The not-too-distant future. Io. The third moon of Jupiter. 262,070 miles from the planet. 70 hours from the nearest space station. One supply shuttle per week. Surface gravity is 1/6th that of Earth. Here you can find Con-Am 27, an off-world titanium ore mining operation franchised to the Con-Amalgamate by the League Of Industrial Nations.

Home to 2144 personnel serving 1 year-long tours off-world. Security is maintained by a lone Federal District Marshall and his small team.


Outland is a simple premise, flawlessly executed. At its heart, it is a loose remake of High Noon in space. Peter Hyams (Capricorn One, 2010: The Year We Make Contact) explains how it came about:

I wanted to do a Western. Everybody said, ‘You can’t do a Western; Westerns are dead; nobody will do a Western’. I remember thinking it was weird that this genre that had endured for so long was just gone. But then I woke up and came to the conclusion – obviously after other people – that it was actually alive and well, but in outer space.

I wanted to make a film about the frontier. Not the wonder of it or the glamour of it: I wanted to do something about Dodge City and how hard life was. I wrote it, and by great fortune Sean Connery wanted to do it. And how many chances do you get to work with Sean Connery?

Universal turned it down, despite Connery being attached. Producer Richard Roth had a development deal at 20th Century Fox under Alan Ladd Jr, so he took it to Ladd’s new company and secured a $12 million budget. So they set off for Pinewood Studios in the UK and production started on what would become Outland, at this stage still going under the title of Io. The title of the film was eventually changed from Io because many people read it as the number 10, or “Lo”.

The story follows Connery as Marshal William T. O’Niel, new to the facility on Io after keeping the peace on numerous other off-world hell holes. Here at Con-Am 27 conditions outside are difficult, there is no breathable atmosphere, and the spacesuits are cumbersome with limited air. Shifts are long but the bonuses are huge.

The facility is seemingly efficiently run, with high productivity levels, smashing quotas. Mark Sheppard, General Manager of the Facility for Con-Am boasts that productivity has broken all records since he took over.


All is not well, however, as Carol, O’Niel’s wife, feels she cannot raise their son Paul on Io and leaves with their child to the Jupiter space station to await a shuttle back to Earth. Meanwhile, a miner called Tarlow is outside working when he starts screaming that he sees spiders and rips open his spacesuit resulting in death by explosive decompression.

Shortly afterwards, another miner enters an airlock elevator without his spacesuit while seemingly in an ecstatic stupor and also dies a gruesome death. A third miner, Sagan, takes one of the many prostitutes that are there to keep the workers entertained hostage and threatens to kill her with a knife while suffering a psychotic meltdown.


O’Niel and his team resolve the incident, and an autopsy reveals traces of a powerful amphetamine that would allow people to work longer and harder, but at great risk to their mental state. O’Niel recruits an unenthusiastic doctor to his investigation, and together they start to unravel a dark conspiracy on Io. Facing a culture of silence, he finds he is only able to rely on a few people and trust even fewer.

Meanwhile, a shuttle is inbound from the space station 70 hours away, and onboard is the final solution of those who want the conspiracy to remain secret.

Outland received mixed reviews and a disappointing box office when it was released. It opened reasonably strongly in major cities, but played poorly in smaller cities and towns. As a result it has always flown somewhat under the radar. That is a shame as there is a lot to enjoy.


Its clear Western roots are evident, but supplanted to a work-worn sci-fi setting that owes more than a passing thanks to the Nostromo of Alien. Like in that movie, wonderful CRT screens flicker and analog switches click, as reassuringly chunky keyboards clatter away. Doors require great levers to open, and everything moves as if it has substance. The setting feels claustrophobic and unpleasant to be in.

Connery plays O’Niel as just weary enough, without it becoming a cliche. He also has a clear sense of duty that comes through, despite being given the easy way out. Connery sells it perfectly, and much of this performance seems now, with hindsight, like a dry run for his upcoming role in The Untouchables. There are similarities between the characters, and nobody plays middle-aged hardass quite as well as Connery.

The supporting cast is pretty excellent, with a blend of well-known supporting players and new faces.

Outland was pioneering as the first motion picture to use Introvision, a variation on front projection that allows foreground, mid-ground, and background elements to be combined in the camera, as opposed to using optical processes such as bluescreen matting. This enabled characters to convincingly walk around miniature sets of the mining colony. Principal photography took place starting with the miniature models in May 1980 and with the actors beginning in June 1980. Post-production for the film was completed in February 1981.

To be honest, some of these miniatures are the weakest point of the movie. They have not aged as timelessly as those in Alien, or Star Wars. In some shots they scream “Kit Bash!” at you, and in other scenes, the ambition outstrips the VFX capability a couple of times.


Don’t let that put you off. If you have never seen it, it is well worth your time. It is lean, engaging, and exciting while being almost perfectly paced. The tension also builds, and the countdown to the arrival of the shuttle is a perfectly played plot device to ratchet up the tension and let you see O’Niel’s fear begin to manifest.

A gem of a movie.

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