Saturday, April 6, 2019

DVD Review: Outland



Some time ago, I read an article by a publisher of a sci-fi review magazine where he offered the following test to determine if a story qualifies as proper science fiction:

Can the story take a place on a bus rather than on a space ship without being fundamentally different?

Outland, an obscure movie starring Sean Connery at the low point of his career, cannot be set on a bus, but it most definitely did not need to be placed in space. It is, no pun intended, fully grounded in the traditional western genre in the theme, plot and pacing. There are even shotguns. Lots of shotguns. In a pressurized environment. All that's missing is the tumbleweeds. We do get treated to the sight of some gyrating balls of... something, but the less said of those the better.

The first part of Outland has all the promise of a Clint Eastwood flick. A stranger (Marshal O'Neil) comes to a small town (an mining space colony) administered by the corrupt (a skivvy manager and a group of "we-just-work-here" support personnel) for the wealthy (a corporate conglomerate). Then, after a brief flirting with a medical mystery, it pivots into an unabashed homage to High Noon and stays there to the extent that the viewer can predict nearly every beat. In fact there is a small twist towards the end that had me thinking, "Wait, that's not how it goes in High Noon!"As someone who believes that execution trumps originality every time, I don't offer this as a criticism but as a straightforward observation.

What is truly remarkable about the movie is just how much it is carried by the actors. Only two actors, to be precise. Sean Connery not so much steals every scene he's in as walks off with it unopposed. It was a treat for me as a fan to see him shine in a non-iconic role, making the most of a middling script and minimal character background.

Frances Sternhagen as Dr. Lazarus makes a respectable showing as a hard, cynical, plain-looking woman who does not get any softer or more attractive as the story goes on. What she does get, however, is a character arc and a few tense action scenes, which is just enough to make her memorable in an otherwise forgettable supporting cast.

The tale is not so much a battle of good vs evil, although there are clearly the good and the bad guys. O'Neil is not seeking to bring down the system (it's impossible) or even to save the colonists from what appears to be a mystery epidemic (they are not presented as particularly worth saving, much like the town denizens in High Noon). He, and to some degree Dr. Lazarus as well, want something more fundamental: the ability to look in the mirror and not turn away in disgust. In this case, it means doing the right thing and paying the price even if no one knows, and if it makes no difference to the harsh, uncaring, corrupt world in which they live.

In the image-obsessed modern world, where companies no longer advertise their social responsibility instead of products, and individuals measure their self-worth in the numbers of followers or likes, the idea of wanting to achieve SELF-respect might sound foreign. And that is the reason Outland, for all its flaws, is worth watching.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Hollywood In Toto Interview: Dystopian Writing For the Modern World

Last week I had the privilege of being interviewed by Paul Hair, a contributor to Hollywood In Toto website. Our discussion touched on the continuing appeal of dystopian stories, and how some of the themes in my writing differ from the common offerings of the genre.

HiT: How long did you live in the U.S.S.R. and when did you immigrate to the U.S.?
Marina Fontaine: I was born and grew up in the former Soviet Union. My family waited for 10 years to be allowed to leave the country, and I was 19 when it finally happened in 1987. It wasn’t easy to adjust to the new country, culture and language as an adult, but I am glad it happened this way.
I can truly appreciate what it means to be free since I have experienced the alternative first hand. It
the product book cover fontaine
also allows me to insert little details into my writing that might sound far-fetched, but come directly from my experience. HiT: Reviewers of “The Product” (Superversive Press, 2016) say there are similarities with George Orwell’s “1984.” But they also mention that it’s hopeful. Why did you make it hopeful when that’s not necessarily common with dystopian works?
Fontaine: After publishing my first novel, “Chasing Freedom,” which is set in the near-future United States and was meant to be grounded in the reality of this country, I decided to have a more traditional dystopian setting for my next project.
The society in “The Product” is further gone on the road to totalitarian rule, and more importantly, the population as a whole has no internalized understanding of the concepts of privacy, traditional family or even basic honor and empathy that we all take for granted.

Read the rest of the interview here. And when you're done, please explore the rest of the site for more author interviews, movie reviews and current cultural commentary. Enjoy!