Sunday, July 7, 2013

Outlander ~ Beowulf For The Modern Age.

"It's not your sword nor your sheild, that makes you king, but how you rule your own heart."

It never ceases to amaze me how the classic story of Beowulf is reimagined in different ways.  In "Outlander," the classic tale takes on a Sci-Fi twist that explores the epic Scandinavian poem through the eyes of an off-worlder by the name of Kainan, played by James Caviezel ("The Passion of the Christ", "The Count of Monte Cristo").  Familiar characters such as King Hrothgar, played by John Hurt ("Alien," "1984," "V") and Unferth (Patrick Stevenson) found in this new story.  "Outlander" also introduces us to new characters like Freya (Sophia Myles) as the king's daughter, and Wulfric (Jack Huston), his heir.  Set in Scandinavia around 700 CE puts Kainan as the stranger in a strange land searching for a creature that, like a dragon, killed his family, and is now killing Hrothgar's people.  "Outlander" is Rated R for the violence, although, I would consider the violence tame by today's standards.  The film runs just under two hours.

Kainan comes from the stars, his ship is in trouble and crash lands in a lake in Scandinavia, and he is the lone survivor.  His companion is dead and his ship under water.  Writer and director Howard McCain, gives us glimpses of Kainan's life before the crash.  We see dream fragments, images of a family, as a soldier, and doing battle against some creature.  Upon awakening, he buries his comrade and sets up a beacon, in case his people come looking for him.  With limited technology, he is able to receive a language lesson in Old Norse in the matter of seconds.  Sort of like "The Matrix" where Neo gets skills and knowledge downloaded into his brain.  Armed with a blaster of sorts, he begins to explore the area and comes upon a half-devoured whale, a burnt out village, and death.  Suddenly Kainan is attacked, loses his only weapon, and is captured by Wulfric and his men.  Wulfric is in the service of Hrothgar, and has plans to marry Hrothgar’s daughter, Freya.

The changes in the Beowulf story are considerable, but the two main battles are there.  The addition of Freya, the king's feisty daughter, and Wulfric, who in many ways takes more of the Unferth's role of the doubter, then latter as Kainan's friend, enhance the story greatly.  After being captured, Kainan is interrogated by Wulfric. Kainan tells Wulfric about the dragon he is chasing, thinking that the word dragon would be a word the Vikings would relate to. Wulfric laughs at him. By the 700s, Chrisianity has begun to spread to the pagan north. After meeting Freya, as she comes to tend to the wounds Wulfric and his men inflicted upon him, escapes and hides out in the village.  Later that night the fortified town's walls are attacked and what they think is an attack by another chieftain called Gunnar (Ron Perlman); it is instead the creature called a Moorwen that Kainan has been chasing.  After a false battle that Kainan joins as a prisoner, the men of the village go to hunt the creature but end up killing a bear instead.  Kainan insists that the bear is not the creature that attacked the village, but Hrothgar is grateful for Kainan saving his life and gives him his freedom.

 An additional battle and story layer is added to the story between, Gunnar's (Pearlman) men and Hrothgar's village.  While Gunnar was away, the escaped Moorwen attacked and ate his people.  Intending revenge for his village, he skirmishes with Kainan, Wulfric, and Wulfric's men.  He sets up an attack on the village the next night, but the Moorwen attacks him and his men.  They flee to village for help.

Grendel is not mentioned in this story, so some may not recognize the story, however, the creature is essentially the same in the sense that it is what wreaks havoc on the village, and it has a mother.  The backstory on the creature that Kainan seeks, the Moorwen is interesting to say the least.  In a tale of conquest and genocide, Kainan's people colonized a planet that had vast resources, however, the one indigenous creature; the Moorwen was hunted until it was extinct, so they thought.  After constructing settlements, Kainan is sent away on a supply mission, and when he returns, his family and the settlement is slaughtered, not unlike Gunnar's family and village.  This similarity shows us that Kainan's people and the humans of Earth are not that different.  On his way to return their dead to their home planet, disaster struck Kainan's ship forcing him to crash on Earth releasing a Moorwen that stowed away on the ship unbeknownst to the crew.  The ship at the bottom of the lake contains Kainan dead family and friends.

Similar to the ancient poem, Kainan sets a trap from the Moorwen, which sets up the second act of this grand story.  We don't see much from director Howard McCain.  He is best known for writing the screenplay for 2009's "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans.”  The story served as the backstory for the whole "Underworld" franchise. For "Outlander," he wrote the story along with Dirk Blackman, using the Beowulf tale as framework for a hero story that has more layers than the original.  The story of man's greed and conquest for land and resources, gives Kainan's story a deeper foundation than the original hero story.  The addition of Freya, adds the element of romance that is not part of the original.  The character of Wulfric also adds the dimension, of friendship and loyalty.  The death of Hrothgar, adds the possibility of the future for Kainan.

Besides "The Passion of Christ," I think this is one of Jim Caviezel's best roles.  He fits the part of a man of honor in a society that respects honor and bravery. His battle with his own guilt and the genocide he and his people committed on the Moorwen, weighs heavily on him throughout the film. John Hurt is excellent in all his roles, however, as a more realistic Hrothgar, he is down to Earth and wise.  Jack Huston, who plays Wulfric, is the son of Tony Huston, Angelica Huston's older brother.  Huston is an actor I wouldn't mind seeing again in another film.  If you have seen the original "Underworld," you may recognize Sophia Myles in the role of Freya.  If anything, she doesn't seem to be a damsel in distress, but more in line with a warrior Queen.  The visual effects for the Moorwen are decent but not spectacular.  You see the creature as some hybrid between a fire-breathing dragon and a dinosaur of sorts.  The key element is that it does use a flame as a weapon.

As far as this being a Science Fiction story -- it isn't really, it is a people story.  But most true Sci-Fi is really about people. With all the science and technology in the world, one has to look at what makes that technology and how does it affect the people who use it. It could simply be said that Kainan's people were the original people of Earth. That they came at a time that the Neanderthals were dying out. Perhaps that is why they knew about the civilizations of Norway? To me, I don't dwell on a good story too much. I liked the Beowulf aspect, along with a layer of Sci-Fi, intertwined with some intense action and romance. “Outlander” is a fun film for all.

Movie Data

Genre:  Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Year:  2008
Staring: Jim Caviezel, Sophia Myles, Jack Huston, John Hurt
Director: Howard McCain
Producer(s): Chris Roberts, John Schimmel
Writer: Dirk Blackman, Howard McCain
Rating: R
Running Time: 115 minutes
Release Date: 7/11/200/

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