Outlander (Reissued Canadian Import)Overview -
In the year's most action-packed sci-fi adventure, Jim Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ) stars as a futuristic soldier who crash lands on Earth with a hellish, fire-breathing monster in a time of warring Viking tribes. Fusing advanced technology with Iron Age weaponry, he must unite the fierce Vikings and hunt the bloodthirsty beast before it kills them all. Featuring Ron Perlman (Hellboy films), Sophia Myles (Underworld films), and John Hurt (Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull), Outlander is "visually spectacular" (Michael Wilmington, Chicago Daily Herald), combining stunning special effects, fast-paced action, and a fantastic story to explosive effect.
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
Alright, so in my last review for 'Outlander,' I was pretty hard on Alliance Canada for half-assing it on many of their releases. I can't say that I really regret any of my harsh words, though. While I totally understand that everyone makes mistakes (pobody's nerfect after all), it's only common sense to take the necessary steps to ensure that your products are accurate and as professional as possible. That's just good business, right? But when a company repeatedly forgets vital disc information on the packaging, lists the wrong technical specs, or commits the worst sin of all by bungling film aspect ratios time and time again, then that enters the realm of being flat out lazy or inept -- take your pick.
Alliance's initial release of 'Outlander' was one of their messiest to date, having not just one of their common snafus I mentioned above -- but all of them. Earlier this year the studio reissued the Blu-ray, this time with the original aspect ratio intact (most likely only because Vivendi was prepping a U.S. release), though to Alliance's credit they have provided an opportunity to exchange the discs by mail. I got mine a few months ago and haven't really had the time to take a peek at it until now, but in case anyone is interested I figured I might as well drop the scoop on this new version.
The story takes place in 709 A.D., where a spaceship enters Earth's orbit and crashes into one of the fjords of Norway. Kainan (Jim Caviezel, 'The Passion of the Christ'), a humanoid traveler from a faraway world, emerges and believes he is the only survivor of the disaster. This soon changes when he begins exploring his surroundings and comes across a small village left in ruins. The devastation strikes a familiar chord, but before Kainan has a chance to investigate further, he's captured by Wulfric (Jack Huston), an elite warrior from the nearby Viking kingdom under the rule of King Rothgar (John Hurt). Not only do they hold Kainan responsible for the attack, they also fear that Gunnar (Ron Perlman, 'Hellboy'), the ruthless rival leader of the destroyed village, will blame them and retaliate, thereby igniting a tribal war. However, Kainan really knows the truth, as the carnage is the handiwork of the deadly beast his ship was transporting called the Moorwen. Kainan must work quickly if he's to gain the trust of the king's daughter Freya (Sophia Myles), prove his innocence to Rothgar, and unite the primitive people of the Iron Age against a common enemy more powerful than they could ever imagine.
The packaging for 'Outlander' has a quote from the Boston Herald touting the film as "'Beowulf' meets 'Predator.'" I'm not entirely sure if that's supposed to be a positive form of hype, but those three words pretty much sum up the plot right there. Writer/Director Howard McCain and co-writer Dirk Blackman basically take the epic tale and turn the character Grendel into an alien monstrosity with sharp pointy teeth and luminescent green blood flowing through its veins. The first glimpse of Shield Hall looks awfully familiar, and "King Rothgar" is just a typo of "King Hrothgar." All that was really missing here is a CGI Angelina Jolie skinny-dipping in a pool.
The special effects on the other hand are pretty good for the most part. Early on in the movie we don't get to see much of the beast attacking unsuspecting victims from off camera and severing limbs and other body parts. These scenes look a little hokey, but on the plus side most of the budget appears to have been dumped into the actual conceptual design of the Moorwen. The creature is partially a miniature version of Roland Emmerich's 'Godzilla' (likely since both were designed by Patrick Tatopoulos), and hardcore Dungeons & Dragons fans may notice some displacer beast in its genetics. I also thought the scenes on the Moorwen's homeworld were visually appealing. Of course, the effects still aren't quite in the A-list major leagues, but at least they're a significant step or two above most of the trash airing on sci-fi networks.
Lastly, I think the strong performances are what outright save this production from being a completely forgettable waste of time. Caviezel is solid as Kainan, and creates a character the viewers can care about and root for in the movie. Myles brings more complex layers than these types of roles usually have, and while the only other movie I've seen Huston in was 'Shrooms,' his Wulfric is charismatic and fun to watch. I don't even need to spend any time on Hurt and Perlman, as they are always reliable.
