Cowboys and Aliens: 1875 meets 2020

Cowboys and Aliens: 1875 meets 2020 August 4, 2011

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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