Saturday, July 30, 2011

Review: Cowboys and Aliens

A little known fact about me? I can watch any movie with Harrison Ford in a lead role, and enjoy myself. Oh I can recognize they're not good movies if they're not good movies (looking your way Firewall) but I really do just love Harrison Ford. How bad does this get? I own Air Force One on DVD. Yeah. So I was looking rather intently forward to this one, which makes me wonder if I'm disappointed or not.

The well more or less what it says on the tin. It's the old west, Daniel Craig awakens in the desert with a pipboy on his arm and no memory of who he is or how he got there. He wanders into town, and finds out he's a wanted criminal, but before anyone can cart him off to face justice, the town is attacked by alien ships and Daniel (I'm sure his character had a different name, but I don't care) finds out his pipboy is actually an alien weapon capable of taking down the ships, so he and the denizens of the town must team up to rescue the captured citizens.

On a purely technical level, this film is near flawless. The cinematography is gorgeous, combining the sweeping camera shots over the scenery and great combat shooting. The score by the underused Harry Gregson Williams is incredible. The CGI is well utilized and the monster designs are unique and intimidating. The costumes and sets are all nice, and the combat is well coregraphed and invigorating.

The problems mostly come in on the screenplay level, which is usually the case with a screenplay with 5 different writers. Almost all the characters are playing Cowboy Movie stock characters, even Daniel Craig is pulling a 'Man With No Name' bit. And while there's no problem with playing with stock characters, the dialogue is clunky and almost none of the characters have an arc that pulls them out of their stock. I'm given to understand the movie borrows it's name and next to nothing else from a graphic novel I've never read, but if it's as cliched as this I'm not sure I want to.

On that note, while the story is well structured and will hold your interest, a lot of it is fairly predictable. A twist involving Olivia Wilde's character is telegraphed way too early (a friend of mine called it months ago) and while it's hardly a complaint, the plot seems just a tiny bit too straightforward for my preferences, but then I really like Deathly Hallows Part 2 so what do I know?

The acting is mixed. Harrison Ford comes out the best, imbuing his psychotic cattle baron with real interest, while Daniel Craig does an excellent job with what little character he has. Adam Beach does what he can (seriously, he needs to be in more movies), while Sam Rockwell sleepwalks through...well a role he could do in his sleep (people need to watch Moon before casting him). And while Olivia Wilde's primary job in this film seems to be hanging around looking hot and dropping occasional exposition, someone really needs to get her to act more, since she seems to be in a rut since Tron (I know she can act, I've seen House).

I get the primary joke of this movie, to drop aliens into a fairly rote western movie and see how everyone involved reacts. I also get the primary point, IE the parallels between what the Aliens are doing to the Cowboys and what the Cowboys did to the Natives, which thankfully goes unadressed by the characters. I also like that they elected to take the True Grit approach to Cowboys by making them more realistic (IE unwashed, racist and psychotic), but there's far too little of both fun and intellect to make this a great movie. But while I can't really recommend that you run right out to see it, I also really can't say you should avoid it. It's enjoyable throughout, engaging while you're watching it and frequently exciting. Basically, if you felt that you might want to see it based purely on it's title or it's leads...yeah I guess it might be worth a matinee. Sorry if that's unhelpful. See you next time.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he's going to make a drinking game for every time someone references their wife, son or people.

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