Friday, July 29, 2011

POPped Review #2: 'Cowboys & Aliens'

James Bond meets Indiana Jones in the Old West.  It may sound like a high-fallutin' premise, but throw in some aliens and the chick from Tron and you've got Cowboys & Aliens.  

Harrison Ford in Journey to Shiloh
The title alone might make you want to watch something else, but the trailers for this movie provide enough hope that it will not disappoint.  The casting of Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig doesn't hurt expectations either.  It's also nice that since Harrison Ford started out in Westerns, he's returning to the genre.  Interesting to note, too, that executive producer Steven Spielberg originally wanted to direct a James Bond film before friend George Lucas talked him into helming the Indiana Jones franchise.  And of course, Ford and Spielberg worked with the best Bond, Sean Connery (sorry Daniel), in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

In addition to Olivia Wilde (Tron Legacy, House), the supporting cast includes Sam Rockwell (Moon, Galaxy Quest), Clancy Brown (Phineas & Ferb, Highlander) and Keith Carradine (Dexter, Deadwood).  I loved their performances as well as many others in the movie.  Sam Rockwell as a married saloon owner brings a lot of sympathy to his role as his wife is one of the abductees.  Clancy Brown as a frontier preacher is an enjoyabe departure from the various villain roles he has played.

The movie is produced by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer as well as Spielberg and about five others, written by seven more, and involving no less than 5 production companies.  The last time I saw this many names thrown into a western the result was Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven – which I found ultimately disappointing.  So, does this one work?

*Some Light Spoilers*

As Heather mentioned in her review, this is a very beautiful film.  New Mexico locations, stunning visual effects and Daniel Craig shirtless.  Personally, I'm a fan of the desert southwest and I think even the lamest movie can look good filmed there.  The visual effects are subtle and realistic – rarely distracting from the gritty realism of the Old West.  And while Craig is a handsome man, the shirtless scenes only made me feel out of shape.  He actually shows more skin than Olivia Wilde.

But the premise is a fun one.  Most alien invasion movies are set in the 20th century and mostly in the 50s.  What if the aliens tried to invade in the relatively primitive Old West?  How would the citizens react?  How could they possibly defend themselves?  And would they even know what they were fighting?

Compare this movie to War of the Worlds, Independence Day or the recent Battle: Los Angeles.  Does all our firepower even stand a chance against highly-advanced alien technology?  In at least two of those films (I haven't seen Battle: LA) our defense was a virus (real or digital) that brings down the aliens and their sophisticated technology.  And a nuclear weapon.  That didn't hurt.  How do cowboys attack chest-armed aliens or metal spacecraft?  They don't give them a cold, that's for sure.  Cowboys and Aliens shows the brave determination that one would expect from American frontiersmen.  Their defense is more tough perseverance than sophisticated weapons.

However, Craig's character does manage to steal a piece of alien technology that gives them a certain advantage.  I would have liked to see more of that as nobody else picked up an alien weapon after taking down an alien.  What is this, a low-budget, sci-fi TV series?

I think there's a reason, too, that this is not called Cowboys VS. Aliens.  The odds are pretty well stacked against our western heroes and they are pretty outmatched by the alien's technology.  It's more like Cowboys and Indians where one side is very cunning and knows the terrain, but the other side has guns.  I did not expect our heroes to fare that well against their scary alien foes with their "inside hands", their jumping attacks and their wrist-rocket rayguns.  But as we've seen in other simliar movies, humans can be remarkably resilient. 

The premise (from the graphic novel by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg) aside, this is a very good-looking movie.  It has the feel and pace of a classic western or even that of recent westerns like Silverado and Tombstone.  The action is intense, but takes some time to unfold.  By comparison it may seem slower than recent movies.  It doesn't bombard your senses like Independence Day or Spielberg's War of the Worlds.  

Cowboys & Aliens is well worth the time it takes to unfold.  This is a good cast that works really well together.  Jon Favreau manages to meld the two genres into a fun, cinematic experience.  Patience is rewarded with a very enjoyable adventure.

POPped from the wrist by


  1. Sorry, I didn't like the movie.

    I love westerns, and especially love cowboys. I hate aliens. So I thought Cowboys & Aliens might be a good flick for me. I mean, hot cowboys kicking alien asses, sweet. Plus, the premise was intriguing. Alien invasion movies typically occur in a modern setting, but what would it be like if aliens attacked during the late 1800's in the wild west?

    The movie started out well, Daniel Craig was playing the silent, amnesia stricken, vigilanty. My hopes were bolstered when Sam Rockwell (I loved him in Choke & Moon) surprised me with his appearance. Then Olivia Wilde showed up. She looks like an alien. Ok guys, I know she's hot, I even think so, but she had that weird thing going where her head is too big for her body. Jesus, someone please feed the poor girl. Sorry, I digress. The first scene with the aliens is pretty cool. Cowboys shooting their six-shooters at out-of-this-world aircraft, cool.

    *Spoiler Alert*
    The story moves along and I'm still on board, however, it took a turn for too absurd when Ellie (Olivia Wilde) is resurrected as a being from space and now takes the role of all-knowing informant on the aliens. It gets worse when, through Native American magic potion, Jake (Daniel Craig) recollects his memory and forms a plan on how to take down the aliens. The movie unravels into a heaping pile of Hollywood b.s.

    It would have been a decent film if they had left out Ellie's undercover character. They really didn't need her to go after the aliens. It also had too much touchy feely sentiment going on with Harrison Ford's character. Again, didn't need it. Why on Earth do we need a revelation about father/son relationships in a movie about killing aliens in the wild west? I call b.s. on this kind of trite plot line. Just kill some nasty aliens with your pistols, shotguns, bows & arrows, and maybe some creativity please. Thanks.


  2. We'll just put you in the "Undecided" category. ;)