Moriarty’s Open Letter To Harvey Weinstein Regarding Howard McCain’s Groovy Viking/Alien OUTLANDER!
Published at: July 21, 2008, 4:57 p.m. CST by Moriarty
I’m sorry. That’s too familiar. We’ve only met a handful of times, so perhaps “Mr. Weinstein” is more appropriate. Whatever the case, I’d like a moment of your time this morning to talk about Howard McCain’s OUTLANDER, which The Weinstein Company owns.
I’m not entirely sure you know which film I’m referring to. I know you’ve got a lot on your plate, so let me remind you. Last week, a couple of different trailers for the film showed uponline. It’s the movie where Jim Caviezel plays an alien who crashlands on Earth in the time of the Vikings. He brings something called a “Moorwen” with him, a giant dragon-like creature that begins to attack Viking villages and kill everyone. What unfolds is the most fun I’ve had with a lower-budget SF film since PITCH BLACK, and in a lot of ways, this film reminds me of that one.
I’m not sure what you personally think of the film, but let me share with you my reaction, and my thoughts on what kind of audience there is for it. I walked into the film cold. I saw those trailers, but they were terrible quality. And I haven’t been following this one during production. I was aware of it, but I think I had it sort of confused with PATHFINDER at the same time, and when I saw PATHFINDER, I think I was expecting this film, and when it wasn’t, it was confusing and irritating. I guess I just couldn’t imagine two Viking projects in the works at the same time, both about outsiders being taken into a culture. So walking into the screening room to see this film, I was a fairly blank slate. I didn’t have any expectations.
The film starts mid-crash, as Kainan (Caviezel) steers his ship through Earth’s atmosphere, almost completely out of control, finally managing to splash down in a deep lake somewhere in Norway. Sometime around 700 A.D. Kainan manages to salvage a bit of equipment, sets up a homing beacon, and then heads into the woods to explore. Quickly, he finds himself overpowered after an encounter with Wulfric (Jack Huston), a Viking warrior who is next in line to command a village, after the current King, Rothgar (John Hurt).
Wait... did I say “Rothgar”? Why does that sound familiar?
Anyway, there’s some confusion about who Kainan is, and none of the Vikings believe him when he says he’s hunting a dragon. They believe he was behind the slaughter of a neighboring village, something that will be blamed on the. They’re desperate to get a confession out of him, Wulfric left in charge of getting the answers they need. When the head of that now-decimated village, Gunnar (Ron Perlman) returns from a hunting expedition with a handful of his warriors, he mounts an attack on Rothgar’s village. For a while, it looks like the two tribes are going to destroy each other...
... and then Kainan’s “dragon” shows up. And all hell breaks loose. And the movie gets really fun.
Look, Mr. Weinstein, you and I both know nobody’s going to the Oscars for OUTLANDER, but there is an audience for this. It’s a good cast. John Hurt and Ron Perlman and Jim Caviezel and Sophia Myles and this Jack Huston guy who should be due his big break any second. All of them are rock solid in it. And while Perlman isn’t in much of the film, his first scene is stupendous, and every single time he shows up, he is the unavoidable center of attention, ridiculously fun to watch. The film looks great. Director of photography Pierre Gill doesn’t have the most distinguished track record of films, but here, he does lush and stylish on a budget of just north of $30 million. Geoff Zanelli’s score definitely shows the composers roots in the Hans Zimmer factory, but that’s not a bad thing. He’s definitely of that school, but he’s been doing strong work on genre fare like FEAST, DISTURBIA, and HITMAN. With this movie, he’s written a big sweeping action epic score that really pays off some of the big visual moments, like that awesome flashback to the home planet of the Morwens, or in some of the most entertaining character moments, like the game of shields they play. The design work by guys like Iain McCaig and Ryan Church -– big names to the geek community, Mr. Weinstein –- looks like it made it to the screen completely intact, something that’s fairly rare. I mean, how often does a movie actually look like those gorgeous paintings we see from pre-production? This one does. Frequently. For a movie that cost as little as this one did, every dollar looks like it ended up onscreen.
