Julien Neaves, Sci Fi Head Writer
This weekend both Sean Connery-led Sci Fi Action flick Outland and John Carpenter’s iconic Sci Fi Action flick Escape From New York turned 40 (May 22 and 23 respectively). So seeing that both of these films share the same genre and birthdays just one day apart I decided to review them together. You got a problem with that? Hey Snake, this guy got a problem with that. I’m just kidding. I’m not cool enough to be friends with Snake Plissken.
I have a different history with both films. I learned about Outland last November when I was doing a series of articles celebrating Sir Sean Connery following his death. I didn’t have time to get to it then and only watched it recently in preparation for this review. I saw Escape From New York years ago and I liked it but I didn’t love it like Carpenter’s The Thing or Halloween. So how was my first time watching Outland and my experience revisiting Escape From New York? Read on dear Red Mango Reader. Read on.
Connery stars as Marshal William T. O’Niel who has been sent to police a mining operation on Jupiter’s Moon Io. When the marshal investigates a series of incidents where miners experience lethal psychotic breaks he uncovers a massive conspiracy that could cost him his life.
For an ostensible action film Outland starts very slowly with about five minutes of just text. After a while I was like, “Geez, get to the movie already.” When the film does start in earnest I was impressed by the production design. The mining station has a grimy, lived-in quality that feels very authentic. This is not your pristine, shiny future. I have seen people speculate that the film takes place in the Alien universe and I did note an aesthetic similarity.
In terms of performances Connery is easily the highlight, as he brings a gruffness and fortitude to the role. Frances Sternhagen, who you may recognise from The Mist, shines as the caustic and dry-witted Dr Lazarus, and Peter Boyle, known for his comedy roles in Young Frankenstein and Everybody Loves Raymond, does well as sleazy general manager Sheppard.
The film doesn’t have a lot of action but there are a couple of decent scenes and more than one instance of an exploding head. And exploding heads are always fun. In the final act there is a countdown to the arrival of some bad guys which has drawn comparisons to iconic 1952 western High Noon. But unfortunately it is a lot of build-up for not that much pay off. The ending also feels way too rushed and leaves a few plot threads loose.
I found Outland an entertaining space western with a strong turn from Connery but there was not enough here to make me want to revisit it.
Editor Jules Score: 6 out of 10
Escape From New York
When I first watched Escape From New York I may have been tired or probably too young to appreciate it, because this movie is awesome! Kurt Russell, who also made magic with director John Carpenter in The Thing and Big Trouble in Little China, delivers the quintessential 80’s action hero as ex-soldier-turned-convict Snake Plissken. He is tasked with rescuing the President (Donald Pleasance of the Halloween franchise) from Manhattan which has been turned into a giant prison in the far-off year of 1997. With his raspy voice, eye patch, cobra stomach tattoo, and stick-it-to-the-man attitude he is a force of nature. He doesn’t need an arc; the story arcs around him!
And speaking of Carpenter he also co-wrote the music for the film. While it’s not as iconic as the Halloween theme, it is still a thrilling and intense score. And it is the soundtrack to one creepy, dystopian world where pretty much everyone is either trying to rob you and/or kill you. There is a scene where some convicts are coming out from the sewers and it feels like something from out of a horror movie.
But Snake does have a few allies in his mission: Lee Van Cleef as no-nonsense Commissioner Hauk; Ernest Borgnine as affable cab driver “Cabbie”; Harry Dean Stanton as Harold “Brain” Helman; and Adrienne Barbeau as busty, femme fatale Maggie. They all make for quite memorable characters. But no one was more memorable (outside of Snake himself) than soul singer-turned-actor Isaac Hayes as ruler of Manhattan “The Duke”. He is just super laid back and chill, and his pimp game is so strong he got chandeliers as hood ornaments.
Like Outland, there is a not a lot of action as Carpenter relies more on suspense. But when there is action it is very well done thanks to the graphic violence and some very solid sound editing. You will feel every punch and bullet. And the deathmatch fight with Slag does feel like it partly inspired the Thunderdome from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome four years later.
So yeah, four decades later Escape From New York remains a super cool Sci Fi Action Thriller with loads of personality and an unforgettable protagonist. I wonder if the belated sequel Escape From L.A. will be as fondly remembered for its 40th anniversary in 2036. Yeah, I don’t think that’s gonna happen.
Editor Jules’s Score: 8.5 out of 10
So are a fan of either film? You can check out more classic Sci Fi reviews below:
Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Read more.