I made it! I’m back home after the weekend away. It seems the first test of my year-long trial passed mostly without a hitch, and I got to meet my new niece and drink more than I normally would in a fortnight. So that was fun. What with yesterday’s flick and today’s, it looks like this might turn out to be Obviously Descriptive Title Week. I have a couple more in mind to keep me going to the weekend, but if you can think of any yourself, feel free to drop a note on the Suggestions page. And so, let’s get on with it.
This Greedo definitely shot first.
James Bond wakes up in the desert with no memory but a weird metal bracelet on his wrist. He goes back to town and meets The Kurgan, then Han Solo shows up and they get attacked by aliens. James Bond’s bracelet turns out to be an alien-killing weapon. Everybody makes friends at the end (except the ones who are dead).
Just to get it out of the way, I love Firefly. That series hinged on the standard tropes and idioms of the Western genre attached to a science fiction setting and it worked gloriously. Jon Favreau’s Cowboys & Aliens is the same concept flipped; it’s a Western first with the sci-fi elements grafted to it. The end result is remarkably similar. It’s not wonderful, but it is a very enjoyable flick. It is really not helped by the title though. When I heard that title followed by the phrase “based on the comic” I initially expected something much campier*, more of a typical summer blockbuster with all the gags and quips that come along with that. Not the case. This one is played completely straight. There are no snappy one-liners to be found in the Arizona Territory today. I found it a refreshing change, but as I said, with that presumption it’s no wonder this movie wasn’t quite the financial success it maybe should have been.
The cast are various levels of good to great. Daniel Craig as the amnesiac outlaw Jake Lonergan leads the show, but Harrison Ford rips it right out from under him as the town rich man Colonel Dolarhyde. He’s the surly old bastard of the piece and he gives it his all. Aside from Indy 4, this is clearly the most fun Ford has had in years. He also gets the most in terms of growth. Besides from Jake, he has three key relationships in the movie: one with his son Percy, whose abduction is what spurs (sorry) him on to chase and destroy the extra-terrestrial menace; the other two are with accidental surrogate sons. His scenes with Adam Beach as his native American employee Nate and, to a lesser degree, Noah Ringer as the sheriff’s grandson are when the man really comes alive and you can see who he is beneath all the bluster and money. It’s always a joy to see Clancy Brown in anything, and this movie doesn’t let me down. He’s great as the town preacher and his and Ford’s combined wit is as close to comedy as the film gets. It makes a welcome release from all the dour seriousness of Lonergan. Olivia Wilde I think was let down by all reference to her being “the mysterious woman”. If you can see where the character development is going to end up before you even buy your ticket (or DVD or, you know, whatever) that is not a good thing. I hope you made note of that lesson, Mr Screenwriter.
I really love the look of the flick as well. Keen to stay true to the Western traditions, Favreau apparently insisted on shooting on film instead of digital, and going for the full-on anamorphic aspect ratio. Anything else would have been a disservice to the genre all involved were so keen to be a part of. The landscapes are gorgeous, and some of the shots would not look out of place stacked up against such luminary examples as The Searchers and Unforgiven.
If you have a film called Cowboys & Aliens, your cowboys are obviously only half the puzzle. How do the aliens come out? Actually pretty good. The design is great, and quite unsettlingly icky too, what with the bulging eyes and the creepy extra arms. They’re sturdy and tough, but not to the point where your suspension of disbelief is called into question when the puny earthlings start fighting back with six-shooters and arrows.
Overall, I’d rate this as an undeserving failure that was hampered by the false preconceptions.
*Not being a fan of the piece, I just read up on the plot of the original comic for comparison. It would be fair to say it seems to have a certain Saturday morning cartoon whiff about it. Also, on an unrelated note, if you Google “Cowboys and Aliens scenery”, this is what you get back: