Friday, August 05, 2011
Cowboys And Aliens And The Crystal Skull
Yesterday I watched Hollywood's latest attempt at creating a big budget kitsch classic with Cowboys and Aliens. The movie definitely has a head turning title. Despite the nutty premise, the film has big stars (Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde and lots of other actors where you go "Oh yeah it's that guy!") and is directed by Iron Man Jon Favreau. My guess was to anticipate a fast paced plot, lots of running and shouting with explosions, you know the usual action stuff. I went in with the intention of not thinking about what I'm seeing and enjoying the ride.
To make a film like this work, it needs to have some kind of creative angle or sense of edgy humor to make the thing zip along. You can't buy into the story with any sense of realism, the central idea of the project is basically a Syfy channel movie on steroids. So it's too bad Favreau didn't get that memo, 'cause he directs this popcorn flick like it's Saving Private Ryan. The tone is mostly serious, nobody looks like they're having fun on screen (well, except maybe Harrison Ford but that's 'cause he's so awesome). Aliens don't get much screen time until the ending, most of what you get is the bickering of the townspeople who have gathered together to try to rescue their loved ones from the mysterious demons of the sky. Since the bulk of the film plays like a standard Western, the aliens aren't just intrusive they seem pasted on like the marketing tool that they are. It's like Favreau couldn't get the money to do a full on Western so he settled for making 4/5ths of one.
The Western part of the movie is solid, thanks in large part to that great cast. James Bond / Daniel Craig is no stranger to portraying the badass with no name bit and fits in fine. Harrison Ford is a blast as the hardened cattle rancher / ex war officer with a soft spot for little kids. Ford seems to relish playing this character and is the only character to generate a strong emotional reaction. Sam Rockwell's sensitive barkeep also registers strongly. Yep, all the actors pull their weight except for maybe Olivia Wilde. I couldn't tell if her acting was good or not since her character was so hokey I couldn't envision anyone doing it well.
Since the movie was more drama than fun, I had lots of time for my mind to spin its wheels. I began to wonder how Olivia Wilde's character managed to wear so much makeup in the old west, make up that doesn't run after getting soaked in water no less. Or how she got such a tight fitting frontier woman's dress, it was like the Tron outfit in a skirt. And why were the Aliens stuck with the generic outer space invaders playbook. Alien weapons that humans can only use in the presence of the aliens themselves (District 9). Creatures that capture people to "study for weaknesses" in the human race (every damn invasion movie but mostly thinking of War Of The Worlds). People kept in a zombie like state packed together in a room (The Matrix). A scurrying army of green armored creatures that can jut out attack appendages (Aliens, Starship Troopers).
Cowboys And Aliens isn't an all out bad movie, it just misses the point of its own existence. One that makes promises of epic battle storytelling and then bores you with the tales of the long trip it took to get there. Sort of like telling a friend you went to Disneyland and then spend the next 90 minutes detailing your car trip with pee breaks as the high points. Thankfully, Indiana Ford is there to bring back fond memories of Raiders Of The Lost Ark...or at least Indiana Jones And The Crystal Skull.