Friday, November 2, 2012

Cowboys & Aliens Movie Review

Here is yet another genre blending story. I’ve often wondered why this sort of thing has not happened before. When we get an alien invasion movie it’s more often than not set in the present or sometimes in the future. Why is it that no one thought to have aliens invade in a historical setting before Cowboys & Aliens (2011)?
It’s 1873 in the Arizona Territory, and a stranger (Daniel Craig) with no memory of his past stumbles into the hard desert town of Absolution. The only hint of his history is a mysterious shackle that encircles one wrist. What he discovers is that the population of Absolution doesn’t welcome strangers, and nobody makes a move on its streets unless ordered by the iron-fisted Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford). It’s a town that lives in fear. But Absolution is about to experience fear it can scarcely comprehend as the desolate city is attacked by marauders from the sky. Screaming down with breathtaking velocity and blinding lights to abduct the helpless one by one, these monsters challenge everything the residents have ever known. Now, the stranger they rejected is their only hope for salvation. As this gunslinger slowly starts to remember who he is and where he’s been.
As the title suggests, Cowboys & Aliens combines two genres that are at odds with one another; Western and Sci-fi. It’s really a pretty good western movie. It’s full of cowboys, Apaches, horses, stagecoach robbers, a preacher, a bartender named Doc (Sam Rockwell), a tyrannical rancher and his worthless son (Paul Dano), bandits, an ancient Indian cure for amnesia, beautiful women (including Abigail Spencer), a brave kid with a spyglass (Noah Ringer), and a plucky dog that follows the good guys for miles and miles though the desert. There’s racism and mistrust that runs rampant. All these mistrusting groups need to learn to overcome their differences as they fall under attack by otherworldly forces. Then the sci-fi is blended in with aliens, spaceships, bug-eyed monsters, a laser blasting wrist weapon, and alien abductions. The juxtaposition of these two genres makes for an interesting story; and the title tells you exactly what the movie consists of.
Cowboys & Aliens makes a pretty good western without the aliens. It’s got all the classic elements of a good western. But alas, we’re told that the western genre is dead. I don’t agree. The last kid-focused western was Rango, and that was quite good. Other recent westerns that I can think of include True Grit and 3:10 to Yuma and those were also really good. I suppose there hasn’t been enough action movies set in the old west that were box office successes to make Hollywood want to invest in a genre that hasn’t been very popular since the late 1960’s. But do we really need to throw in sci-fi elements to get people to watch a western?
The cast in Cowboys & Aliens was phenomenal! It had a large cast that had high acting standards. Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig were made for roles like these. And director Jon Favreau actually gave the characters something to do rather than simply place them in front of special effects-laden backdrops. The characters are developed enough for us to care about them.
For all the fun special effects, characters, and action the story is pretty choppy and convoluted. The Apaches and marauders were a bit too eager join forces to help fight the aliens. Most of the scenes could probably have been done in any order rather than have an inevitable progression from one to the other. There’s also the illogical sci-fi trope that bestial monster aliens somehow are intelligent enough to build and fly spaceships. I choose to forgive this since most other aspects of this film were very well done. I did appreciate the fact that the aliens are never actually called “aliens.” That word was not in the old west vernacular.
With a title like Cowboys & Aliens we’re promised an exciting genre mash-up. This movie could have taken itself much too seriously to be any good, and yes there were times that it did take itself too seriously. Cowboys & Aliens is something like firing an old six-shooter. The aim is good, the ammo is plentiful, but there are times the just misfires. Is it good? Yeah, it’s okay. But it’s more fun than it is good. It’s worth seeing because of the unique blend of old western action coupled with an alien invasion. I’m still on the fence over whether or not this is worth owning a copy. I’d probably want to see it once more, but likely no more than that. It’s definitely worth renting, though.

What's another common character type that would be fun to pit against aliens? Ghosts? Detectives? What do you think might be a fun genre mash-up? Comment below and tell me about it!

No comments:

Post a Comment