Beowulf meets Erich Von Danikan in OUTLANDER, a somber tale of Vikings, monsters, and stalwart warriors. Written by some of the same folks responsible for the UNDERWORLD franchise, it boasts the same gray look, spirit, and energy.
The sci-fi portion of the script comes early and is then more or less left by the wayside. Spaceman Kainan (Jim Caviezel) is stranded on the Earth when his ship crashes into a Norwegian lake. It’s 709 AD, and he’s alone after the ship sinks and his companion is dead on arrival. Fortunately, he has a handy-dandy device that not only informs him of where he is, but can also program his brain with the local language. It’s a process that involves one eyeball and a bout of nosebleed followed by nausea and the film’s only naughty word, and quite a naughty word it is. Things go from bad to worse for Kainan as he runs afoul of the local Vikings who capture him in a struggle that results in his losing loses his nifty fire-breathing gun. The locals think Kainan destroyed a neighboring village, for which they will get the blame from that village’s absent lord. Kainan, in an attempt to explain things in a way that the simple native folk can understand, tells them it was a dragon who did the deed, one who smells like death with an odor that is so rank that it appalls even these Iron Age folk for whom bad smells are a way of life. That he was the one who inadvertently brought the dragon to this remote place is something he keeps to himself for the moment. There’s a whole backstory there involving Eminent Domain gone horribly wrong, but while moderately interesting in a philosophical way, the writing as a whole is so dreary that by the time it comes up, the anesthesia of what has come before has set in all too well.
The characters are standard issue. There is the wise king (John Hurt), fretting over what will become of his spunky and sword-wielding daughter (Sophia Myles) after he is gone. There is the hot-headed, brave, but sadly impetuous suitor and heir-apparent (Jack Huston), the doughty little orphan kid to whom Kainan takes a shine, and the comic sidekick with a weakness for mead. The plot unfolds with a leaden thud in a fashion that is equally standard issue. They speak in standard issue dialogue as they go about their quaint Iron Age lives. There is a nice attention to authentic detail that is to be admired more for its verisimilitude than for anything compelling it brings to the action. The dragon is rendered nicely, with a red and glowing menace, whip-like tail and something tentacle-like that slices through whatever annoys it, which is pretty much anything human.
Even so, a less challenging running time would have helped enormously. The thing just goes on and on and in the process becomes more risible rather than riveting. Caviezel has the chiseled features of a monumental sculpture and, unfortunately, his acting is similarly stony. Myles is suitably assertive, Huston almost but not quite dashing enough, and Hurt, while full of gravitas and gravel-voice, never quite recovers from the nonsense that is his opening scene trying to sword-fight his daughter into submission and get married.
OUTLANDER is an intriguing idea brought to life in a less than intriguing fashion.