July 31, 2014

Get Excited About Outlander

Diana Gabaldon's Outlander is coming to Starz. The book series about Claire Randall's time traveling adventures is grounded in historical fiction but features enough magic, mystery, action, and romance to make fine fodder for a cable television series. HBO's success with Game of Thrones has paved the way for other networks to gamble on subjects they may not have previously considered, and it looks like Starz has chosen a winner.

As mentioned, Outlander follows Claire Randall as she is transported from 20th century Scotland to the 18th century. The change is triggered by her touching a rock in a Stonehenge-esque circle. I've read the first book in Gabaldon's series, and the first 16 episode season of Outlander will follow that. From what I've seen, they match it pretty closely while keeping it welcoming for newcomers. I've watched the first six episodes, and I'm in love.

My spoiler free review of the pilot episode, "Sassenach," is up at IGN. It's an incredibly strong first step that sets up a fascinating story without rushing around. They take the time necessary to let characters make an impression rather than dumping exposition into your lap and hoping you care. Caitriona Balfe shines as Claire Randall and is more than capable of carrying the show - which is fortunate because she's in pretty much every scene. She's surrounded by a tremendous supporting cast too, and I think book readers will be pleased with how the characters are portrayed.

Beyond the story and casting, we need a character like Claire Randall on television. She's a survivor, she possesses agency more often than not, but she is also real and capable of making mistakes. She's relatable. And while I was worried about the show being nonstop smut, it's not even close. They're careful to present a full story and dig into the historical aspects of the source material. In short, I can't wait for everyone to watch Outlander.

The trailer:

Outlander made a splash at Comic-Con, too. Besides wandering bands of men in kilts in the Gaslamp Quarter outside the convention center, Starz had a smaller version of Castle Leoch in the exhibit hall. It was surprisingly detailed for a booth that was probably constructed in a couple of days (or less than), and it's apparent that a lot of time was spent designing and prepping the exterior and interior of the castle. Previews for the series played on a video on the outside wall to keep people in line entertained, and you had to pass through stones like the ones on Craigh na Dun in order to enter.

The stones in front of Castle Leoch vibrated when you stood in front of them.

Actual props from set were on display inside the castle, and you also got some swag just for going through (I got a tote bag and a pin):

Starz premiered Outlander's first episode on Friday night at Comic-Con, and the event also featured a live performance by composer Bear McCreary. He's scoring the series, and he gets to go full bagpipe. McCreary has spoken of his love of Scottish music in the past, and his passion is clear in the music in Outlander. The theme song especially blows me away; I've already pre-ordered it on iTunes. It's a take on "The Skye Boat Song" with lyrics from Robert Louis Stevenson. It's about the Jacobite uprising and therefore ties perfectly into Outlander. McCreary explains on his blog: "The lyrics are taken from the lesser-known Robert Louis Stevenson text, with one alteration in the gender of the speaker, which helps the song relate to Claire’s character."

Raya Yarbrough sang the theme in the theater before the premiere, and I wish I would have been there to experience it in person:

Starz has already shared the opening titles, and they are so haunting and moving - it's the sort of music that crawls right under your skin, and it feels so relevant to Claire's story.

Will you be tuning into Outlander? Don't forget you can watch the pilot episode beginning on Saturday, August 2, on Starz's website. It will premiere on air on Saturday, August 9.


  1. I absolutely will be tuning in. All episodes will be on my DVR so that I can watch them over & over & over & over...

  2. Definitely looking forward to this - thanks for the teaser...

    One thing I'll be interested to see - and you might know, having seen enough of the first episode - is how willing the filmmakers will be to stick to what we know about pre-Clearance Scotland as opposed to what I like to call the Shortbread Box Version.

    The clansmen of the 18th Century wore basically what was a big wool blanket (the great kilt or feile mor) over a shirt. That blanket was a tartan plaid but more in the sense that Harris tweed is a sort of "tartan plaid"; all the pretty tartans we think of when we think of "highlanders" are Victorian inventions. Writers from the 18th Century said that you could tell where in the Highlands someone came from by the sett of the plaid, but not in the sense that Clanranald wore a certain pattern and the Campbells another - it was more along the lines that Skye weavers had certain common setts and the Islands another...

    The sorts of highlanders on the shortbread box pictures - wearing the pretty tartan "little kilt" - were the Victorian idea of what highlanders were supposed to look like...

    Gabaldon herself sorta-kinda brings in a teensy bit of shortbread (I have been re-reading "Outlander" and she has the MacKenzies wearing a "different tartan" than Jamie Fraser does) so it wouldn't be the end of the world if they do. But it'll be interesting to see how they split the difference between Romance and History.

    Should be fun to watch!

    1. The costume designer, Terry Dresbach, has done her homework and has tried to be as faithful to the period as possible. She says she wants the people to wear clothes, not costumes. The men wear kilts which are 14 yards of plaid. They all have learned how to put them on themselves, which requires lying on the fabric on the floor and pleating and tucking the fabric in the back, then belting them and wearing the end over the shoulder, fastened with a brooch. The women wear shifts, corsets, stomachers, and bum rolls under their wool dresses. Hats and sweaters have been hand knit by women throughout the country. I think you will be pleased by what you see.

    2. Thats made of 100% awesome, Elaine. It's sad, but I'm such a history geek that I'll be watching some otherwise-fun-and-entertaining flick and get stuck obsessing that one of the characters is toting a flintlock in 1664 or wearing a style that is 100 years too early for the story. I really enjoy the Gabaldon series (the first three books or so, anyway...) and want this to be completely terrific. Your update is very good news indeed...

    3. EP Ron D. Moore has said that he likes to create worlds that don't exist. He said that since the 1740's Scottish highlands no longer exist, he could re-create them in painstaking detail. Many of the reviews I've read and the cast members themselves have said that Scotland is another character in the series. They've exclaimed over the external locations, as well as the sets. Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish, both Scotsmen themselves, have said how pleased and proud they are about how Scotland has been portrayed. I can't wait to see it.

    4. Elaine - I just watched a video showing that method of putting on a kilt and it's fascinating.

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