Sometimes, you see a trailer for a movie, and you just have to take a chance with it. Make a real commitment to what you perceive as an awesome piece of cinematic work, and sometimes, it truly pays off beyond your expectations. Of course, my luck being what it is, it was not easy tracking down a DVD of this movie in-store. I ultimately found it in a re-sale store about twenty miles away. Yes, I could have done an iTunes rental, but I felt so strong about how great this film would be that I felt a purchase was inevitable. Beyond just the trailer, I have enjoyed some strong works from Jim Caviezel dating back to The Count of Monte Cristo and Frequency to the current hit CBS crime thriller television series Person of Interest. Caviezel always brings a rich depth to his roles that is highly investing and entertaining. So, that further fueled my interest as well as the fusion of science fiction and fantasy elements.
709AD, a space craft streaks across the night’s sky and crash lands in Norway with the only survivors being the warrior Kainan (Jim Caviezel) and a deadly alien stowaway. Before he can track down this enemy, Kainan is captured by viking warrior Wulfric (Jack Huston), and held prisoner in the local village led by King Hrothgar (John Hurt). He is questioned about his presence, and says he was hunting dragons, but in truth, it is a fiery bio-luminescent beast called a Moorwen from a planet his people attempted to wipe out and colonize. Grudgingly accepted into the clan after saving the King’s life, Kainan confides in Hrothgar’s fiercely beautiful daughter, Freya (Sophia Myles), about his past. As the Moorwen wreaks terror and destruction on neighboring villages, the threat of conflict between the clans escalates and Kainan is called upon to kill the creature. They forge a strategy and weapons to defeat it, but victory will come at a cost and Kainan will find a new future for himself.
Getting right to the point, what satisfied me the most about this movie is how perfect the storytelling and character arcs are. Every story or character element is introduced, evolved, and paid off with great emotional weight and impact. As the bond between Kainan and the Vikings strengthens and expands, I felt the need for where this story should end, hoping for the characters to take the paths I anticipated for them. Nothing is ever lightly given in this movie, nor is any plot development handled weakly. Every emotion and character evolution is earned by the dedication of the actors and the filmmakers’ to this powerful adventure.
The visual effects are surprisingly awesome and consistent. There were only two extremely quick moments where the CGI looked a little undercooked, but they are “blink and you’ll miss them” moments. Every other instance is exceptionally good, and listening to the audio commentary you’ll learn how extensive and seamless these digital effects are. The Moorwen is wonderfully realized with a brilliant bio-luminescent design making it appear as if it’s made of fire. It burns throught the darkness of night attracting the attention of its prey. so that it can attack swiftly. It comes off almost like a creature of legend, like a dragon, but it does have a little more science fiction edge to it. In its few revealing moments, personality and intelligence come through in its face and actions as well as a fearsome demeanor. This is a welcome choice as I wholly support the idea of the creature having personality like the Predator or Alien. It makes them more memorable and effective. The scenes on the alien planet are especially well done with a striking sense of scope and interesting, unique design. Lots of creative thought was put into it to give it its own identity to offer up an epic sensibility for the film. The amber color scheme of the planet is a nice contrast to the greenish-blue daytime scenes on Earth.
Cinematography is gorgeous. A great deal of care and integrity were put into the photography of this picture giving it scope and weight. Apparently, production was originally intended to take place in New Zealand with WETA Workshop doing effects on a larger budget, but to my eyes, I see no budget starved areas. Ultimately being shot in Nova Scotia, Canada, the landscape is beautifully captured with some excellent aerial photography, and various shots which show the breadth and depth of the land which all sell a certain majesty of the film’s setting. Gorgeous really does encompass it all. The soft, warm lighting in the Viking Hall is like a master artist’s brushstrokes come to life. The shadowy and fiery moments at night hunting the Moorwen establish a tense, fearful atmosphere that drives the emotional intensity of the story. There’s plenty of subtle atmosphere to give the land life. Outlander was shot with exceptional skill and scope by Pierre Gill, and I applaud his marvelous work here.