And then there’s the underlying “big idea” of the film, which snuck up on me, and which I have to say I really, really dig. Basically, this is BEOWULF. You can draw a pretty direct connection between the characters in both stories. I mean, like I pointed out above... King Rothgar should be the give-away. But the idea seems to be that this is the “true story” of what happened, and the story BEOWULF is the way it was told over time by people who didn’t know how to describe aliens or space monsters. It’s a subtle thing, and no one in the film ever comes out and says, “And then one day, this story was written down and called BEOWULF!”, but if you’re at all familiar with that story, you’ll recognize it here.
I like that the human interactions are as entertaining as the monster hunting. That’s a big thing for this kind of film. Caviezel’s one of those guys who can be a total stiff in the wrong role, and he’s good here, loosening up as the movie unfolds, which seems appropriate. Sophia Myles is very pretty, but not unrealistic in this setting, and although there’s some romantic tension between her and Wulfric at the start of the film, it never devolves into anything predictable. And speaking of Wulfric... I know Jack Huston is part of “that” Huston family. He’s the grandson to John Huston, the nephew to both Anjelica and Danny, and sure enough, he’s got mad charisma and real chops as an actor. He takes this potentially-silly Viking role and invests it with something real and credible. I hope this is the start of a bigger career for him.
For everyone involved, actually. I spoke with Howard McCain, the co-writer and director of the film, after the screening, and this has been a long labor of love for him trying to get this story onscreen. I’ve known people who struggled for a decade or more to get a film made, and when they did, it just didn’t work for one reason or another, and that’s always sort of heartbreaking. I can tell that McCain has been so invested for so long that he sees all the compromises he’s had to make and all the edits that were made and the things he didn’t get to do, and for him, the film marks this “almost,” a missed opportunity. As someone who came to it fresh, though, I had a great time with it, and I think there’s a real audience for this type of film. It’s like when I saw the first PREDATOR. I expected nothing, honestly, because of that premise, and what I got turned out to be this delicious surprise.
Mr. Weinstein, please don’t dump this movie. Please. 50 screens and then straight to DVD? I know you’re having financial problems right now, and I’m sure your time since leaving Disney has been a strange one. You went from having deeeeeeeep pockets and one of the best marketing machines in the world behind your product to having to do it all yourself again, and that can be a huge, possibly even insurmountable thing to face. But you built your company on equal parts prestige and exploitation, and I think you need to treat the exploitation genre fare with the same care and attention you treat the possible awards bait. Different audiences, sure, and you’re chasing different goals with each, but in the end, isn’t the whole reason you release these films so that they can find their ideal intended audience in the biggest way possible?
50 screens ain’t gonna do it.
We’re coming up on the early fall drought, where genre fare dries up real fast and we’re stuck with one costume drama after another. If you’re shrewd, and if you commit to really selling this thing, you’ve got a window here. Please take a look at the film again. And if it’s not your cup of tea, bring in some filmmakers whose taste you respect who DO understand the geek thing. Screen it for Quentin... for Robert... for Kevin... ask them if I’m crazy, or if this is a really groovy little adventure movie. Ask them for quotes you can put on the poster. Get creative. Take the film to Fantastic Fest in Austin. Hell, see if you can find a spare theater in San Diego this weekend and throw a screening there and watch the crowd react. This could be an easy win for you, or it could turn into just one more case of the Weinsteins buying and then burying a genre film. To use the adline from another genre film this summer, I want to believe that you can tell a good film from a bad film. I want to believe that you would do everything in your power to get people into theaters when you have a movie that’s worth the effort. I want to believe there’s a place in the market for smaller genre fare that doesn’t have a $100 million ad campaign behind it.
Come on, Harvey... right now, all eyes are on you, and there are real questions about how you’ll define your future in this industry. It can’t just be about Oscars every single time. Do the right thing. Treat this film well. I’ll do my part. I’ll tell my readership about it, I’ll tell other webmasters about it. I’ll do what I can to get the word out. But until you decide to release the film where everyone gets a chance to see it, none of that matters.
It’s up to you.
Thanks for your time.
PS -– INGLORIOUS BASTARDS rules. Can’t f’ing wait.