I haven’t been crazy sold on COWBOYS & ALIENS… and the notion that this is the first sci-fi western drives me absolutely batty. Shit, Gene Autry dealt with underground dwelling super science types in THE PHANTOM EMPIRE serial. We had cowboys and vampires in CURSE OF THE UNDEAD – which has one of my all time fave vampire deaths btw. Then you have the two kings of Genre Mash-ups concerning cowboys in the from of George Pal’s 7 FACES OF DR LAO, which brings mythological magic to the old west…. And then Ray Harryhausen’s VALLEY OF GWANGI which brings Cowboys and Dinosaurs together.
I love these films. I love shows like Brisco County Jr and Wild Wild West (not the film). In fact when given my first chance at producing, the first thing I set about to do was a Western Mash-up – which put no less than about 6 genres together – and that Paul Dini made rock. That’s a project I’ll never put down, but before I make it, there’s other things that need tending to.
But suffice to say – I do like mashing up genres, breaking the rules and playing around with staid genres. When we saw the first 30-40 minutes of COWBOYS & ALIENS at The Dirty Dozenth BUTT-NUMB-A-THON last year, I was hit with a combination of feelings about what I had seen. Generally, I liked what I saw. I thought the photography was incredibly sharp. But the attack on the town just was pure shock & awe – and didn’t have enough character or charm to it. Doing the attack at night with firelight definitely made it moody and mysterious, but it also made it seem a tad unimaginative. Because dance club lasers from the sky just don’t inspire fear in my brain. BUT – I loved the performances from Daniel Craig, Paul Dano, Adam Beach, Clancy Brown, Sam Rockwell & of course… Harrison Ford. I also loved the vibe that radiated off of Daniel Craig. He just had a “DO NOT FUCK WITH ME” streak a mile wide… and everybody seems to smell it.
I root for Jon Favreau films because I did get the honor of spending a bit of time working with him on our JOHN CARTER OF MARS adaptation at Paramount. However, since that project got hobbled by an exec with apparent brain damage, Favreau and I haven’t had a whole lot of interactions. On COWBOYS & ALIENS I stayed away and just kept waiting for a trailer to excite me.
What I got was a whole lot of the same. It began to make me wonder if there wasn’t much to this flick. No matter what, I was there opening day – and when I didn’t make the local press screening, that’s what I was left with. The plan was to see it last night at midnight, but I had a conflict. SO – 2pm at the Alamo South it was.
We attended with a pair of BNAT Dignitaries from the Pacific Northwest… They’re Oregon Duck loving Geek Mormons – and they rule. Since we got an appetizer & salad portion of the film at BNAT – we were determined to check this one out together.
The screening was packed. Showing up slightly late meant that I was going to be sitting all the way over on the side against the far wall. Been a while since I’ve been this radically off center for a screening. Maybe that’s the secret, because while most of my associates in the online world have been disappointed to lukewarm on COWBOYS & ALIENS… instead, I found it to be a fun flick.
I still dislike the Alien Tech design. I’m just sick of the boring metallic moving parts alien tech. I think blaming TRANSFORMERS is a good starting point, but I suppose it’s how the particular group of designers at a few FX houses, and a group of modern filmmakers that have signed up for the aesthetic… but it just doesn’t seem “COOL” to my geek aesthetics. NOW – I do think that if you pay attention to all the modern alien films – you could make an argument that they’re making a singular modern Hollywood alien mythology. I don’t feel like making a concerted geek effort to outline it all, but it seems that ALIENS tend to shop for their tech from a handful of modern tech designers – and it just doesn’t feel fresh to my eyes. BATTLESHIP is the latest to suffer from the clone treatment – and I’m starting to dial out.
And I don’t want to.
I love ALIENS and INVASIONS – I just want different aliens and different tech from film to film.
NOW – that said. I love the cowboys. Love them to death. The film didn’t necessarily need aliens. Hell, had it just been a film about Daniel Craig losing his memory – having a bit of science fiction on his arm – and tracking down Ford’s missing gold whilst dealing with his old gang and neighboring hostile Indians… well, that’d be dandy for me. BUT – we had to have Aliens – and once we’re actually dealing with the ALIENS, I’m fully engaged. They have some curious biology. They seem to be a distant relative of some of the Thark designs that Favs oversaw, but overall physically very different. But it was fun looking at them and seeing all their moving parts.
