McCain Talks Outlander at Locarno

This is an article that appeared in the Daily Locarno newsletter that was delivered to festival-goers each morning of the festival.

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Beware theMoorwen!

Howard McCain's Outlander is unleashed on the Piazza

By Geoffrey Macnab

If you like your sci-fi movies on the full-blooded side, Outlander should prove an experience to savour. Humanoid Kainan (James Caviezel) tumbles down from space into the world of the NorwegianVikings. His spaceship has crashed. Taken hostage by the local warrior clan, he tries to warn his captors that he has not come to Earth alone. "My people call it a Moorwen. Believe me, the first time I saw one, I didn't know what I was looking at. It was just a smudge of light in the darkness... it kills men, beasts, everything - and it smells like death." They dismiss his stories as "some lies about a dragon," but when they are finally confronted with the Moorwen, they begin to understand the terror that is driving Kainan.

Director McCain traces his fascination with bloodcurdling sagas to his high school days when he read Anglo-Saxon epic, Beowulf.

"I really thought it was cool. For a guy like me and for my writing partner Dirk Blackman who both like genre films, Beowulf is the progenitor of all western monster movies. You look at James Cameron's Aliens or Lord Of The Rings, they all have their roots back in Beowulf. That story has become so embedded in so many ways in pop culture - this story of a mother monster, a baby monster, a Viking."

In the mid 1990s, as they began to think about ways of bringing this story to screen, McCain and Blackman couldn't see a way around the problem of Grendel. This monstrous creature somehow didn't seem to fit into the historical epic that they were conceiving. Monsters simply didn't belong in historical sagas. Nor did humanoid space travellers.

"At that time, Lord of The Rings hadn't come out.The idea of doing something like Beowulf and treating it 100% straight on wasn't a popular idea in Hollywood," McCain recalls. "With fantasy sword and sorcery movies, until Lord Of The Rings, everybody thought that stuff was not going to work in the marketplace."

What might have happened, McCain and Blackman asked themselves, if an alien creature had landed on earth during Viking times?

"We decided to use a gimmick, a way for a modern audience to go into that story and believe there was a monster in the past. That was the problem. When people were reading Beowulf, they accepted that mythology that monsters were real. We figured that modern audiences at that time wouldn't go there," McCain explains. "Science-fiction is our way of buying into that so we gave the story the science fiction twist. Also, Dirk and I really like mixing genres. We even coined our own phrase - sci-mythic. James Cameron always likes making up pseudo-scientific lingo for his movies. We call him Jargon Jim. Anyway, we thought we'd make up a little of our own terminology too."

The first draft of Outlander was completed in 1998. It didn't sell immediately but garnered attention for McCain and Blackman, who secured a lot of other writing jobs as a result. "We wrote for John Woo, Jackie Chan, a lot of people, but always knowing we wanted to make this film."

The Moorwen is a monster with a difference. Despite its bloodthirsty antics, you feel a certain sympathy for it. "Since Alien and maybe with Predator, a certain bar had been reached in terms of designs. We always felt we would have trouble surpassing that. There have been a lot of monster movies made and you never remember what the designs are. We thought we won't worry about that.We'll worry about the backstory of the creature," the director recalls. "We'll do what they did in King Kong and give this creature empathy. That is what will make it different." In the film, we discover that Kainan's army has committed many savage acts against the Moorwen, which has good reason to want revenge.

The filmmakers went to enormous lengths to recreate the Viking era. They even built a Viking ship from scratch. "It was built by boat builders to be a real boat. They brought the plans in from the Viking museum in Oslo. It was made with real wood. It was made to be a real boat. It wasn't a prop boat."

Lead actor James Caviezel (The Thin Red Line, The Passion Of The Christ) approached the project with his customary intensity. "Jim liked in this that there were certain Christian parallels. That was not our intention, that was the way he read it. Not that we could disagree with that. Jim was very interested in this idea that for a science fiction movie about outer space, it was all about violence and the consequences of violence."

Outlander is a fullblown epic with all the trimmings. "We were on the sea, we were under water. We had a CGI creature. We had a Viking village and hordes of extras. Animals, children - we had it all,"

The film was shot in the frozen north of Canada, in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. McCain speaks of the physical stress of working all night long in the middle of winter. "You're exhausted and it's freezing outside and you're in mud up to here..." his voice tails off. "It's raining - freezing rain or snow. Physically, it is just really, really rough. Everybody had to carry that load in their ownway and everybody did a really, really nice job."

Outlander is a world premiere in Locarno. " I am thrilled to be here. And I am terrified... I had a stereotypical view that was misinformed of a European film festival. I thought 'really? Outlander at Locarno? I didn't think they showed films like this.' This isn't like some French art film or Italian neo-realist movie!"

Gare au Moorwen!

Présenté vendredi soir sur la Piazza Grande, Outlander met en scène un homme venu de l'espace, un monstre baveux et... une bande de Vikings. Pour amateurs de science-fiction sanglanteet légèrement décalée.

Kainan est un humanoïde dont le vaisseau spatial s'écrase près d'un camps de Vikings. Pris en otage, il prévient ses geôliers qu'il n'est pas seul: une créature terrible, le Moorwen, a fait le voyage avec lui et massacre êtres humains et animaux sans distinction. Alors qu'ils rejettent son histoire, les guerriers sont bientôt confrontés au dragon...

Le réalisateur Howard McCain révèle que le scénario d'Outlander lui a été inspiré par l'ouvrage Beowulf: "pour Dirk Blackman, mon coscénariste, et moi, ce texte est à l'origine de tous les films de monstre contemporains, d'Alien au Seigneur des anneaux." Pourtant, alors qu'ils réfléchissent à une manière de porter ce récit à l'écran, McCain et Blackman décident de lui apporter une touche de science-fiction avec l'arrivée de l'extra-terrestre, justifiant ainsi la présence du Moorwen. "Les lecteurs à l'époque de Beowulf acceptaient l'idée que les monstres existaient. Nous pensions que le public contemporain serait plus réticent..."

S'il est redoutable, le Moorwenn n'en est pas moins plus "aimable" que d'autres créatures assoiffées de sang. "On ne peut surpasser certains films comme Alien en termes de terreur qu'inspire le monstre. Nous avons donc décidé de raconter l'histoire de la créature, d'expliquer qu'elle se venge d'actes sauvages perpétrés à son encontre par l'armée de Kainan," conclut le réalisateur.