Friday, August 5, 2011

Cowboys and Aliens – A Geek Review.

They say that Hollywood is out of ideas, and most of the time, I'd agree with them. The vast majority of what comes out in theaters is adaptations of books, comics and TV shows, or sequels, remakes and “reboots' of recycled material. Even something as goofy in concept as Cowboys and Aliens is (extremely loosely) adapted from a graphic novel. That said, following along with the concept of “If I haven't seen it, its new to me,” Cowboys and Aliens would have had to be particularly horrible for me to not like it. I like science fiction, I like westerns, and I have no preconceived notions of how closely it resembles the original comics. It is a flawed movie, but there's more than enough in here that entertained me that while I didn't love it, I did like it. If I see it pop up on cable in a few years while flipping through the channels, I'll probably stop and watch again, but that's about as far as I go.

At least it isn't another film based on a 1970s TV show.

The title makes a promise, that what this movie is about is cowboys fighting aliens. Kind of a silly premise, but I like the fact that instead of being another self-aware self parody, the filmmakers play it completely straight. We're also not subject to the annoying forced comic relief that all to often turns up to shout catchphrases in this sort of dumb summer movie. Yes, there are cowboys. Yes, there are aliens, and of course, there are explosions. The casting is solid, with Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Clancy Brown, Keith Carradine and Sam Rockwell rounding out the most prominent western archetypes. You have the outlaw, the sheriff, arrogant cattleman, frontier preacher, town doctor and woman with a past.

The film starts off in New Mexico, with Jake Lonergan waking up in the middle of no where with no memories and a weird metal bracelet on his arm. Some local bounty hunters give him an opportunity to show off that he doesn't know who he is, but he's some sort of badass. He wanders into the town of Absolution and gets patched up by a local preacher who gives him a few sage words and sends him on his way. He runs afoul of the son of the local wealthy landowner, and in the ensuing fight a deputy is shot. In short order, both men are locked up when the sheriff notes that Jake is a dangerous and wanted criminal, but not before a mysterious woman can show up and utter a few cryptic words. Disarmed, arrested and with no idea what is going on, Jake sits in a prisoner's coach locked up, and then his bracelet starts glowing and beeping.

Really, Daniel Craig as a western badass shooting a laser cannon is the reason to see this.

Immediately, the town is attacked by alien spaceships that shift the film solidly into science fiction. People are abducted in a particularly brutal-looking fashion (no nice soft beams of glowing light here) as lasers start blowing up the town. The only thing that seems to have any effect is the weapon contained in Jake's weird bracelet, that he figures out how to fire after a little trial and error. Most of the rest of the film takes the characters set up in the initial scenes and puts them together to go after the aliens and rescue the abductees, encountering bandit gangs, hostile indians and a few surprises along the way. Of particular note when it comes to the characters in the posse are the preacher and the doctor, both played by actors I like a lot. Clancy Brown is at his least menacing turn outside of Spongebob as the town preacher, and Sam Rockwell's doctor/saloon owner is more likeable than most of the rest of the cast.

The pacing is a little unusual at times, seeming to go in fits and starts, and it doesn't always seem like there's a single arc of momentum across the entire plot. Also suffering from a lack of arc is the development of a few of the characters. Harrison Ford's brutal and corrupt former soldier-turned wealthy cattle rancher shifts wildly between snarling at everyone and being a decent sort of guy, but there's no progression of events that logically takes him from one to the other. Jake himself exhibits inconsistent and baffling behavior when he finds himself in the company of his former gang, kills the new guy who took over and doesn't resume leadership. He runs away, only to come back later to take the gang over again later when it is convenient for the script. Also, a note to those directing Olivia Wilde: there is a difference between “be mysterious” and “just stand there doing nothing, and occasionally say something that won't make sense until later.”

"Good guy? Bad guy? I'll just yell a lot and somehow end up likeable. It worked for Pacino."

When it comes to the aliens themselves and the plot regarding them, I had a bit of a problem with something that always bugs me with big studio movies. Don't give away plot twists in your trailer. Just don't. The set-up for the only real twist that I might have seen coming anyway was completely wasted because I knew about it weeks before the film came out. The aliens at least look cool, and when you get a good look at all their weird biology is capable of, they aren't just stock retreads of aliens found in a dozen other sci-fi movies. The ships are unique looking, and the climactic battle really shows what more than one or two of the creatures themselves are capable of.

Overall, if you aren't expecting much outside of a movie with Cowboys and Aliens fighting each other with the explosions expected of a summer blockbuster, you won't be disappointed. There are a few spots where the film drags and messes with momentum, but not a whole lot of wasted time. That's good, because the movie isn't one that is really improved much by thinking too hard about the motivations of anybody. Cowboy, Indian, Alien... the genre mashup manages to be both without completely abandoning its roots as a western as soon as the lasers start firing, and really, that's all we were promised.
Best Blogger Tips
  • Stumble This Post
  • Save Tis Post To Delicious
  • Share On Reddit
  • Fave On Technorati
  • Buzz This Post
  • Tweet This Post
  • Digg This Post
  • Share On Facebook
Blog Gadgets


Timothy said...

I think that is the most critical review you have written here (or it is the most critical one I have read).

Electric Addict said...

looks decent ill watch it :)

Jay said...

i'll definitely be watching this. :)

Alpha said...

Simple premise, simple movie.

The Angry Lurker said...

It's not being receiving the best of reviews, basically a popcorn movie, decent review.

Akanksha said...

Great Movie !! "Cowboys and Aliens" was either going to be a nerd's perfect entertaining mindless blockbuster, or a work of audience alienation.

free online television

Post a Comment