STUDIO: Universal (BUY IT FROM CHUD.COM)
RUNNING TIME: 119 minutes
- Conversations with Jon Favreau
- Making Of
- Digital Copy
- Blu & DVD
THE TEAM:Jon Favreau (director). Daniel Craig. Harrison Ford. Olivia Wilde. Sam Rockwell. Walton Goggins. Clancy Brown. Cowboys. Aliens. (stars). Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman. Damon Lindelof. Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby. Steve Oedekerk. Scott Mitchell Rosenberg (Jesus that is a lot of writers).
THE PITCH: Some cowboys are versus some aliens.
This is gonna hurt.
I love a lot of the folks involved in Cowboys and Aliens from director Jon Favreau to stars Sam Rockwell, Clancy Brown, to the fine folks at the former Stan Winston Studios and Industrial Light and Magic. There’s a lot of talent on display here and that’s before you even factor in Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig, and Olivia Wilde. A big budget, a high wattage cast, and a panoramic focus from not one but two undying genres in Westerns and Alien Invasion movies. It should be a blast, especially considering how adept Favreau has shown himself to be as a director of FX movies. And it has Steven Spielberg, Brian Grazer, and Ron Howard as producers! It should be an inspired collection.
But the end is result is uninspired. Truly uninspired. In fact, I wonder exactly who this movie is for. It’s not a fun and rollicking action adventure geared towards the kids and young adults this material is suited for. Anyone who has had the misfortune of reading the amateurish comic book certainly don’t have much to work from but that book came out right at the beginning of the big boom of comic books created as properties rather than any sort of work that can stand on their own. It was a pitchbook. Cowboys. Aliens. Done.
So why a gritty convoluted film featuring very good actors doing and saying very little of interest is what Cowboys and Aliens is makes no sense. This movie can’t be for discerning genre savvy grown ups and children, yet it tries to be.
The end result is a pretty but plodding exercise that’ll surely find its fans but one that achieves not even the impact with this viewer to have specific moments registering twelve hours later.
Daniel Craig awakens in the middle of the sagebrush with no memory and a bizarre artifact on his hand. He quickly proves he’s a tough guy by making short work of a group of scoundrels and as he rides into town he embodies all of the expected traits of a Western archetype. Which is exactly what he is, a fact made worse by the fact he’s a bad guy in his pre-memory loss life but extremely moralistic in his current one. He then interacts with a weathered but caring preacher (Clancy Brown), a brash entitled bad boy asshole (Paul Dano), a put-upon barkeep and doctor (Sam Rockwell), a stoic lawman (Keith Carradine), and a mysterious woman (Olivia Wilde). It’s very safe stuff.
When we finally meet Harrison Ford’s arrogant land and cattle baron the tone has already been deflated considerably. It doesn’t improve when Ford goes from gruff and villainous to a grumpy paternal figure for the film’s unnecessary child character (who has a dog!). The film really tries to be everything for everyone, which is very hard to pull off. In fact, the only film in recent memory that pulled it off was the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie.
Then come the aliens in their weird cattle and human roping ships. And the only weapon capable of harming them being the device on Daniel Craig’s arm. And the ridiculous mystery surrounding Wilde’s character. And I shit you not, an Indian attack.
Perhaps we live in too cynical and complex a time for the veneer over this product (and it verily is a product) to not seem so transparent but I found this to be a joyless experience. Which is a shame, because Jon Favreau is an excellent and vital mainstream director. Because Daniel Craig is surprisingly very at home in this setting and with absolutely no shred of his Bondian persona nor his British origins present. Because Harrison Ford is made for movies like this and he still pulls it off. Because any film with Clancy Brown, Walton Goggins, and Sam Rockwell is a good thing. Because by golly, it’s fun to see UFO’s and aliens interacting with things that aren’t boring and familiar national monuments.
It means well, but it’s built on a house of shit.
Better luck next time I suppose.
ITS PLACE IN THE PANTHEON:
It’s one of the top fifty Cowbys & Aliens films.
SPECIAL FEATURES, or “SPECIAL” FEATURES?
The Blu-Ray itself is pretty decent. There’s thankfully a regular digital copy included that is easy to grab and pop into iTunes without having to deal with the atrocious Ultraviolet experience. There’s a series of interesting, funny, and candid discussions between Favreau and his stars, writers, and producers and it was almost a callback to his delightful Dinner for Five show. The guy is so effortless and lacking filmmaker bullshit that it’s difficult not to be lulled into liking the movie for all the wrong reasons. These conversations are fantastic (though I simply do not get Orci and Kurtzman as writers, and no amount of Favreau interplay can change that) and almost make the package worth a rental on their own merit.
There’s also a commentary by Favreau that is extensive and a solid “making of” that’s broken down into parts. Additionally there’s a lot of ways to watch the film whether on Blu, DVD, or digital copy and in the original theatrical or new extended editions.
If you’re already a fan of the film you’re in heaven. If not, it’s almost enough to warrant a cursory peek.
But overall, it’s one of the more forgettable blockbusters in recent memory. And that’s a sadly crowded bunch of movies to pick from.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars