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!
Time travel is the biggest pain in the backside to comprehend. It can become circular logical trying to make sense of the contradictions, continuity resolutions, and potential paradoxes. Timecop certainly has these problems due to half thought-out ideas, but where these issues would normally sour the entire film to me, Timecop has just enough entertainment value to dwarf those concerns. Peter Hyams, who shot and directed this film, clearly deserves much credit for bringing the right talents and elements together to achieve a result that is satisfying on all other levels.
In 1994, time travel is made possible, and upon learning of this, the U.S. government forms a confidential agency called the Time Enforcement Commission (TEC) to police time itself, and prevent changes in the past. Washington, D.C. police officer Max Walker (Jean-Claude Van Damme) accepts an assignment to this new agency, but on this very day, he and his wife Melissa (Mia Sara) are attacked. This results in Melissa’s death and the destruction of their home. Ten years later, Max Walker grieves still, but has become a respected TEC Agent. Max ends up having to take in Atwood, his own ex-partner, for tampering with the past with the stock market. When coxed about who hired him to do this, the name Senator Aaron McComb (Ron Silver) is named, but Atwood refuses to testify to this fearing for the lives of his family. McComb is a presidential candidate who has been stealing from the past to fund his campaign so that he can essentially buy the presidency. McComb quickly learns of Walker’s knowledge, and continually seeks to eliminate him and shut down the TEC entirely. Max becomes determined to expose the Senator’s criminal actions, which come to include multiple murders, but his TEC superior, Matuzak (Bruce McGill) keeps Max from going too far without evidence to support his claims. However, all things become interwoven as McCombs’ manipulative plans take Walker back to 1994 where his past and future come into peril. Can Max change history before it repeats itself?
There is just something about the old action heroes that is missing today. While Jean-Claude Van Damme has amazing physical ability with remarkable martial arts talent, he also has plenty of charisma and heart to really make his roles empathetic. He gives them enough dimension and charm to be someone an audience can thoroughly enjoy watching. The young Max Walker is a warm, light-hearted man with a lot of passion and love. The older Max Walker is more rough around the edges. He’s a lonelier man that is very dedicated to his job, and takes his commitment to it very seriously. He has a strong ethical and moral center that doesn’t allow him to back down from McComb. Still, he retains the charm and wit of his younger self, but with a tinge of conviction. Van Damme plays both versions nicely, and keeps an emotional connective tissue between them. He carries the film with plenty of heart, humor, and dramatic weight. He also has excellent chemistry with his co-stars.
Primarily among them is the late Ron Silver who made for an excellent cold blooded villain as McComb. His charisma is very sharp as he commands the screen with intelligence and conviction. He is very imposing and intimidating. McComb is a man driven by the need for power, and everyone in his path towards it is expendable. With the advantage of time travel, he can essentially prevent anyone from ever existing, but in some cases, he hardly sees a need to be so severe. He also doesn’t mind doing his own dirty work. He just can’t do it all himself. The younger Senator McComb has ambition and vision, but is not hardened, yet. His elder presidential candidate self is very cutthroat. Silver brings immense weight to the picture that fuels the dogged motivation in Van Damme’s performance. The two have very good chemistry playing off one another many times in the film. They have a very effective counterbalance that keeps the movie compelling and entertaining. They exchange several sharp, humorous remarks that entirely fit their characters, and maintain a tension between Walker and McComb that injects urgency into the plot.
I am continually impressed by Bruce McGill’s talent. I was first introduced to him on MacGyver as the humorous con man Jack Dalton, but since then, I have seen the vast range and depth he is capable of. From roles in The Insider, Collateral, The Last Boy Scout, Quantum Leap, and a very memorable episode of Miami Vice, I can seriously say that he is one of the best character actors around. As Matuzak, he holds his ground very easily as Walker’s boss with the weight of authority and a quick witted levity. He cares a good deal about Max, but he always keeps his priorities and responsibilities in check. He never lets his friendship compromise his position, at least, not until circumstances become desperate and Matuzak has to stretch his trust in Walker. McGill and Van Damme also have thoroughly entertaining chemistry that livens up the film, smartly. Walker and Matuzak are good, tusted friends with a lot of history behind them which adds to the depth of the story. Van Damme and McGill reflect that nicely giving the film some funny interactions that only a couple of good, long time friends could offer up.
Mia Sara is beautiful beyond just the physical. As Melissa, you have zero trouble believing in Max’s deep love for her. She’s compassionate, seductive, and lovely. The love for Max is always in her eyes, and definitely connects through to an audience. Mia Sara projects every emotion with heart-gripping depth. Her interactions with Jean-Claude are wonderful, as are all the relationships in the film. The whole cast really does a superb job playing off one another, hitting the right dramatic and tonal marks. The performances are very consistent and complementary. It’s almost surprising, but pleasantly so.