Jim Caviezel is an amazingly effective and powerful actor who brings a lot of relatable aspects to Kainan. First off, there’s the courageous warrior who embodies a great hero’s journey. He feels a need for redemption for what his people did to the Moorwens, and gradually, he seems to find that salvation with these people. They come to trust in him and accept him as one of their own through a series of trials, both friendly and dangerous. Caviezel offers up a growing humanity, an opening of Kainan’s emotions that allow an audience and the other characters to strongly connect with him. Jim Caviezel also has a natural ethereal, soulful aura around him that serves the otherworldly aspect of the character well. The strength of Kainan is constantly balanced with his own internal pain and doubts through the competence and thorough devotion of Caviezel to the role. I simply love how much he digs into the character to bring out elements evocative of the heroes of Highlander and Predator. Characters with a strong sense of honor, courage, and heart that come off as legendary heroes. I would certainly say that Outlander could be categorized as a meshing of those sorts of films. Caviezel himself said the film was “a light mix of Braveheart and Highlander.” Many have mentioned comparisons to Beowulf. By the film’s end, I viewed Kainan as a warrior of legend full of depth that was greatly worth investing myself in for 115 minutes.
The supporting cast really begins with Jack Huston. He’s a great actor here that Caviezel works off of very well. As Wulfric, Huston brings a youthful brashness to the story. He’s a warrior with much ambition as the heir to his father’s throne, but he lacks the wisdom and experience to be ready to accept that role. However, his impulsiveness and character is gradually tempered through this adventure. Kainan and Wulfric learn much from one another, and they prove to be far better off for it. They forge a kinship that fuels them into battle and further strengthens the foundation of the story. Huston is charismatic and finely enjoyable.
I found Sophia Myles pleasantly surprising and powerful. I really only know her from her role of the self-serving vampire Erika in Underworld. Here, I absolutely love her! Her introduction as Freya is strong and aggressive. She handles the physical demands of Freya in stride in various fight scenes wielding a sword with expert competence. She’s a woman who can defend herself and her people, if need be, and while she does have a softer, more heartfelt side, that is not how she wishes to be defined. Sophia is a beautiful woman, especially with that red hair, who brings so much dimension to Freya. She adds a fine texture and weight to this role which does have its tender areas of compassion and love opposite the pride and strength. There is warmth and passion in her eyes, selling so much of how she relates and bonds with the male characters around her. She holds her ground firmly with impressive depth and confidence while forging an amazing emotional core.
King Hrothgar is excellently portrayed by the engaging and insightful John Hurt. Wisdom and honor mixed with conviction and compassion are what define his performance. Ron Perlman has a smaller role as Hrothgar’s rival Gunnar which he infuses with gruff brutality and heartbreaking ire. In general, the whole supporting cast maintains the depth and dimension that the leads established creating a very full and diverse world that feels realistic.
The production design has great detail and vibrancy applied to it. Everything of the Vikings has a texture that speak of a culture with realistic history. From the costumes to the sets to their props, they are all cohesive. They create a complete world for these characters to inhabit. Again, nothing feels budget starved. There are large sets built to give scenes visual depth and wonderful lighting setups that bring it all to life. The advanced technology of Kainan’s world is very well designed with a very consistent aesthetic. For some viewers, it might take a little getting used to switching between the Viking world and the science fiction tech, but ultimately, everything meshes as well as anyone could expect.
The story here is amazingly well written and interwoven around its amazing characters. Howard McCain and Dirk Blackman put together an inspired screenplay that turned into a fantastic, thoroughly pleasing feature film for me. It is great that Kainan enters into a world of characters who have an established history, who have stories already in motion for themselves. They are already on a certain path, and the arrival of Kainan and the Moorwen merely jump start those stories forward. All of the character threads tie into each other and the main plot to create great arcs that culminate in something that legends are made of.
Director / co-writer Howard McCain crafted a film full of adventure, action, tension, suspense, excitement, drama, and character depth that thrives on the screen. Outlander has beautiful and brilliant visual flare that give the film so much vibrant life. There are so many deeply talented people involved in this film that make it so amazing. The score by Geoff Zanelli supports the epic scale of this adventure, and enhances the emotion throughout. This was a movie that easily fell below the radar due to a limited theatrical release by the Weinstein Company. That is why I am writing this review so that it can gain some more exposure. I could reiterate many points I made here to push this further upon you, but the best way to promote this is to say I loved it. This is a thrilling action adventure with plenty of character drama to satisfy a wide spread audience. The science fiction and Nordic elements come together through the emotional elements which bond the characters together tightly. This is one film you surely need to personally experience to fully understand its strength, but in more simple terms, Outlander entirely kicks ass!