Cowboys & Aliens

Cowboys & Aliens (2011) movie poster

(2011) director Jon Favreau
viewed: 07/30/2011 at Century San Francisco Centre 9 & XD, SF, CA

Alien invasion movies have become more and more common.  Does that signify some cultural commentary on xenophobia or is it simply the largely bankrupt creativity in Hollywood aligning itself with facile digital effects?  Whatever the case may be, the aliens themselves are less and less unique from one another and these films typically have a hard time distinguishing themselves from one another, much less “the pack”.

So, a good ol’ alien invasion film set in the Old West earns its share of novelty.  In fact, many people hearing the title hoped somehow for some possible strange mash-up of two staple American genres, the Western and the sci-fi film, something different for sure.  Produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Iron Man (2008) and Iron Man 2 (2010)’s Jon Favreau, and starring both Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig, this enough was to expect one of the more intriguing summer movies of 2011.

Adapted from a graphic novel, this novel idea isn’t purely novel, though it might emanate from a more obscure comic compared to the slate of other major flagship comic book adaptations hitting the screen over the past few and coming years.  This film certainly has/had potential.

And its potential is not entirely squandered.

Actually, after initial reviews came in fairly weak, my expectations were lowered most likely.  I have to say that while I liked the whole concept pretty well, I wasn’t wowed or intrigued by the trailers.  And despite a lot of valid critique, it’s a reasonably fun film.

Of course, I took the kids, with whom I’ve seen almost all of my recent films and certainly an increasing number of the summer fare of 2011.  They both liked it.

The story opens with a shot of the desert, and then Daniel Craig popping up looking confused.  He’s got a large metal bracelet on his arm, no shoes, and no idea who he is or where he is.  It’s a little The Bourne Identity (2002) with OO7 as a cowboy.  He tracks back to the closest town where an attractive, fairly unlikely historical female character (modern, tough, and independent), played by Olivia Wilde, sidles up to him with interest.  As his memory comes back in chunks, it seems that he was a bandit before, with some weird paranormal thing that gets set into action when the aliens come into town in force and start blasting everything and abducting people.

The mash-up ends about where it starts.  The film lacks that “meta” mentality and sticks with the summer action thrill-ride and straight-forward narrative.  Which works in its favor, mostly.

The thing about the Western is that it began a post-modern bent by the 1960’s almost, and it’s virtually impossible to make an un-self-aware Western in the 21st century.   I guess that is where so many critics have found disappointment, in the film’s adherence to genre conventions and a significant disavowal of trying to make anything more challenging from the conventions.  We’ve got two genres riddled with conventions and an adherence to those conventions even when they’re being flung at one another in some weird mix of possibility.

Well, maybe you shouldn’t complain about the film that it failed to be and simply try to enjoy what they managed to put on screen.  It’s disappointing if you hoped for more, but if you’re like Felix and Clara, who went in with few expectations and preconceptions, you can take the whole thing much more at face value.  And that face value is decent.  Good perhaps.  Not great.

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