Conceived, per the filmmakers, as a “sci-mythic” version of “Beowulf,” but playing more like a monster mash of B-grade offshoots of classier genre movies, alien-vs.-Vikings actioner “Outlander” delivers occasionally but more often misses the mark. Not helped by a wooden perf from Jim Caviezel as a humanoid alien who accidentally imports a real alien to eighth-century Earth, and then helps the baffled locals destroy it, this is a fast-playoff item that may not make it past ancillary in some markets. Hardcore genre fans will turn out but word of mouth is likely to be pic’s biggest enemy.
Project started a decade ago in the minds of co-writers Dirk Blackman and Howard McCain; latter was eventually attached as director, and lensing was originally set for New Zealand. Following various financial snafus, the production finally lensed in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland on a tab of around $31 million. But despite the script’s long gestation, the finished product shows signs of hasty shooting and ideas that don’t reach the screen fully formed. No fewer than 14 producers take credit.
A spaceship crashes into a fjord in Norway, 709 A.D., and only one astronaut, human-looking Kainan (Caviezel), survives. Reprogramming his language lobe into Norse — which then simply switches to English — Kainan comes across a smoldering settlement before being captured by the inhabitants of the wooden-walled village of Herot, where he’s christened “Outlander.”
Bullish young warrior Wulfric (Jack Huston, all flashing-eyed intensity) doesn’t trust Kainan, and when the wounded outlander is cared for by Freya (Kate Winslet lookalike Sophia Myles), the feisty daughter of Herot’s king, Rothgar (John Hurt, in full Viking hairpiece and whiskers), tension between the two alpha males only worsens.
Only when a half-glimpsed monster attacks Herot, and Kainan saves Rothgar’s life, is the outlander grudgingly accepted. Wisely, Rothgar accepts Kainan’s offer to exterminate the monster, called a Moorwen, but first, Rothgar has to convince his own longtime enemy, Gunnar (a rampaging Ron Perlman), that it wasn’t the forces of Herot that trashed his village.
Script tries to build up a full range of heroic characters in conflict but is let down by workaday dialogue and direction that doesn’t conjure any special atmosphere. Only Hurt, who can always be relied on to turn the most basic dialogue metal into something resembling gold, comes close to giving the picture any verbal style. But despite a couple OK action sequences, the first hour largely passes before delivering any serious mano a mano with the mean Moorwen.
When this finally comes, with nods to everything from “Alien 3” to “The Descent,” pic does gain some momentum. But the confused structure, with more flashbacks to Kainan’s backstory and an undeveloped guilt strand between Kainan and the Moorwen, too often gets in the way. With no special development of the era’s heroic codes, the screenplay hardly makes a convincing case for being set in the Viking Age rather than any other period.
Color processing has a cold, grungy look in daytime exteriors and a slightly fuzzy, amber-drenched look in interiors. Geoff Zanelli’s score is off-the-shelf heroic-action wallpaper. However, production and costume design do sport an impressive authenticity, and effects work does the job in a genre-ish way. Alas, Patrick Tatopoulos’ monster simply recalls elements of other, more famous aliens.