‘Cowboys and Aliens’ Is Too Spaced Out

Obviously writing films reviews is a completely subjective process, and the fact that different films appeal to different people is what makes writing and reading reviews so much fun. Thus what may work in films for me may not suit others and vice versa.

More specifically, here are some examples of situations that I did not or could never find acceptable in the movies: a colorized version of “To Kill a Mockingbird”; the Christopher Reeve remake of “Rear Window”; George Clooney as Batman; Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates; Keanu Reeves as anybody; George Clooney as Rocky Balboa; Adam Sandler as James Bond; Sean Connery as Forrest Gump; Jack Nicholson as Harry Potter; Pee Wee Herman as Superman; and George Clooney as Jack Bauer. And now I can add to this list the new film “Cowboys and Aliens.”

Based upon Scott Mitchell Robinson’s graphic novel of the same name, the bizarre events in “Cowboys and Aliens” transpire during 1875 in the New Mexico Territory, where we encounter Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) as he regains consciousness in the desert. He has suffered an abdominal wound, and a strange iron bracelet encircles his wrist. After unsuccessfully attempting to rid himself of the bracelet, he is accosted by some men on horseback, but he manages to overcome them and head into the town of Absolution.

Although he has no memory of what has happened to him, he soon learns that he is a wanted man, but he has no intention of allowing himself to be captured. In Absolution he runs into some trouble with Percy Dolarhyde (Paul Drano), the town bully and the son of Col. Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), a wealthy landowner who calls the shots in Absolution.

After a series of events too tedious to delineate here, spaceships attack the town of Absolution, and in addition dropping bombs, they suck some of the townspeople right off the streets and up into the air. One of the unfortunate victims of this kidnapping is Percy, and even though his son is a completely obnoxious ass, Col. Dolarhyde wants to get him back.  The arrival of the space ships also activates Lonergan’s bracelet, and naturally he wants to find out what contact he has had with the aliens.

Another character who enters the mix before the attack occurs is the mysterious and beautiful Ella Swenson (Olivia Wilde), who has a strange attraction for Lonergan to the point that she virtually stocks him because of her fascination with his bracelet. But when her true identity is revealed, it comes as no surprise. (Wilde is very good in this role, but you may know her better as Thirteen on the “House” television series.)

So the bottom line is that Absolution finds itself under alien attack, and the nasty critters have abducted some of its citizens. Therefore it’s up to the remaining town denizens, under the leadership of Col. Dolarhyde and Lonergan, to defend the town and recover their loved ones.

From the time the aliens arrived on the scene, I really couldn’t wait for this tiresomely ridiculous debacle to end, and if it hadn’t been for the presence of Craig and Ford, I would have abandoned it before the halfway mark. I had no problem with the acting throughout the movie, and the special effects were quite impressive in places, even though the ending was sadly unoriginal and shamefully predictable.

Actually I can deal with the weak conclusion, but what I just cannot get past is the film’s entire premise. I’ve always loved Westerns, and nothing is much more impressive than seeing the incomparable Jimmy Stewart riding tall in the saddle or the Lone Ranger galloping across the plains astride his magnificent white stallion, Silver.

When “Cowboys and Aliens” began, I almost forgot about the third word in the title because, with the exception of the weird bracelet, it had the look of a traditional Western. And the town of Absolution is a terrific set, but all of this goes down the drain when the black beasts arrive and begin sucking people into their ships. Sorry, but I just can’t buy it. It’s bad enough that these creatures show up at all, but then they are about as terrifying as a litter of puppies. In fact, when I saw their chests open up to reveal a pair of slimy, human-looking hands, I laughed out loud. And when the Apaches showed up and began firing arrows at the aliens, I really lost it.

For me having aliens appear in a Western is tantamount to having cowboys suddenly invade a science fiction film. Perhaps the best science fiction film ever made is the 1951 version of “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” In the scene where the enormous robot Gort is guarding the spaceship, how ludicrous would it be for John Wayne to ride up on his horse begin firing his six shooter at Gort? Or how about having Roy Rogers show up to steal the Starship Enterprise?

As I said, however, Ford and Craig made the movie tolerable for me, and in the production notes, Ford explained how he accepted the film’s basic premise.

“What’s interesting is that these people back in 1875 in the Old West didn’t have our experience of space travel and planetary understanding. When the invasion happens, they have no context in which to understand what was occurring. The only possible context is the one that was given to them by the preacher in town. The aliens were possibly demons and remained demons throughout the telling of the story. The Western depends on the reality that it’s every man for himself. They were on the edge of the frontier and had to depend on their own resources. The strong will and the strong man did prevail.”

Also in the production notes, Craig noted how much he enjoyed the role of a cowboy and why he believes that the whole plot was a believable one.

“The cowboy just comes out. We are in a desert, and I’m wearing chaps. I’m wearing a gun around my waist, I’ve got cowboy boots on and a hat, and I’m riding a horse. I rode on a horse every day and I got paid to do it, so I couldn’t have been happier. The idea is that survival kicks in. These people are very tough. They’re frontier people, and we’ve got American Indian tribesmen who are a tough breed who have survived the outside world and all that Mother Nature has to throw at them.”

I’m sure that some may enjoy “Cowboys and Aliens” (It gets a score of six only because of Craig and Ford.), but it was just too much off the wall for me. I only hope that in the future we don’t see such mixed-genre films as “Cowboys and Ninjas,” “Cowboys and Transformers,” “Harry Potter Versus King Kong,” or even, God forbid, “Aliens and Smurfs.”




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