hook, line and sinker for the only half-ironic hysteria that surrounded Snakes on a Plane a few years ago. Conceptually speaking, Outlander is a triumph of the geek imagination.

If you’re as excited about Outlander‘s premise as I was, however, you should know that the only way to maintain that excitement it is to avoid seeing the actual movie at all costs. Tragically, the filmmakers had no idea what it is about the idea that set nerdy hearts aflutter. And so they deliver a bush-league, cable television-quality sword-and-dragon actioner — one that’s as goofy as you could imagine, but without the smarts to make the silliness endearing or cool. For a movie about aliens and Vikings, Outlander turns out to be awfully rough going.

The idea is that Kainan (Jim Caviezel), a space traveler from an unnamed far-off planet, crash-lands in Norway in 709 A.D. and sets loose an alien monster that has stowed away on his ship. After producing a laptop from which he is able to download the indigenous language (evidently English, but never mind that), he sets off to hunt the creature he’s unleashed — only to happen upon a band of Vikings led by an aging king (John Hurt) and an enthusiastic heir apparent (Jack Huston) who reasonably think him a spy and take him prisoner.

Okay — so far we have a humanoid alien, a bunch of Vikings who’ve imprisoned him, and a vaguely reptilian monster that roams the countryside and terrorizes villagers. Where to go from here? For co-writers Dirk Blackman and Howard McCain, the answer is: 1) A long digression into Viking intertribal warfare where Ron Perlman inexplicably shows up as the head of a rival gang with an axe to grind; and 2) A tepid romance between Kainan and a feisty Viking chick named Freya (Sophia Myles). There’s also a cute little Viking orphan named Erick who shows up for no reason except so that Kainan can favor him with an indulgent grin.

Eventually, Outlander gets around to a confrontation with the monster, which — as with the rest of the action scenes — is a mess of money-saving fast cuts and low-level special effects. (At one point Kainan and the Vikings battle a bear, and wait until you see this bear.) Until then, the screenplay is a baffling collection of fantasy movie clichés and boring, weirdly complicated scenarios involving Viking politics.

The question I was most eager to have answered — how do Vikings process the notion that they have been visited by someone from another world? — is ignored completely until the very end, when it’s dismissed with a glib one-liner in voiceover. There is a mildly interesting explanation for what exactly the monster is, where it came from, and why it’s so angry, but that thread is abandoned as soon as it’s introduced. Those who seek only a middling Viking adventure flick may get some kicks from Outlander, but those expecting it to come through on its science fiction potential will find their hands closing on air.

Outlander boasts sixteen producers, executive producers, and co-producers. The project obviously faced a complicated and arduous road from conception to production to distribution, and having seen it I have a few ideas why. I am, however, delighted that a corny B-movie about aliens and Vikings can successfully navigate that thicket and make it to American screens. I just wish it had been some movie other than this one. There is a great, classic genre flick to be made from this concept. I hope to see it someday.

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