What do you get when you combine the talents of Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (although I would argue they’re currently the most overrated and overpaid screenwriters in Hollywood), director Jon Favreau (again, way overrated), and actors Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford? Presumably something worth remembering, right? Universal and DreamWorks, the studios behind this very expensive failure, figured that if you throw a bunch of talent into the pot, you are bound to create the next JURASSIC PARK. The end result, COWBOYS AND ALIENS, is an adaptation of a little known comic book graphic novel of the same name. Thankfully, this movie is not the spectacular mess of 1999’s WILD, WILD, WEST, which was also a mixture of the Western and science fiction genres. At the same time, I would have rather seen a film that completely missed its mark. That way, I would have left the theater laughing at the filmmakers’ lack of creativity and something else would have immediately occupied my mind for the rest of the day. Instead, COWBOYS AND ALIENS has a lot of elements that work absolutely beautifully on their own. The problem, however, lies in the filmmakers’ failure to gracefully bring all those elements together to make an action-packed adventure that’s full of drama and suspense. Because of what this film teases but ultimately fails to achieve, it’s a frustrating movie to watch and you leave the theater feeling pissed that the filmmakers’ were unable to reach any level of cohesiveness.

COWBOYS AND ALIENS begins with Daniel Craig waking up without remembering anything and discovering a strange metal bracelet around his wrist. He enters a small town called Absolution where he’s recognized by the town’s sheriff as a wanted outlaw and he’s subsequently arrested. However, just as he’s about to be shipped off to federal authorities, alien spaceships attack the town and kidnap a bunch of townspeople, including Harrison Ford’s spoiled son (Paul Dano). During the attack, Craig manages, to his and the other townspeople’s surprise, to activate the metal bracelet and shoot down one of the spaceships. This causes him to join a search party composed of Ford, Craig, a mysterious woman played by Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell as a saloon owner, Noah Ringer as a young boy whose grandpa was taken by the aliens, Clancy Brown as the town’s preacher, and Adam Beach as Ford’s Indian helper. Together they track down and find the aliens’ hideout and take them on to rescue their loved ones.

I really enjoyed the premise behind COWBOYS AND ALIENS and although the mixing of these genres has been attempted and failed in the past, I’m convinced that someone in Hollywood will someday pull off a successful film. Unfortunately, this film isn’t it. Some critics have attributed the film’s failure to the fact that too many screenwriters were involved in writing the script, which caused the story to lose its vision (according to Wikipedia, there were 12 writers involved). I can certainly see that. The movie feels as if it combined every writer’s take on the story and put out something that falls in the middle, with elements of each writer’s script present in the story. Consequently, the movie’s plot and subplots never stray from conventional and safe resolutions and the characters’ journeys are predictable. Now since COWBOYS AND ALIENS is an adaptation of a graphic novel, it may be that the original source material lacked originality and it wasn’t really the fault of the writers. Nonetheless, the film is a very safe, studio-manufactured popcorn film that was molded by a massive team of writers who in turn were guided by marketing and studio executives.

As unsatisfying as COWBOYS AND ALIENS is, its not without its merits. For one, it’s a gorgeous looking Western that was clearly inspired by the classics of John Ford. With Steven Spielberg as executive producer, its safe to assume he gave his director a crash course on how Westerns should look. The movie benefits from this as its chock full of beautiful shots (one scene in particular takes place at night in heavy rain and all you see is an intense downpour and the characters barely lit. It’s a nice, realistic contrast to the usual fake blue studio lighting that’s meant to evoke nighttime that we see in many films). Another aspect of the film that took me for a surprise was Harry Gregson-Williams’ fantastic score. I’ve heard many of the composer’s scores and I regard him as just another new breed composer whose scores lack any unique style as they tend to be indistinguishable from countless other film composers. Here, however, Gregson-Williams delivers an epic and rousing Western-style score that really gives the action scenes the excitement that Jon Favreau fails to otherwise deliver.

