Aug 29, 2011

[Movies] Cowboys & Aliens (2011)

Cowboys & Aliens (2011)Genre mash-ups, when done right, can be pretty fun. You know they're not meant to be totally amazing or award-winning stories. But you do except a certain degree of fun when two rather different concepts are merged together into one fun story, whether it's a movie, TV series or book. Thus the current fixation on adding supernatural creatures to classic books like with Pride & Prejudice and Zombies and other related works.

Now this movie seemed like a fairly safe bet since (1) the story was adapted from an existing graphic novel, (2) they had some pretty big name stars attached to it and (3) a director who had managed to do well with another geek franchise. Thus all the elements seemed to be present to make for a great movie. But then it fell short of everyone's expectations, ticket sales just weren't there and now everyone is just left scratching their heads. Even the "delay" of this review shows how much I felt it wasn't a priority versus some of the other posts I had published prior to this.

Heck, this even had some pretty big-name writers attached to the movie, and it still didn't work! What gives guys? How could you frak this up so badly?

Now Cowboys & Aliens is an science fiction Western movie (hence the genre mash-up discussion above) based on the 2006 graphic novel of the same name. It was directed by Iron Man's Jon Favreau and writing credits included Damon Lindelof, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, to throw out a few big names.

The movie begins with our protagonist (Daniel Craig) waking up in the desert without most of his memories, including his identity. All he has to go by is a metal bracelet of sorts around his right wrist, a photo of a woman and a rather significant injury in his right side. After fighting off some bandits who try to take advantage of his situation, he ends up at the town of Absolution where he crosses paths with the town preacher Meacham (Clancy Brown). He's eventually recognized by Sheriff Taggart (Keith Carradine) as the stage coach robber Jake Longergan.

LOCARNO, SWITZERLAND - AUGUST 06:  (L-R) Danie...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeLater that night, he's about to be turned over to the Federal Marshals in a nearby town when a group of UFOs attack the town. The craft possess advanced technology and quickly subdue the residents while kidnapping others. Meanwhile, the metal band around Jake's arm responds to the proximity of the aliens and reveals itself to be a weapon of sorts among other functions. With many of the townsfolk lost to the aliens, a small group of residents including the rich and powerful Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), the bartender Doc (Sam Rockwell) and a female stranger by the name of Ella Swenson (Olivia Wilde) set out with Jake to track down the aliens and recover their lost townfolk.

Now I have yet to read the original comic but I did take time to read up on the original story. When you compare the two, there were a number of differences between the two and thus it becomes a bit clearer to me which parts were created for the movie and which ones may have been taken from the comic book. I know this is standard practice when it comes to adaptations like this, but I feel that the movie would have benefited from a bit more loyalty to the original material.

Genre mash-ups tend to be almost satirical in nature, when you think about it. We want to be able to stress or highlight the tropes of each genre almost to the point of caricature in order to see how the two concepts work together. In the comic they went as far as creating flying horses, aliens on motorcycle-like craft and stealing a lot of alien technology that somehow resembled Earth weapons. He we only had Daniel Craig and his fancy bracelet and not much else.

Daniel Craig does manage to play the cool, calm and collected badass outlaw pretty well. However given his lack of back story, his lack of memory and the lack of true motivation in the movie, he's not a character that we can relate to. Harrison Ford didn't fare much better since his character was the caricature of a rich cattle rancher. And I feel that Sam Rockwell was utterly wasted in this movie despite his wonderful track record for character acting. For shame!

And even if I wasn't gay, Olivia Wilde still wouldn't have done anything for me given her flat, emotionless acting that just presented her as what Summer Glau may be in the future. Or something crazy like that.

The events just dragged on from one plot point to another without really bringing the audience along with it. Thus we all just sort of wait to see what happens next mainly because we already spent on the ticket fare and the overly expensive popcorn. I think the only thing I had to look forward to was appreciating how great Craig's butt looks thanks to those leather chaps and his limited shirtless scenes, although he was a tad too skinny for me in this movie.

Cowboys & Aliens is a sad example of how a good concept can get bastardized and ruined once it hits Hollywood. Instead of a fun adventure, we ended up with a dragging story with hollow characters and highly under-utilized actors. Thus the movie moseys on through with barely 2 flashbacks that really didn't do much for me out of a possible 5.

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