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Cowboys & Aliens (2011 film)

A Fantasy Western film directed by Jon Favreau.

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Not the Best Western or the Best Sci-Fi Film I've Ever Seen, but the Best Combo of the Two I've Seen

  • Aug 8, 2011
Rating:
+4

I’m generally a big fan of westerns, and I’ve been known to dabble in the science fiction genre from time to time. So on paper, Jon Favreau’s latest Cowboys and Aliens is a perfect fit. While I can definitely come to appreciate the general ridiculousness of it all and end up having a blast with it as the fun late summer film it is, the abundance of hands tweaking the script turns out being one of the movie’s biggest struggles. It’s not the best execution of a solid premise, but it manages to have enough fun thanks to a steady director’s hand to make it worth seeing on entertainment value alone. I think it’s fair to assume I don’t have to spend too much time explaining the premise of the movie. Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the middle of the desert, remembering nothing about who he is, where he’s from, or what the mysterious alien weapon on his wrist is. Whenever he enters into the town Absolution, he quickly runs into a crew of simple western folk, including local town mogul/cattle rancher Dollarhyde (Harrison Ford). Long story short, aliens show up, destroy half the town and kidnap their loved ones in one really long, really cool action sequence. I have to give the movie credit, with what citizens the aliens do kidnap, it’s left with a really notable cast. Sure Olivia Wilde’s really just plodding along through the whole film, but there are a few amazing performances brought by a few remarkable actors. The ever-reliable Sam Rockwell makes the “background” character Doc really shine with some fine charm, and both Clancy Brown and Keith Carradine fill in a beefy supporting cast. However as any of the movie’s posters or trailers would tell you, the real stars are Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig, Indiana Jones/Han Solo and James Bond themselves. Harrison Ford’s pretty much playing Harrison Ford here, growling his lines out and still portraying the cantankerous old man we love like the forlorn, grumpy grandfather in our own lives. I couldn’t help but giggle though at how much fun the movie has with the fact that Harrison Ford’s in it. There’s a solid 15 seconds of the movie where it’s just Ford’s character slowly turning his head and speaking dialogue where we can’t see his face, coming to reveal the cinematic legend we all know he is. Daniel Craig also makes a good impact on the screen as our titular hero Lonergan, proving to us in multiple sequences he’s one of the most indisputable action stars of our time. That being said much like a lot of Favreau’s Cowboys and Aliens, Lonergan’s a few writing sessions short of a full character. Basically all you learn about him as a character is learned in the trailer. He doesn’t know who he is, where he is, or even why there’s a bounty on his head. I’ve seen the “mysterious hero” archetype played off well before, but here it just feels a little bit like a cop-out for not actually writing personality into the character, but instead just using “he’s brooding and mysterious” as an excuse to withhold too much information from us. Once we do find out about Lonergan and uncover the mystery behind a lot of things going on behind the action in the film, it’s never exactly a poorly executed explanation; it just leaves something to be desired. It’s never lazy, but never really affecting. I almost would have preferred it had Lonergan not had amnesia, but instead started the film off with a clear goal in mind to take down the alien menace and having to convince the town-folk to join him. The same goes for a lot of the other supporting characters. The infamous “first