COWBOYS AND ALIENS may be nice to look at and it may have a nice film score, but its sole saving grace is Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig’s performances. This is one of those rare instances where a movie’s success really does depend on star power and Ford and Craig earn every penny they were paid to make this film. I can’t remember the last time Harrison Ford seemed awake in playing a role (not even the last INDIANA JONES could awake him from his emotionless slumber), but whatever it was about COWBOYS AND ALIENS, this is the most exciting I have seen the actor be in a damn long time. He brings his usual crotchety humor that we’ve loved in past films and throws in a little bit of Hans Solo for kicks. It made me wonder why suddenly Harrison Ford seemed to give a shit after making so many films where he didn’t. It might be that he lives on a ranch in the Montana wilderness and this film’s old west setting reminded him of it. Or it could simply be that he got paid a shitload of money and he’s realizing that he better make a successful film if he wants to continue making more films (not that he needs the money I presume). As for Daniel Craig, what can I say other than he is hands down the most badass actor working today? Say what you want about Jason Statham, but Daniel Craig is ice cold mean when he wants to be. He doesn’t need the fancy marital arts moves that Statham displays. One look from Craig into his adversary’s direction is enough to make you know that he’s about to rain hell on his opponents (oh, and let’s not forget that Craig’s a far better actor). Daniel Craig’s character was my favorite in the film, but I liked him much more when he remained the unwilling participant in the search party’s goal to find the missing townspeople. It was more fun to see him resist helping anyone else because it created a nice conflict between he and Harrison Ford that goes away once Craig decides to be nice to everyone else.

The supporting cast is alright even though I felt that some of the great actors they had (like Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano, and Clancy Brown) are completely underutilized. I do have one gripe about Paul Dano’s and Harrison Ford’s relationship. (SPOILER ALERT) Paul Dano plays Harrison Ford’s spoiled, rotten son who gets arrested for accidentally shooting a sheriff’s deputy. However, before he can be taken away, the aliens abduct him. It is the reason why Harrison Ford joins the search party. At the end of the movie, father and son are reunited and we’re supposed to feel happy for the two. However, at no time does the film show us that the son has seen the error of his petulant ways. He was an asshole at the beginning of the movie and as far as we’re concerned, he remains one at the end.

I haven’t said much about the aliens in COWBOYS AND ALIENS and that’s because they are the biggest disappointment in the movie. For one, whoever was responsible for the basic design of the aliens and their spaceships should probably never work in the film industry. Ever. I have never seen such uninspired alien designs in my life. Even the aliens in SUPER 8 were more imaginative and that’s saying a LOT. The ships’ designs did not appear to have any functional use and they were eyesores on the screen. Once we finally see the aliens, they look like countless other aliens we have seen in films and TV shows. In fact, these look like the worst of the most clichéd bunch out there. I would have preferred that Jon Favreau had not shown so much of the aliens or shown them at all. The film would have been far more suspenseful if we saw glimpses of the aliens and their ships. What’s worse, the aliens are seen more during the daytime, which makes them look hokey with their green skin set against the desert landscape.

Another issue I had with the aliens was the humans’ reaction to seeing them. You can sense a little awe in the characters when the aliens attack the town, but they quickly get over it and throughout the remainder of the film, the humans just seem to accept the fact that there are aliens among them. There is one scene where Daniel Craig and Olivia Wilde are flying atop one of the alien ships. Now this film takes place before the Wright Brothers introduced the world to airplanes so at that time, no humans, especially in the Wild West, had ever experienced flying. Wouldn’t you think that a person experiencing the sensation of flying at that time would be overcome with excitement and fear? Basically, however someone back then would react, it probably wouldn’t be the dulled reaction exhibited by Daniel Craig and Olivia Wilde when they’re taken for a ride.

Regarding the action between the cowboys and aliens, once again, Jon Favreau shows that he still cannot stage action sequences. None of the action scenes in this film are exciting or suspenseful. They simply happen and they completely lack any energy. There is a great action setup inside an upside down ferry boat that gets squandered by the director. Favreau had the same struggles with his IRON MAN movies and he again shows it here.

So that’s my take on COWBOYS AND ALIENS. The movie gets some things right and because of it, the film turns out to be a so-so and ultimately forgettable movie. Its unfortunate given the cool premise the filmmakers had to work with. This also goes to show that just because you gather up a group of talented filmmakers, you’re not going to necessarily get a great movie and this film is a testament to that.

Advertisements