Sean Connery plays Marshall W. O’Niel who shows up at his new assignment, a mining outpost on Jupiter’s moon Io. It is a rough and tumble place that is a cross between the grit of Alien‘s scrappy blue-collar environment, and a functioning corporate town of some 3,000 people. For O’Neil it is just another sucky job in a sucky town in the middle of nowhere… but for his wife and kid, it’s the last straw. His wife wants their son to breathe the non-circulated air of Earth for the first time in their lives, leaving O’Niel abandoned to concentrate on work. After all, what else is there for him to do
Lucky for O’Niel, there is something weird going on in this mining outpost. Workers are flipping out and unplugging the oxygen hoses from their helmets, or climbing happily into decompression elevators without their space suits. If you enjoyed the bulging eyeballs from Total Recall, you’ll enjoy how the hapless victims in Outland inflate then literally explode from the atmospheric decompression (shhhhplat!). The locals shrug off these deaths as relatively normal, especially because the bodies are shipped off then catapulted away as space garbage before they can be investigated. But as O’Niel quickly figures out that the head of the colony (played nicely with thinly veiled menace by Peter Boyle) puts productivity above, well, workers going crazy… well, he’d better watch his back.
Outland does have some things going for it, once you get beyond the feeling that it is desperately trying to ride the success of other sci-fi flicks of the era (down to aping the opening credit title sequence from Alien). The idea of a functioning space-town in the middle of nowhere is pretty cool—with the stacked bunks with privacy screens, the color-coding of the workers’ uniforms, and the idea that because the place is so hellish that people should be allowed to have their own idea of fun in their off-hours. Sean Connery can’t help but bring a sense of gravitas to any role, because, well, he is Sean Connery. And in what should be a throwaway role, Frances Sternhagen (Bunny! From Sex and the City!) sparks up the screen as the outpost’s doctor who is one of O’Niel’s few friends.
But if you take a step back, you quickly realize that Outland is basically a typical cop mystery that happens to take place in space. The space part should have made the plot more interesting, but all it offers are some new settings for fight scenes, and the ridiculous idea that people would be shooting at each other with shotguns in an environmentally-controlled space station, fer crying out loud. When the easiest way to kill someone is to get them sucked out of an airlock, are guns even necessary?