Cowboys and Aliens: 1875 meets 2020

Mixing things can be good.   Put a little lime in your ice tea, and it can enhance its flavor.   Hot fudge sauce on ice cream is a great combination.  On the other hand,  mixing orange juice with milk just doesn’t work— it curdles the milk.   What then should one say about a mixed genre movie like Cowboys and Aliens?

On the one hand, it comes with the star power of both Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, and they don’t look out of place in cowboy outfits in the New Mexico territory in the 1870s.   No one plays ornery or the curmudgeon with the heart of gold better than Ford, and Craig has shown he can jump from one genre of film to another with style and grace.   There is nothing wrong with the casting of the male leads in this movie,  and it’s nice to finally see Keith Carrradine again.     Olivia Wilde is not hard on the eyes either, and Paul Dano of ‘There will be Blood’ fame (remember the young Pentacostal preacher?) is well cast as the son of Col. Dollarhyde (Ford).

And who could ask for more than a combination of Stephen Sp. with Jon Favreau?   Ah but when you do a mixed genre movie that basically hasn’t been tried before,  you’d better get the story and script straight or the things that don’t seem to fit, or seem very out of place stick out like a very sore thumb.   And sadly, the script for this movie leaves much to be desired.  For one thing, the dialogue needs some punching up.  Don’t you just hate it when one of the best, most humorous  lines of the movie, which is in the trailer, somehow gets left out of the movie itself?   To say the story is a jumble is to put it mildly.

Here’s the premise— aliens have come to New Mexico to steal all it’s gold.   And as Col. Dollarhyde asks at one juncture (though he is referring to the Indians in the territory)— ‘What are they going to do with it?  Spend it!’   I don’t think so.    Then there is the whole deal of the aliens stealing human beings—- lassoing them and dragging them into their space planes and taking them back to their space ship.  But for what?  When we finally get inside the alien space ship we find a bunch of humans blinded by the light shining on them, which causes them to lose their memories,  which in fact is what had already happened to Jake Lonergan (an outlaw played by Craig).   But what’s the point?   We are never told.  I’m willing to suspend my disbelieve in a creative movie as much as the next person, but this script stretches credulity past the breaking point.

On the other hand,  the scenery is grand,  the music is even better, and I really wanted to like this movie.  It’s basic framework is a classic Western, about the little town of Absolution,  which has been losing its people to the aliens.  Into town comes ‘the man with no name’  (no not Clint Eastwood,  Daniel Craig) only this man literally can’t remember who he is.

Westerns are basically morality plays,  and sure enough we have the usual wild west preacher in this film— spouting Pelagian notions like– “you have to earn God’s presence, then experience it, then God expects you to do things for yourself”.  And we have the usual spitting contests, fights, drinking in the saloon, weak lawmen, a domineering cattle rancher,  a damsel apparently in distress,  frightened towns people, a  loyal dog,  a bad outlaw gang.  The works.

With all these classic elements the movie keeps trying to be promising, until the aliens come on the scene, and all Hell breaks lose.  Sometimes this is about as disconcerting as if you went to see  the Smurfs movie and the Blue Man group showed up instead.    And of course when it comes to aliens there are only two sorts— cute and loveable (think E.T.)  and ugly as Hades and mean as a snake.  This movie has the latter.

As my wife said,  while there is some resolution to some story lines in this film  (the town does get some of its people back, and Col. Dollarhyde recovers his son Percy),  the main character’s story is not properly resolved.   He just rides off into the sunset.

For an hour and 58 minutes I wanted to like this movie.  But honestly, if the aliens showed up in 1875, do you really think they could take down Battlestar Gallactica with the guns they had back then?  I don’t think so.   Nice try boys, but no cigar.   Watch the DVD of True Grit if you want to see a good Western, or for that matter,  watch  Super 8 if you want to see a better and current Alien movie.   It’s too bad—- Craig and Ford need to do another film together with a much better script.  I’m o.k. with the Wild Wild West.  But this film is too wild, and is like the sun setting in the west— its pretty to watch for a moment, but then its gone.

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  • Oscar

    Saw the movie this past weekend. Here are a couple of thoughts…

    The aliens want gold. Why? We never find out.

    Why take humans? Olivia Wild’s character explains that it is to study our weaknesses in order to make a later full scale invasion easier.

    The script says the story takes place in Arizona Territory, but it is filmed in New Mexico.

    And my greatest complaint: If the aliens are so technologically advanced why then are their superior weapons so inaccurate? Notice how their lasers continually miss their targets. And why do the aliens chase the earthlings sans any technological assistance. They, in effect, become nothing more than hunting beast who rely on speed and fangs to kill. Just doesn’t make sense.

    And speaking of not making sense, Wilde’s character, Ella, makes little sense at all. She was mostly just an irritating addition to the story, but maybe that was the screen writers’ fault. It’s a good thing Wilde kept her gig on “House” cuz big screen acting is just too big for her small screen talent.

    That all being said, the movie WAS entertaining enough to keep me from regretting spending $8 for a Senior admission price.

  • Leo

    Guess I went in with a different thought…after all…it was Cowboys vs. Aliens…
    Didn’t expect any musical numbers – check.
    Didn’t expect any great love story – check.
    Didn’t expect any great dialogue – check.
    Didn’t expect any great cinematic performances – check.
    Expected cowboys to shoot non-stop from revolvers without reloading – check.
    Expected cowboys to win – check.
    So…we had fun, my son enjoyed it, and I got what I expected.

    Although I was left wondering…why was the Indian lance able to penetrate and kill the alien…when repeatedd hits from a .45 couldn’t? Ah…Mr. producer…ever seen the SIZE of a Colt .45 round (not an ACP round…but the .45 used between rilfe and revolver)? Or the kinetic impact it has? Um…substantially greater than a lance…

  • Graham Veale

    Olivia Wilde just has to turn up and be Olivia Wilde. Her screen presence will carry her on to a great career. And “House” has only a season or two left in it, so staying on does not indicate that her future is in television.
    Can she act? She hasn’t picked demanding screen roles. That’s a shrewd move. Charlize Theron wasn’t being touted for Oscars in her early movies. But she got there once she started playing “against type”…and once she had made enough movies to master the medium.

    She’ll be bigger than Julia Roberts. You read it here first!


  • Graham Veale

    I believe that this movie was based on a comic book. Sad, really. There must be some very frustrated screen writers out there. But the rule is “only invest in pre-existing,established markets”. So next year we’ll have “Batteships” the movie.
    Maybe Rebecca Black will sing the soundtrack.

  • David Weinschrott

    On orange juice and milk… maybe the curdle is not so bad:

    It’s been a while since I’ve had a “real” Orange Julius but from what I remember:

    6 oz. frozen orange juice concentrate
    1 cup milk
    1 cup water
    1/2 cup sugar
    1 tsp. vanilla extract
    8-9 ice cubes

    1. Combine all ingredients except ice cubes in blender.
    2. Blend for about 1-2 minutes, adding ice cubes one at a time.

    back in the day this drink (or a green river) were popular at drive in fast food joints.

  • ben witherington

    “She’ll be bigger than Julia Roberts?” Thanks Graham, I needed a good laugh after seeing this movie. Not a chance. Go see Ms. Roberts in Larry Crowne, critics goofed on that one.


  • Graham Veale

    Does she play eccentric Julia Roberts? Loud Julia Roberts? Kooky Julia Roberts?
    Or just plain overpaid Julia Roberts?