Thursday, August 11, 2011

Cowboys & Aliens

Another slightly dated movie review; however, in this case, you probably haven’t seen Cowboys & Aliens yet, since not that many people did. This might be the best sci-fi/western hybrid movie ever made, since the only other one I can think of is Oblivion, which was not a high point of cinema, despite the presence of George Takei. That is assuming you don’t count Firefly/Serenity, which is science fiction with western themes rather than a western with science fiction themes. Confusing enough?

Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the desert, with no memory, a wound in his side and a strange metal device strapped to his wrist. He doesn’t remember his name, but he does know he is a badass, since he dispatches four desperadoes on the 10 o’clock train to Boot Hill. (Westerns bring this sort of thing out in me.) With newly acquired horses, weapons and clothes, he makes his way to the nearby town of Absolution. This turns out to be a bad choice, since Absolution is controlled by rich rancher and former Army Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) – and Lonergan robbed a stagecoach of money belonging to Dolarhyde. An encounter with Dolarhyde’s dimwitted jerk of a son (Paul Dano) lands both Lonergan and the son in jail, but not before Lonergan meets the enigmatic Ella (Olivia Wilde).

To this point, the movie hasn’t been that different from a traditional western, but then alien space craft start buzzing the town and abducting the townsfolk. Lonergan discovers his bracelet can fire energy blasts that can shoot down the alien aircraft, and he and Dolarhyde lead a posse in pursuit of the aliens, in order to recover the abductees.

All of this is not nearly as much fun as it sounds. Despite the title, the story is played deadly serious, and could have used more humor. Craig and Ford are playing the same character – the gruff tough guy with a secret good streak – and there needed to be more contrast for them to play off each other. The story also leaves no western trope untouched. In addition to the posse, Lonergan and Dolarhyde recruit Lonergan’s old criminal gang (in a scene reminiscent of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) and an Apache tribe (after a spirit ceremony, reminiscent of almost every bad modern western). The chase after the aliens seems to take place in real time, and the movie slows down just when it needs to speed up.

The aliens have an improbable reason for coming to Earth and abducting yokels. Worst of all, when it comes time for the climactic battle between our heroes and the aliens, the aliens fight with their bare hands, completely nude. Space dudes! You have the technology to travel between the stars, beam up precious metals and create wrist-blasters. You should use that know-how on the guys with six-guns and bows & arrows. I suppose they are related to the ETs from Signs. It is also stated the aliens can’t see well in daylight (this is mentioned, but has absolutely no bearing on the plot in any way) but choose to come out of their dark tunnels to fight the heroes in sunlight.

The cast does the best they can with the limitations of the script. (Harrison Ford said when he read the script he “didn’t get it.” I feel your pain, Mr. Ford.) Craig makes a surprisingly good western hero, and I can’t help but think it would have been a better movie if the filmmakers had created a straight western, leaving out the sci-fi elements. There is a fairly impressive supporting cast, with Clancy Brown, Sam Rockwell, Keith Carradine and Walton Goggins. It is a particular crime that Carradine and Goggins weren’t given more to do.

All in all, Cowboys & Aliens is more interesting to consider as the movie it might have been than it is to watch the movie that was made.


Anonymous said...

Hey Kent,
I didn't hear great things about this one, but I liked that you pointed out why the movie didn't work; if Harrison Ford doesn't get the script, that's usually not a good sign :-S lol


Brad said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brad said...

Sorry they didn't just remake The Unforgiven for you, since Hollywood's into remaking things that don't need to be remade. Sorry they came up with something new and different for you that you just couldn't seem to wrap your mind around. Sorry they didn't make another Alien movie set in modern times, because we all know that the Alien's time schedule is only the same as the developments of special effects in Hollywood. Sorry you, and apparently Harrison Ford couldn't see the story underlining, which is that even enemies (cowboys & Indians & Outlaws)will put aside their differences for the common good of humanity in a fight against a mutual and much bigger enemy. Harrison must have seen something in it to be able to put out a decent performance and try to redeem himself from THAT CRAP known as The 4th Indiana Jones movie...what was that called again?...Oh yeah, WHO CARES! It was an expensive piece of crap. Sorry you didn't get it, you would have liked it, it was a great movie!

KentAllard said...

Brad, I wouldn't have wanted to see UNFORGIVEN remade (I assume you mean the Clint Eastwood movie; there is another called THE UNFORGIVEN) since I think that movie is near perfect. It wasn't that it was something new I objected to, it was that I didn't feel the elements of the movie worked that well together. But that's my opinion, you obviously disagree. I do appreciate you stopping by, though, and I am glad you enjoyed the movie. I've certainly liked some films that others haven't embraced.

Brad said...

Right On!