Daniel Craig in Cowboys and Aliens
Cowboys. Aliens. The western. The sci-fi. Normally quite separate affairs, but not so in director Jon Favreau’s new blockbuster, Cowboys and Aliens. While it sounds like a straight to DVD low budget movie the title actually becomes ridiculous to the point of fantastic.
Loosely based on the hundred page 2006 comic by Fred Van Lente and Andrew Foley, the film basically does what it says on the tin. In the year 1873, Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig, in a part originally cast with Robert Downey Jr) wakes up with no memory and a strange bracelet on his wrist. He eventually finds his way to a nearby town and meets the rest of the cast; the flirty and mysterious Ella Swenson (Olivia Wilde), the seemingly horrible Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) and the unfortunately underused Sam Rockwell and Paul Dano.
The film starts solidly enough, but unfortunately descends into a rather underwhelming and forgettable feature. The beginning credits show that there were five writers of the screenplay, which is not usually a good sign. You would think, of course, that with so many writers on the case, the film couldn’t possibly be riddled with clichés. But, lo and behold, it is.
The story could have been cleverer and actually sets itself up to be: the aliens are after our gold and clear us humans out of the way indiscriminately to get to it more easily. Thinking back, something rather similar happened in that century – just replace ‘aliens’ with ‘white man’ and ‘humans’ with ‘Native Americans’ and you’ll be up to speed. However, this fact seems to be ignored. Perhaps it was only meant to be alluded to for the more intelligent audience members… However, with there actually been Native Americans in the story, it could have been more of a point, still without been shoved down the viewer’s throats.
Olivia Wilde in Cowboys and Aliens
The title and idea suggests a more tongue-in-cheek movie and it by no means takes itself too seriously - but it has been criticised for doing so, which seems unfair. The idea of aliens landing in the nineteenth century is just as plausible as them doing it in the twentieth or twenty-first century, but other sci-fi’s have not been similarly criticised. If the problem is that it was in the past and we think aliens didn’t exist back then, well we only have to direct our eyes to Super 8. That is a good example of a film set in the past, with extraterrestrial life, that was not expected to be tongue-in-cheek.
The aliens themselves are decently designed – apparently based as a cross between the creatures of the Alien and Predator franchises - and the CGI, in general, is pretty spot on which we cannot seem to take for granted anymore, even with the biggest budget movies (yes, Green Lantern; you, for example). Favreau’s previous Iron Man films were also top notch in the CGI department; however, they were also better in every other department too.
It somehow feels, throughout Cowboys and Aliens, that Favreau just had to get this one out the way before doing another Iron Man.He must be commended, though; despite heavy pressure from the studio, he refrained from making the film 3D. At least the world has not gone completely mad.