Ultimately, 'Outlander' isn't a half-bad creature feature, it's just that the execution could have been better. The acting is strong, but the story itself is a bit formulaic, predictable, and all too familiar. It would have been nice to have seen a few more plot twists and some originality in the film, but overall I'd say it would still make a decent rental if you're a fan of these kinds of movies.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Outlander' has been re-released on Blu-ray in Canada by Alliance and fixes most of the mishaps of the previous version. The new disc comes in a standard blue keepcase with the same cover art, but consumers can easily identify the proper release as now the supplements are listed on the back of the package. This Blu-ray is also region-locked and therefore will only function properly in Region A designated PlayStation 3s and standalone players.
Hooray for correct aspect ratios! The last 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 Blu-ray encode featured a butchered 1.78:1 aspect ratio, but now the movie finally comes proper in its original 2.35:1 letterbox presentation.
As before, the well-lit scenes of 'Outlander' look the sharpest. The color palette is cool, and contrast runs hot occasionally, but it suits the tone and mood of the movie. There's strong definition and depth, while clothing and facial features benefit from fine texture and detailing. There is a very thin sheen of grain, with sporadic bouts of softness to the image, and there still does appear to be some edge enhancement in a handful of places. There seems to be less in terms of dirt on the image this time, though mild artifacting still shows up occasionally.
The biggest problem with the transfer, however, is still the vast inconsistencies of the black levels. Sometimes they can be quite nice and richly deep, but then the next scene or camera angle can be exceptionally weak, so much so that it made me wonder if I was developing cataracts. The night sequences and darker interiors are plagued by this the most, unfortunately creating a flatter and rather underwhelming presentation as a result.
Remember when I said earlier that this reissue fixes most of the blunders from the initial release? Well, the packaging still lists an English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix when it in fact has an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. Again, this isn't really a big deal here since both are relatively the same, but it would be great to actually read the correct information on the back of the product.
The mix seems to be the same as the prior version, so I'm just going to plagiarize myself for the rest of this paragraph. Dialogue is crisp, although some of the whispering sequences might be a touch too quiet if we're going to get nitpicky here. The musical score has a strong presence spanning the entire soundstage, plus the surrounds come alive with the clanking of medieval weaponry, shouting, and other various noises during the main action sequences. The track has plenty of bass, too--as there are a few explosions (yes, in 709 A.D.) and when Kainan's ship first enters the Earth's atmosphere in particular it feels like its passing right through you. All in all, it's a strong mix that sounds great.
The Blu-ray also includes Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in English and French as well as optional English subtitles.
All of the same supplements from the prior release are included here, in addition to a making-of featurette that was absent from the initial version.
- Audio Commentary – First up is a feature commentary with writer/director Howard McCain, writer/executive producer Dick Blackman and producers Chris Roberts & John Schimmel. It's a somewhat dry and technical track covering the usual gamut: the genesis of the story, the cast, the effects, locations etc.
- Deleted Scenes (SD, 40 minutes) – A total of twenty-seven deleted scenes are included here. Some of them have unfinished effects and look pretty rough, but I suppose it's still nice to see that they are part of this release.
- Visual Effects Tests – Here we have a collection of five sequences demonstrating some of the preliminary effects that would eventually be fine-tuned for 'Outlander.' They are: Moorwen Walking Cycle Test, Moorwen Running Cycle Test, Moorwen "Garbage Bag" Test, Spaceship CG Model Test, and Visual Effects Demo Compilation.
- Animatics – This section includes animated storyboards for a few scenes. The sequences are highly detailed combining a mixture of 2D and 3D animation with some live-action footage and sound thrown in to complete the package. They include: Crash, Alone, Language, Herot, First Attack, Moorwen Attacks (Deleted Scene), Intro to Shield Hall, Flashback, The Trap and Waterfall.
- Artwork Galleries – A series of stills highlighting concept drawings and clay models covering the costumes, creatures, locations, props, and scenes from Ninth Ray Studios and WETA Workshop.
- Two Worlds, One Film (SD, 17 minutes) – This is a typical making-of featurette comprised of cast and crew interviews, concept art, animations, and more. I also didn't realize Howard McCain is the spitting image of Philip Seymour Hoffman. This supplement wasn't included on the first release.
- Theatrical Trailer – Rounding out the supplements is a theatrical trailer.
My second viewing of 'Outlander' hasn't really changed my opinion of the movie, as what we get is far from original and basically 'Beowulf' in a science-fiction disguise, but it still has spurts of solid entertainment and carnage, much of which comes in the form of hammer-wielding badass Ron Perlman. This reissued Blu-ray from Alliance Canada is an improvement over the previous release as it now presents the film in its corrected original aspect ratio, and although the audio and supplements remain unchanged for the most part, the studio has tacked on an additional making-of featurette this time around. However, considering that this reissued Canadian Blu-ray appears to be identical to Vivendi's recent U.S. release that has a significantly lower suggested retail price, the bottom line is fans will likely be better off just picking up the U.S. version.
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