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Cowboys & Aliens (2011 film)

A Fantasy Western film directed by Jon Favreau.

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Fun Filled Throughout (3.5)

  • Aug 8, 2011
Rating:
+3
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 flow each and every time.  Cowboys and Aliens certainly isn't (it's called "Cowboys and Aliens" for heaven's sake).  It's filled to the brim with explosions and plenty of action.  All this, however, can't keep one from noticing the lack of heart and the lack of charm of its cast of characters.  You might come to like them, but it's more likely due to who is playing the character rather than the character themselves.

Daniel Craig plays Jake Lonergan.  A cowboy who mysteriously wakes up in the middle of no where without any real clue as to who he is or what he was doing.  All he knows for certain is that he's been injured quite badly and that he's got a strange bracelet on his arm.  Aside from that he can't remember any of the events which brought him to where he is at this point in time.  The plot device of a main character conveniently having no memory of prior events is a little played out.  What's important to understand, of course, is why some film makers use it.  Mostly it's to make things fairly mysterious to the audience and it allows the movie to jump into things without first having to lay out the tracks.  In short, the movie begins in the middle of things ("mis en scene" as it's called) with snippets of backstory set in there as the movie progresses forward.  That doesn't mean everyone will love the, "I have no recollection of who I am," of course.  It just makes telling the story of the film easier.

Except Cowboys and Aliens isn't exactly a plot filled movie.  In fact, the majority of it is quite predictable.  The story begins with us being introduced to Jake.  But before long he makes his way to a small town that the aliens soon destroy and take some of the people.  A band of cowboys lead by Woodrow Dolanhyde (played by Harrison Ford) decide they need to go and get their people back and thus set out to find the alien lair.

That's the story in a nutshell and it works out just fine.  It's simple.  As I said, however, there are moments about it which ring of predictability.  There's almost nothing mysterious about what's going on.  And those who thrive on having questions answered for them aren't bound to get them all in the end.  We never, for instance, get much of an explanation as to why Craig's character has lost his memory (but the movie doesn't exactly leave us empty handed on this, it just offers up a lazy explanation) and the motivation of the aliens themselves is pretty much never explained at all.  We learn very little about what we're dealing with. 

However, this actually strangely works for the film on some level.  The characters in the film themselves don't exactly have the answers either.  They're as ignorant of what is really going on as the audience themselves.  The big concern for the characters is saving their people and making sure to destroy the aliens.  In short, they don't know WHAT the aliens want, they just know they have to kill or be killed.  This is likely to turn some movie goers off but I was strangely intrigued by this idea that even the characters don't know what's going on, they just want to ensure survival. 

There is a fairly big problem with the storytelling in Cowboys vs. Aliens, however, and that's how it is sometimes uneven.  At one moment we are undergoing big action sequences and at the next there is a big moment of emotional intensity.  Not all of the characters are developed well enough or actually filled with enough life for us to care when some of them bite the bullet, however.  Cowboys and Aliens is fun throughout but the script can feel a little disjointed and uneven.  At the very least they didn't spend so much time trying to "conceal the monster" the way that a film like "Super 8" does.  The script and movie itself are pretty forward about letting you know there's not much that's unpredictable here.  So don't expect unpredictability.  The only real mystery here is who Jake is why he can't remember anything.  Once we learn this, there's not much the movie has to keep us in mystery.

The moments of drama are not particularly memorable but the action sequences are.  They're absolutely fun to the very end.  In this regard Cowboys and Aliens excels.  The cinematography is great, for one thing, and so are the sound effects.  From a production standpoint, Cowboys and Aliens has a lot going for it.  And while the characters aren't exactly that well developed, that doesn't mean they aren't all that likable in their own way.  Most of them are played by charming actors.  That doesn't mean all the actors give it their all, however.  Sam Rockewell's character--The Doc--seems a little over the top in his role as does Paul Dano.  And while most of the characters mesh, one can't help but feel that some of the development has been stilted in some parts.  There's just too big of a cast for all the characters to really receive any development.  We learn and can interpret certain things about these characters, but we don't really dive.  Were it not for their charms we might not care for them at all.

However, as I said, some parts do come off as quite natural when you really stop and try not to think so hard.  Our characters never really find out much about the aliens... and neither do we.  It doesn't enhance the mystery, but it does give a sort of naturalness to the film in some regards.  We don't learn all the answers and neither do the characters.  Those expecting to be spoon fed an explanation for everything are going to be disappointed.  It's not that Cowboys and Aliens doesn't offer up anything, it's mostly that a lot of it is left up to the audience to try to figure out and piece together or interpret on their own.  The reason this feels strangely natural is because far too many movies of its kind get a little preoccupied with uncovering every answer for every little situation when in reality, we don't always know the answers.  A lot of us, when faced with the unknown, tend to have a curiosity sure... but not always when the unknown is shooting at us.  The movie makes it clear that the mission for the characters is getting back their people.  The characters aren't interested much in WHY the aliens are there.  What they care about is staying alive when battling against something completely unknown to them.  It also helps because the audience knows just as much as the characters in the film do.  Instead of looking for answers for instance, the characters just assume they don't know much about what they're dealing with at all (they don't even refer to them as aliens, but rather as demons).  It gives the movie some sort of natural feel to it.  Again, not everyone is likely to appreciate that.  And it isn't just because they don't get answers either.  The characters hardly offer up theories of their own.

Is Cowboys and Aliens a movie to love or to hate?  It's hard to decide.  It's actually a good movie as far as pure escapist entertainment is concerned.  It's fairly well made and constructed, but it's definitely got that summer blockbuster film written all over it.  And some of what doesn't work for Cowboys and Aliens is really going to turn off potential movie goers.  It's a movie made to be entertaining and that's really about it.  And truly, there's nothing wrong with that.  It's when it tries to be something more with it's more sentimental moments that feel out of place at times--especially considering how weak the movie is on character development and charm.  Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford bring some life to it... but the rest of cast (Olivia Wilde included) are fairly forgettable.

So yes it excels on a technical stand point, but may not exactly bode well for those on a more substantive one.  Cowboys and Aliens isn't a bad movie, but once you get beyond the technical prowess of the film it has a few issues with its storytelling.  And perhaps it's not fair to actually say that.  After all, it is a movie called "Cowboys and Aliens."  That's almost like being hard on a movie that's titled "This is a B Movie."  Except Cowboys and Aliens is clearly striving to be something more than that.  There's a lot of inspiration here that is drawn from Steven Spielberg (E.T., Close Encounters and Raiders of the Lost Ark are plastered all over this film) but it didn't seem like Favreau had any intention of taking to heart the lessons of character.  It's a good action movie but it feels like it could've been so much better.

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August 09, 2011
Dang....that is one thorough review! I liked the way you expressed your observations. So glad you are back, you haven't lost your touch in reviewing! How have you been, Sean?
 
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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
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 …
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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Sean A. Rhodes ()
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I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … 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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