I like that at the film’s heart, this is an abduction story. I love that the aliens are here for resources and are actually doing something a bit more industrious than just destroying old west towns. I love that my suspicions about Olivia Wilde’s character from all the way back at BNAT were true. That said, I wish they’d been a bit more bold with her brief nudity… a little more original CLASH OF THE TITANS boldness I say!
What really sells me on this movie though isn’t the geeky tech or the fairly damn cool looking aliens… it’s the characters and the people playing them and how Favreau shot them.
Clancy Brown’s MEACHAM, the town preacher that packs heat and has a bit of tough love going in him. Every scene that Clancy has he steals from Ford and Craig and anyone else that happens to be in his way. Maybe that’s because the Kurgan commands respect without question. But it is how I look at it.
Paul Dano is a pitch perfect spoiled rotten brat of the town’s leading industry baron… Harrison Ford’s his Dad – and man, if you thought for a second he would be disappointed to have Shia as his kid. Dano is just a worthless fuck-up. A bully & ignorant.
Then there’s Adam Beach – who plays Dano’s best friend/overseer that’s supposed to keep him out of trouble, but when Dano disappears for a bit – he really steps up and shows he’s the responsible and respectful son that Ford wishes he always had.
Both of those actors are part of why Harrison Ford is so damn good in this film. He’s being given something to really play off of. Ford isn’t spectacular, but he’s really nice to see in a movie that I found this entertaining. A lot of this film is Ford’s character waking up and realizing he’s not the fucking stud he used to be. He’s being humbled beneath a power he doesn’t understand, the loss of his son into a night sky and genuinely needing the help of others to get done what he needs help getting done. You get the idea this could be the first situation he couldn’t handle. His best scene in the film concern’s Keith Carradine’s character’s grandson and a knife. When he tells the boy the story of the knife, I really did get goosebumps and a smile. I’d love old man Harrison telling little boy me any story about any weapon he happened to have upon him. That I’m voyeuristically watching and imagining it take place in this film… well it made me happy.
Keith Carradine is the Sheriff in town – and it’s nice to see one of the Younger gang rise to such civic responsibilities… well it again made me smile. Keith is a damn fine actor and it’s great to see him on screen with such a great cast and production.
Sam Rockwell plays Doc, the saloon owner – and I love how he’s just constantly annoyed. He’s like a big city guy that moved out West to find his fortune and found that he just sucks ass at everything the West has to offer. He has a bit of a mouth on him. He’s intelligent, but that gets you nothing in the West that was ruled with six-guns and sweat. He’s lost his wife to the Aliens… and I love that everyone has been slighted by these unseen fucks.
Olivia Wilde’s character will be the character that sends some people off the deep end, if they so choose. That said, it’s the only rational explanation for her being in the Old West. Thus I readily accept and move on. But when she makes her grand re-introduction… That would definitely get some Indian attention. Fun stuff.
The film never quite kicks it into overdrive though. I kept waiting for more cowboy tricks to thwart the alien bastards. I really wanted to see some outrageous lasso-ing, more bulldogging, but over all the big battle provided a great deal of fun, but I did find myself losing track of some characters during that sequence. While the larger force is doing battle though, it is what is going on with Daniel Craig that I was most focused upon. I liked all that crazy stuff. The Alien revenge story that’s in there. It was just fun. I didn’t fight it – although I was constantly aware in the last 30 minutes that it wasn’t derailing for me, because I was told by friends that it would. It didn’t. Perhaps it is because I was in rather desperate need to be entertained this afternoon.
Often times, one’s reaction to a film is based on the attitude with which you walk into a theater. I’d been notably unimpressed by the marketing on the film, other than Danger’s MONDO poster for the film. But otherwise, I thought this would be a big disappointment for me. Instead it is a fun genre mash up. It isn’t better than the 4 other Western mash-ups in the opening paragraph of this review, but not much is. Actually… I do think it is better than CURSE OF THE UNDEAD, but just barely. Of course my fave Western Mash-up was when the Enterprise command team ends up playing out the OK Corral story… or Doc Brown & Marty McFly in BTTF3 – which I think I want to put on right now. But this is a fun movie. It could be sharper in almost every facet. But it hit the right spot today. Glad to have seen it.