attack scene” at night comes about 15 minutes in when we’ve only gotten a brief glimpse into these peoples’ lives and who they are, so the rest feels a little haphazard because the ground foundation wasn’t exactly assembled with the most care. It’s a lot of fun to watch these two worlds collide and see how these frontier folk react to an intergalactic conflict, but one can only fantasize about what a more emotionally connected, finer written base could have done for it. The first half of the film bounces back and forth between a real bona fide western and a more out-there science fiction movie, but it’s not until the second half when most of the action takes place that the movie really finds its groove thematically and settles into the pure, B-movie fun to be found in a film called “Cowboys and Aliens”. I was a little disappointed to see the first few moments of the film fall into place one after the other in a semi-generic, predictable way. It just sort of felt like it was just a string of unrelated sequences happening one after the other. That being said, once the second half hit, 6 year old me practically reached out at the screen seeing a cowboy just like the little plastic ones I had as a kid firing his six-shooter at a ship the size of a cattle ranch. That childish allure alone is why I think Cowboys and Aliens is worth seeing, despite a few rather large dents in the writing. Jon Favreau’s amusement-centered approach to his films like the first Iron Man and especially the holiday classic Elf was a perfect fit for this property. Favreau also has a keen eye for shooting action, something else that naturally comes in here. He seemed to have as much fun making it and plotting this all out on paper as we’ve had getting to see it all unfold on the screen. Like I said the movie definitely lives up to its B-movie style title, and there are plenty of over-the-top, worlds colliding action set pieces especially in the latter half that exceeded my wildest expectations. The final battle isn’t as epic as I had hoped, but there are plenty of fights sprinkled here and there to quench the oddest of “Aliens fighting Cowboys with the help of the Indians” thirsts. Just coming from an action enthusiasts perspective, it’s neat seeing gunfire get mixed with laser-fire, and chases between starships and horses, it’s definitely something that’s never been toyed with before. Even from a visual design standpoint, Favreau’s got it down pat. The more traditional stuff involving the town of “Absolution” looks pretty standard but still has plenty of faithful, gritty flavor, but I was more interested in how Favreau made his aliens look. All of the spaceship interior stuff has a remarkably grungy and dirty vibe, and even the ships themselves take on a more practical, task-oriented aesthetic that looks great. The aliens themselves (despite some more odd choices involving retractable, miniature arms), look like a cross between a Predator and the District 9 aliens, thankfully crafting a creature that actually looks considerably formidable and extremely frightening, even compared to the rough and gruff cowboys. All in all, I’m not going to remember Cowboys and Aliens for being Jon Favreau’s best movie, or for being the best movie of Summer 2011. It’s like the film equivalent of wish fulfillment. Have I always wanted to see cowboys and aliens square off? Of course I have, what 7-year-old TN kid hasn’t at some point on a Saturday afternoon after Batman went off for the day? Does it come with it’s problems? Yes, the writing’s wobblier than it should be, but hey, you get what you wish for. The film could have benefited a lot from a lot less hands tugging at the script, but as ludicrous as the concept is and as hard as it is to get a movie made nowadays, we should be thankful for every ridiculously-fun-star-studded-clumsily-written-action-flick-based-on-a-crazy-idea we can get.

