A promisingly silly premise, alien spaceship crashes into the water during the time of Vikings and the survivor tries to win the hearts of the humans who don’t understand him (A more appropriate title might have been Army of Dorkness), is buried in the ground immediately by a concession to the English speaking market. As soon as he lands, removes his protective helmet (and recognizes himself as Jim Cavizel), and is updated on local history and communication by his futuristic mechanism, the alien asks the machine, in his language, what language the locals speak. The machine responds: “Norse.” And then he spends the remainder of the movie speaking English. With all of the other Norsi.
All of that nonsense would be fine if the movie were willing to embrace itself as utter trash, but it has this nagging need to take itself seriously, which results in two full hours of dashed hopes with glimmers of enjoyable idiocy. Once our hero enters Lord of the Rings land, the viewer is buried by heaps of Arthurian and Hollywood period piece clichés; Unintelligible drunks, clanging swords, an unlikely lack of eczema and poor dentistry, and small villages where the most important thing other than being a stupid, controlling, violent male, is to be king. King of what looks like forty people.
And still, there would be no problem at all, if the filmmakers had cherished the fact that someone was willing to give them money to make Aliens vs. Vikings, and made their goal to be as lowbrow as possible. Instead, we have glum sincerity.
This is all so unfortunate, because once an unbeatable monster is introduced, a monster who killed Cavizel’s crew and family (there’s an amazingly sloppy plot hole regarding the family), he has to teach the Vikings how to fight it off using only their primitive weapons. We keep getting quick looks at this monster and it looks strange and frightening. But much like the indecipherable fight scenes, everything is draped in darkness, and when you get a good look at the monster, you realize why. It, like all of the plentiful CGI in the movie, looks awful.
How come there aren’t ads for Outlander on TV and despite what appears to be a reasonable budget (reportedly $50 million), is only being released to a few markets? It isn’t just the two years on the shelf, or the muddled story getting in the way. As with Battlefield Earth (which, like Outlander, had Patrick Tatopoulos do the effects), Outlander is a movie that is supposed to be lavish and extravagant, but just looks cheap. When it turned out that Battlefield Earth‘s announced $75 million budget was fudged by producer Elie Samaha (made clear by the fact that on the commentary, the filmmakers talk about having only $22 million to work with) in order to have an investor cover the entire thing, no one was less surprised than me.
Outlander bears a striking resemblance to another recent underpublicized Viking epic (other than the similarly Beowulfian The 13th Warrior), Pathfinder, which would have been 45 minutes long, had it not been entirely in slow motion. Both Pathfinder and Outlander keep nagging at our collar to tell us it’s about to get really entertaining (Outlander has a fabulous beheading, worthy of Starship Troopers), but conventional thinking grounds them. Outlander‘s introduction of the silent, feral kid (a blond moppet, Eric, who’s sole utterance is his own name, hilariously expressed in an American accent) brought in from Road Warrior/Aliensland, drowns the promise introduced in a goofy shield race, especially as he becomes fascinated with Cavizel and wants to be like him. Only the moment after his inevitable clean-up, clipped hair and all, is worth the effort, as he appears to be checking for dandruff.
The missed opportunities, the dreadful effects (some of which are worse than the unfinished, but somehow released A Sound of Thunder), the various cribs from obvious sources (the first scene is a duplicate of Predator, it isn’t just the character designs that seem familiar), and the choppiness of the story, suggesting that Outlander, directed by relative feature novice Howard McCain, has suffered some major editing interference (and I’m not referring to the flashbacks where Cavizel is dressed in a Halo suit), these are all major annoyances. But its odd mix of genres suggests that other unwieldy combinations should be given a shot too, like a Zombie Western, or maybe an action-adventure Waiting For Godot.