Outland – This 80s Sci-Fi Noir Space Western Could Be an Adventure in Starfield

RETRO MOVIE REVIEW – Released in 1981, Outland was not a critical or commercial success, but over the years it has become a cult classic. Sean Connery is incredibly memorable as a stern, tough, determined space marshal working in a mining camp on Jupiter’s moon Ion, whose love for his family is the only thing that sometimes holds him back from his life-threatening work. The film’s sci-fi noir and space western atmosphere and visuals are still relevant more than 40 years after its release, especially in light of the new Starfield game.


The setting of Outland is a mining camp on one of Jupiter’s moons, Ion, where Marshal William O’Niel (Sean Connery) arrives with his wife and son. The new commander is immediately warned by base commander Sheppard (Peter Boyle) that the miners should be allowed to relax as much as they work. But as soon as O’Niel arrives, a series of mysterious deaths occur, prompting him to uncover the dark secrets of record production. The only question is whether he can get justice as he encounters everything from indifference to outright hostility.

Connery, as always, is himself: “Connery, Sean Connery”. But let’s be serious: he really is the ideal choice for the tough but fair policeman. One for whom no bribe or threat is an obstacle to achieving his goal.



Originally intended to be a terrestrial Western


The story could easily have been an earthly one, as director Peter Hyams originally wanted to make a traditional western before realizing that it would be more exciting to set the action in space. And he got it right: the whole base feels like the real thing, creating a completely ramshackle, depressing and realistic mining environment. This is similar to what we have seen in the recently released game Starfield, where we are also immersed in a lifelike, detailed space environment where we also take on the role of a miner.

The base’s design is the movie’s real star; it’s a palpably authentic colony where everything fits together, and nothing stands out or feels fake. The design and operation of the entire area is completely logical and purposeful. Even the professional design of the prison cells in the room or the hexagonal corridors are subtleties that not only stand up to today’s eyes, but also make a real impression.

The model work and the special effects are also well done, although some overly ambitious scenes at the movie’s end slipped a bit on the budget. Jerry Goldsmith’s score is also excellent, although it sounds too much like Alien in the beginning and perhaps too upbeat in the final scene.



Retrofuturism forever


It is interesting that the technology of the movie, despite being 40 years old, still feels modern, perhaps due to the current popularity of retrofuturism. The Con-Am Corporation would probably be in competition with the Weyland-Yutani Corporation of the Alien series; there may even be something in the fact that the two stories take place in the same universe.

The movie’s exciting, twisty action sequences often end with bloody results, and here Connery doesn’t seem invincible. Of the characters, the base doctor (Frances Sternhagen) stands out, but in general the female characters in this story are sadly overlooked and underrepresented.

Outland is great retro sci-fi with truly outstanding visual design. Even in his 50s, Sean Connery looks like a believable, tough sheriff. It’s the kind of movie the big studios don’t make anymore; hard sci-fi for adults that tells a complete, accessible story in its own right. As such, it could be an excellent prequel to the game Starfield, where we can have similar adventures in the vastness of space.

In terms of social commentary, the movie presciently envisions a future in which the exploitation of the working class is only made “better” by a change of scenery, not an improvement in conditions. But even in this bleak setting, Connery’s character, Marshal O’Niel, struggles in the hope of a better life, and with that, perhaps the message is that while humanity’s problems may follow us to a new planet or moon, the search for hope and justice never loses its relevance.



A true sci-fi noir


It’s crazy to think that Sean Connery was already in his fifties when he played O’Niel in Outland; but even at that age, he was still a perfectly believable marshal.

Outland feels like the kind of movie the big studios don’t make anymore; hard-edged, adult sci-fi that tells a satisfyingly self-contained story – with plenty of incidental, world-building details that create a real sense of time and place.

While the movie – presciently – points to a bleak future where nothing has changed for the oppressed, exploited workers except the landscape, it at least gives our protagonist a chance at a better life.



Direction - 8.4
Actors - 8.6
Story - 8.4
Visuals/Music/Sounds - 8.2
Ambience - 9.2



While the movie - presciently - points to a bleak future where nothing has changed for the oppressed, exploited workers except the landscape, it at least gives our protagonist a chance at a better life.

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BadSector is a seasoned journalist for more than twenty years. He communicates in English, Hungarian and French. He worked for several gaming magazines – including the Hungarian GameStar, where he worked 8 years as editor. (For our office address, email and phone number check out our impressum)

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