The visual effects are kind of mixed. The optical composites putting two Van Dammes or two Ron Silvers into the same frame at the same time are generally pretty good, and the time travel “ripple” effect is well done. There is also a wicked cool moment where Walker kicks the young McComb in the face, and then, the scar from it morphs onto the face of the older McComb. These little flourishes are exceptionally nice, and add some originality to the film. However, the more complex digital effects are rather primitive. I can only imagine this was due to budgetary constraints. CGI was likely still highly expensive in 1994 as only Steven Spielberg and James Cameron blockbusters got to make elaborate use of them. This wasn’t Industrial Light & Magic at work here. While there are only two such moments in the movie, one of which is a very critical moment that I cannot say how it will affect your enjoyment if you’re just watching Timecop now for the first time. I’ve known what to expect since Timecop originally hit VHS in the mid-1990s, and so, it doesn’t bother me at all. For a modern audience, it might be a sour note.
Finally discovering and getting my hands on the first ever widescreen release of this film on DVD, I can properly enjoy the wonderful cinematography by Peter Hyams (who also directed the feature). I can definitely tell it was shot by him due to the use of contrast through heavy light and shadow. The movie has plenty of visual atmosphere, but it never goes too far. There’s a certain noir aspect to much of Hyams’ lighting and cinematography in addition to my beloved 2.35:1 aspect ratio that give Timecop some solid production values. It also gives the film some distinctive identity and edgy dramatic weight. Hyams captures and directs the action very, very well. He has his pacing and composition crafted beautifully creating a very coherent string of action sequences that are thoroughly satisfying. Hyams puts Van Damme’s talent nicely on display. Jean-Claude has many awesome moments flexing his agility and ability. The shot of JCVD jumping and doing the splits on the countertop to avoid the stun gun was a memorable moment from the trailer, and remains as such within the film. His martial arts skills make for a unique and hard hitting style that really gives the film a lot of kick. The choreography is plotted out greatly to make the scenes develop logically and organically. The knife fight alone is a nice change of pace, adding to the creativity of the action.
Now, if it wasn’t for all this good talent elevating the quality of this film, it would not be a winner. Again, there are so many confusing issues that arise from the underdeveloped time travel concepts and plot turns in this, that you cannot hold the screenplay as a gold standard of the genre. The general story works very well supported by the acting talents involved, but analyzed at all and its mechanics fall apart. It’s too complicated to dissect here, but simply said, the space-time continuum should’ve imploded by the end of this movie. Paradoxes are abound with people being killed, partially erased from the timeline, resetting timelines, and people retaining knowledge of multiple timelines despite the continuity changing constantly with new incursions into the past. There’s never any constant in what makes for a good time travel story as there’s always some inherent technical complications. Even those that have a well stated theory of time travel can often fall apart, often with their sequels taking too many liberties with the plot. There’s no Doc Brown or Sam Beckett type characters present to really speak to the screenwriter’s theories of time travel. So, the film generally avoids getting too deep into it, and thus, it’s best to avoid rationalizing the logic of it all. In any case, for a little more insight into this matter you can visit an old favorite website of mine which takes a few moments to breakdown the basic flaws: Temporal Anomalies in Popular Time Travel Movies.
The production design is very good with some large sets that offer up some additional scope. The entire TEC facility has a slight futuristic quality, but retains a utilitarian mentality which grounds it. The control room, offices, and launch bay retain a purely functional design idea that would be akin to a secret government facility. It also allows Peter Hyams to create the aforementioned shadowy, noir inspired lighting schemes. The only area where the “futuristic” time of 2004 crashes and burns is the design of these butt ugly automobiles. I’ve never seen a concept car that took the armored, blocky design approach, and indeed, I’m glad that these filmmakers did not accurately foretell the future in this aspect. Aside from that, the art direction is very good, and maybe a little reflective of 1990s visual aesthetics (something that I have no problems with).
The good fortune of this film is that the filmmakers and cast worked hard to make it entertaining and enjoyable. The screenwriter abandoned any serious logic in the temporal mechanics so that the plot could work how he wanted it to. That’s never a good thing, but there’s enough quality put on screen to mostly cloud that shortcoming. Van Damme is great handling all the demands of the role smoothly from dramatic to humorous to emotional to the physical. The supporting cast is just as strong keeping the film consistently entertaining. The characters are well written, and even better realized with solid casting choices. Peter Hyams deserves a lot of credit for creating a film that features high production values with appealing performances and action sequences built on a script that didn’t make much sense, but was satisfying nonetheless.