Outlander: Best-seller comes to small screen in time-traveling saga

Published on Thursday, 7 August 2014 22:57 - Written by Vanessa Pearson vpearson@tylerpaper.com

Justin Adams’ mother has been trying to get him to read “Outlander” for years.

“The book is in my truck,” the 27-year-old Suddenlink employee said before a screening of the Starz television adaption of the wildly popular book series.

Thursday evening, he brought his mother, Jan, as a treat for her birthday.

She picked up the series about 15 years ago, but despite the first episode, “Sassenach,” being available online for free already, she refrained from watching it.

“I didn’t want to ruin the experience,” she said.

About 85 people attended a special screening with raffles and a “take your photo wearing a kilt” booth at Carmike Cinemas in Tyler held by the network in conjunction with Suddenlink.

“Outlander” is the story of Claire, a World War II nurse, who goes on a second honeymoon with her husband Frank just after the war, visits a mysterious standing stone circle (think mini-Stonehenge) in the Scottish Highlands, falls back in time 200-plus years, and during her trials to get back through the stones, she is forced to marry Jamie, a young Highlander, for self-preservation and winds up in love with him, too.

After the screening, Jan said she loved it and it was well made. Her favorite scene was between Jamie and Claire after she runs off after she’s well and lost in time.

And will Justin be watching with his mother?

“I’m going to be watching; (it’s) got me hooked,” he said, especially by the “cinematography, the light … everything.”

He also said he liked how the main character, Claire, starting “taking up for herself” at the end.

 

A FIRST LOOK 

Let’s not try to hide it: I’m a fan of all things “Outlander.” I’ve read each of the weighty tomes more than once (save the newest, “Written in My Own Heart’s Blood,” released in June). I stood in line for a ridiculous amount of hours to hear author Diana Gabaldon speak in Dallas and then sign my copy.

And nearly every day for months, I’ve anticipated the Ronald D. Moore’s 16-episode television adaptation of “Outlander” for Starz. (Moore’s known for his work on “Battlestar Galactica” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”)

The show premieres at 9 p.m. Saturday on Starz.

The network released the first episode in a free preview for everyone on its website, YouTube and several other places. (This is pay cable, and it is rated TV-MA for violence and some mature content.)

In the tradition of poring over every detail, I’ve watched the episode no less than four times (including the screening at Carmike), and I’ll be watching it again on Saturday when it officially premieres on Starz with my newest convert.

The relatively unknown Caitriona Balfe is wonderful as Claire Randall, the central figure of the series. Intelligence, strength and brazenness fill the character as she banters with Frank, fixes Jamie’s shoulder and stands up to those threatening her life on the other side of the stones.

When she’s pulled through the stones, she’s manhandled, shot at and kidnapped, but she holds it together, even speaking up about a possible ambush and proper treatment of a dislocated shoulder. You can see her set her jaw before she does it.

The costumes and settings are better than I imagined while reading. Scotland’s lush landscape and superstitious culture are as much a supporting character as any human, providing a driving force for so much action and mystery.

Tobias Menzies plays dual roles as the bookish husband Frank Randall, ex-Mi6 agent and soon-to-be Oxford professor, and villain Jonathan “Black Jack” Randall, English captain and Frank’s ancestor.

It’s the perfect casting. He was fantastic in HBO’s “Rome” and other projects I’ve seen him in. (“Game of Thrones” fans will recognize him as Edmure Tully.)

In the books, I fairly detest Frank and urge people to push through the pages with him until Claire falls through the stones. On screen, Menzies has captured a humanity I never connected to on the page. It must be an intentional push on Moore’s so that viewers will understand Claire’s dilemma and heartache of losing him even as her feelings for Jamie grow.

On his dark side, when Claire comes across the devil in a red coat, the way Menzies holds himself is different. He infuses a cruel malevolence beneath the polished exterior of “Jonathan Randall, esquire, captain of His Majesty’s Eighth Dragoons … at your service.” The character lives up to the “Black Jack” nickname quickly, violently pulling Claire’s hair and manhandling her while trying to figure out who she is.

About 45 minutes into the first episode, the young Highland warrior Jamie Fraser, played by Scotsman Sam Heughan, finally appears on screen. But in the minutes viewers get, Jamie shows his youth, strength, kindness, humor and legendary stubbornness — he neglects to mention he was shot until he passes out and falls off a horse. Claire’s will trumps Jamie’s when she says she’ll “bloody throttle” him if he moves while she’s fixing his battle wounds for the second time.

Fans always worry about the translation from page to screen, but as Moore has said in many interviews, the show, so far, does justice to the source material. 

Of course, there are some changes, such as the show’s opening with the end of World War II, showing Claire’s time as a battlefield nurse. Some other scenes were switched or condensed, but when the source material is written in the first-person narrative (Claire’s), that’s to be expected.

Some reviewers have complained about the voice-over narration, but I rather enjoy it. Without Claire’s thoughts, the awkward silences would go on and on. Moore said he wants this show to be different and told from Claire’s perspective, that’s why he opted for the narration and not translating the oft-spoken Gaelic.

From here on out, the show is bound to have more action and fights, bits of humor, rescues from the edge of death, a witch trial, a love story, murder and the darkest side of Black Jack Randall.

I look forward to watching my favorite book series come to life, seeing what other characters — including Frank back in the 20th century — are up to and being able to watch the characters around Claire when she’s not looking, especially Jamie. In the first episode, as Claire rode before him on the horse, I saw Jamie watching her with shy appreciation, already falling for her.

And the rest of the season? Je suis prest — that’s the Fraser clan motto: I am ready.