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As usual, Comic-Con saw quite a few large unveilings this year, one of which was the highly anticipated new show Outlander. A Starz series, the new adventure was adapted from the first of an eight-book series of the same name, authored by Diana Gabaldon. Published in over 30 countries, 25 million copies of the books have been sold worldwide, and the show already has a fan base that has been demanding the story be brought to life on-screen for quite some time. For scale, USA Today reported that as of July 2011 only 8.5 million copies had been sold of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series—this being two months after HBO first aired Game of Thrones.
While the production of Outlander was tied up for years in attempts to create a feature film, most fans agreed from the start that the story was far too detailed and complex to flesh out in just two hours; each book is pushing 1,000 pages or more. Luckily for fans, Executive Producer Ron D. Moore (Star Trek, Battlestar Gallactica, Helix) agreed and sought to create a series; eventually landing the show with Starz, a network that could also handle the high amount of violence, sex and mature dialogue that colors the story.
Beginning in 1940s Scotland, the story thrusts married WWII nurse Claire Beauchamp Randall (Caitriona Balfe) back 200 years into the past, to a violent time that would eventually lead up to the bloody battle of Culloden. A strong and very smart character armed with modern knowledge, Claire finds herself in a number of dangerous scenarios given the time period, all while trying to find a way back to the 20th century and to the arms of her husband Frank (Tobias Menzies) who she left behind. The story rapidly evolves and becomes more complex, owing to the appearance of the very honor-driven Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), a handsome (of course) Scottish Highlander/Warrior who turns out to be her only real ally, mostly in thanks to his own secrets and sense of loyalty — not to mention the inevitable romantic threads that begin to bind them together.
Taking place on the second night of Comic-Con, Outlander made its debut at the historical Spreckels Theatre, which was partially transformed to replicate the Scottish Highlands, complete with standing stones (which are directly tied into the story's means of time travel) and several dashing Highland men in kilts to welcome guests, who had lined up with alacrity earlier that day in hopes of scoring a seat to the event. The lucky individuals who managed to secure a ticket lined up happily once again dressed in everything from red-carpet appropriate attire to 18th-century cosplay (this is Comic-Con after all) or flip flops and jeans (this is also San Diego, lest you forget). Fan girls were handing out home-made swag like hyperventilation bags, on the chance that some of the die-hard fans might swoon at the first glance of Sam Heughan. Luckily nobody fainted, but the audience certainly erupted into mass applause every time any of the actors entered the theater.
Diana Gabaldon & Ron Moore
For the main event, things kicked off with a welcome and series composer Bear McCreary treated the audience to a sample of the show's music, eventually revealing Claire and Jamie's song, which will undoubtedly be heard in some form or another many times throughout the season. After the show's premiere, Ron Moore, Diana Gabaldon, Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan, Tobias Menzies (Frank/Black Jack Randall), Lotte Verbeek (Geillis Duncan) and Graham McTavish (Dougal MacKenzie) all sat down for a Q&A. During the panel, Moore stressed his desire to keep the on-screen presentation of Outlander as close to the books as possible, and the first episode arguably did that. While there were brief scenes added and some details skipped, the overall tone of the book, relevant points and imagery painted by Gabaldon remained intact and the elements added seemed justified in order to quickly convey what took multiple pages to communicate in print. The only glaring omission was perhaps the absence of Roger [MacKenzie] Wakefield as a boy, a character who will become very important later, assuming the series continues to be picked up.
Caitriona Balfe & Sam Heughan
Regardless of that particular change, every aspect appears to have been thought out in great detail and fans seem to be safe in their high hopes that the on-screen version of Outlander will stay true to the books — after all it would seem to be a mistake to upset 25 million already-established fans clamoring to sign up for Starz. The decision to include voiceover was a bold one (and a right one in our opinion), and Moore addressed the choice during the Q&A. According to Moore, "it served two purposes, one is just a practical one...she doesn't have anybody to talk to, there is nobody that knows what her journey is...the voiceover allows you to sort of get in touch with her and basically share a secret with the audience...and second was just a creative choice because it really isn't done anymore...a way to sort of set the show apart." Considering the book is told as a first-person narrative, readers that tune in will probably feel a strong familiarity with the reading experience, who are used to hearing Claire's internal dialogue throughout the series. Another creative call came with the decision to not subtitle the Gaelic spoken, which Moore explained was again to maintain that first-person perspective.
Casting as a whole seems right on the money, which has always been a sore spot for avid fans, who have been arguing over who would play major characters for years (the first book came out in 1991; the eighth was just released in June). If audience members had any doubts as to whether or not Sam and Caitriona could embody Jamie and Claire, they can relax; the chemistry between them sizzles already, even off-screen. And while only the first episode has been revealed, Caitriona seems to have a firm grasp on Claire's "glass face," a visage almost incapable of hiding emotion. In terms of Heughan's performance as Fraser, naturally his appearance on-screen produced applause and cheers; so far he seems to have slipped right into the role. Graham McTavish (Dougal) commented during the panel that "Sam is very modest, but he is Jamie. He is. He is a thoroughly decent, kind and lovely man and I very sincerely mean that. He is exactly what you see, he is a good guy. I just wanted to say that." Which will more than likely just add to the swoon affect for fans.
Anyone eager to see the first on-screen installment of Outlander will be able to view the complete episode August 2 online, while the Starz network premiere will happen on August 9 at 9PM.
Sam Heughan, Caitriona Balfe & Tobias Menzies