4 out of 5 

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August 08, 2011
Yeah, this was a little flawed, but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't fun to watch. Interesting comments on the alien designs. Thanks for the great review!
 
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More Cowboys & Aliens (2011 film) reviews
review by . July 29, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
An Uneven
An alien invasion happening during the late 1800’s when mankind had barely gotten in touch with their potentials for technology is an interesting premise. I mean it represented a classic “David vs. Goliath” theme as well as having a huge amount of potential to work on. Granted I wasn’t that impressed with Scott Mitchell Rosenberg’s “Cowboys and Aliens” (see review of the graphic novel here) but I thought it may make a good translation into film; seeing as …
review by . July 31, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Screenwriters and Editing
Heres the two things I thought of as I watched this movie:      1.  The idea of gold hungry aliens has come a long way since Battlefield Earth and      2.  I can only imagine that when Harrison Ford signed on, the script was re-written to have him rescue his family.         oh, I guess a third would be that this is filling the void for Favereau instead of getting an Iron Man 3 from him.  I guess it could have been …
review by . August 02, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
I walked out of C&A today shrugging my shoulders.  It was a pleasant enough way to spend two hours on a hot summer night.  Daniel Craig (who looks like Harrison Ford used to look 30 years ago) and Harrison Ford (who looks remarkably like Neil Young today) play to type and off of each other well, and the setup is classic cowboy movie--so classic that when Craig, Ford, and the townspeople, native Americans, and Craig's old outlaw gang encounter the aliens (who lasso human subjects …
review by . July 28, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
'Cowboys & Aliens' 'Two Jews On Film' Fly In Different Directions With This SciFi Western (Video)
      The year is 1873. The place...New Mexico...A man (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the middle of nowhere.  He has no idea who he is or where he is.  All he knows is...there's a thick metal bracelet on his wrist and he can't remove it.       After fighting off some would-be robbers with a few swift kicks and punches, the Man wanders into the town of Absolution where he finds...   …
review by . July 28, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Incredible concept! Incredible movie?
COWBOYS AND ALIENS   Written by Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus and Hawk Otsby   Directed by Jon Favreau   Starring Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford and Olivia Wilde       Jake Lonergan: I don’t want any trouble.       Aliens have tried to take over our planet dozens of times in the movies already. Every time they do, it seems like they always choose major metropolitan areas and the setting is …
review by . August 03, 2011
Walking into this movie you know what you are going to be getting, and if you don't it may be time to stop reading this blog. Jon Favreau promised his audience both cowboys and aliens and by god that is what you get, just not much else.      Favreau could have taken this movie in a couple different directions, he chose to take the mixing of two genres that have been lampooned in more recent history and decided to make it a serious action movie. Then there was the decision …
review by . August 02, 2011
Picture this… James Bonds wakes up in the Wild West unable to recall how he got there and then ends up in a town were Indiana Jones and his son have been terrorizing its citizens into doing anything they want…  Wait, that’s not right.  Granted Cowboys & Aliens does star Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, as well as share executive producer Steven Spielberg (Indy franchise), there is little else these heavy hitters bring to this futuristic/sci-fi western.  If only …
Quick Tip by . December 22, 2011
posted in MovieSucktastic
A genre blend that starts off strong despite the adherence to a multitude of western cliches, it all falls flat in the second act with the introduction of a lazy plot twist created for no other reason than to save the screenwriters the trouble of advancing the story through dialogue and character development, and give them an easy out for a typically lame Hollywood Happy Ending.
review by . August 08, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
No matter how you slice it, 2011 has not been a very fun-filled summer.  Most of the movies have either been very forgettable or they haven't really had much of an impact.  Cowboys and Aliens doesn't do much to change most of this.  It's certainly a lot more fun than most of the movies around this summer, but it doesn't quite leave the lasting impression you'd hope for it to.      We all understand that not every movie has to be this artistic …
review by . July 30, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Star Rating:         My concern was that the science fiction and western elements of Cowboys & Aliens would not be able to meet halfway. Can you blame me? On paper, I cannot think of a more awkward pairing of genres. I envisioned a disaster along the lines of The Warrior’s Way (which fused the western with martial arts), or going back much further, Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter (the western and horror, which I happened to catch one Saturday …
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Jake Wilbanks ()
Ranked #54
   My name's Jake, I write film reviews and the occasional music/video game/comic/tech review. I've been involved in journalism over the past 3 years, and am currently majoring in Journalism … more
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Wiki

Cowboys & Aliens is an American fantasy- Western film starring Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, and Olivia Wilde. The film, directed by Jon Favreau, is based on the 2006 graphic novel of the same name created by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg. Cowboys & Aliens was released in the United States and Canada on July 29, 2011 and in other countries on ensuing weekends.



1873. Arizona Territory. A stranger (Craig) with no memory of his past stumbles into the hard desert town of Absolution. The only hint to his history is a mysterious shackle that encircles one wrist. What he discovers is that the people of Absolution don’t welcome strangers, and nobody makes a move on its streets unless ordered to do so by the iron-fisted Colonel Dolarhyde (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, he realizes he holds a secret that could give the town a fighting chance against the alien force. With the help of the elusive traveler Ella, he pulls together a posse comprised of former opponents—townsfolk, Dolarhyde and his boys, outlaws and ...
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Details

Director: Jon Favreau
Genre: Action, Adventure, Thriller, Western
Release Date: July 29, 2011
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Screen Writer: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman
Runtime: 118 minutes
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