Science fiction, western movie-making collide
by Anna Scholl, Talon staff writer
When I first saw the preview for Cowboys & Aliens, I was in a theatre packed with fellow wizard fans getting ready to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1. The audience was not impressed with the title of the movie. Laughter could probably be heard from outside the doors. I, however, had a different mindset, even though it was mostly because of the fact that the familiar faces of Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford were present in the trailer. It may sound like nothing but a summer popcorn-flick, but I was surprised with the film and the level of emotion it was able to present with such an odd plot. Besides, a western where the acting of James Bond and Indiana Jones combine to fight aliens? I was giddy with movie-fanatic delight just to see what Ford and Craig might be able to bring to such an odd-looking film.
The movie begins with the familiar western hustle and bustle. We are introduced to a character (Daniel Craig), his name unknown to us, lying out in the desert with a strange, futuristic contraption attached to his wrist. Already we have questions. Who is this man? Where did he come from? What he’s going to do next. He rides on a stolen horse with new clothes and weapons, into a small town that is seen to have some serious law enforcement issues. We soon find out this loner is a wanted man named Jake Lonergan. But, just as it seems like an old-fashioned night scuffle in the streets of the town, the citizens and Jake are confronted by floating lights in the sky. Ambushed, peppered with flaming rays and mechanical claws grabbing residents, Jake and the rest of the men in the village set out to find their stolen people. They are joined by Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), whose son was also taken by these strange visitors that attacked them. They’re out to hunt and kill, to find these beings that stole their people, and could possibly steal the rest of the world.
With such an odd plot, I wouldn’t blame many people for being turned off by such an absurd movie. But it takes an open mind to appreciate what Cowboys & Aliens can bring to the world of cinema. It mixes two genres which haven’t been presented to the mainstream audience since the Tremors franchise: western and science fiction. I appreciate difference, and watching a film tackling such an odd mix film-types makes me analyze what else the movie can offer. This helps me and I’m sure the rest of the audience to appreciate the movie’s odd way of story telling and character development. Its special effects or decent, but this is made up through the suspense the cinematography is able to add detail to that no computer imagery could fault. This (cinematography) is what constantly saves the movie from becoming another forgettable, summer blockbuster into a film people can recognize as imaginatively delicious to look at.
Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford are the only two actors which I can stand up for in this movie. They are able to convey a mysterious feel to their character and help bring to life a shadow of a different person behind the characters’ stern, dusty eyes. And while you can say Harrison Ford obviously recycles some personality traits from Dr. Jones, I believe this may have been what brought me to like his character in the first place. He served as someone familiar. This, unfortunately, could not be said for the rest of the main cast. While there are a small number of supporting characters that are believable, Olivia Wilde’s performance of Ella Swenson is nothing but a boorish, model-bodied character that I was, unfortunately, forced to watch throughout my movie experience. Her portrayal was tasteless, and at times seemed hollow and unresponsive. It seemed as if she served as nothing but a possible love-interest, and though her character was supposed to bring a much larger contribution to the story progression, it served as nothing but something pretty to look at.
The big question is whether or not Cowboys & Aliens is a hit or a miss. As a fan of movies that has the ability to bring something fresh and different to the theatres, I was impressed by its performance to keep my attention while also delivering enough emotion and development to make it a good movie. Cowboys & Aliens, while different, brings a new look on the science fiction/western genre. And with its upcoming early December DVD release, I’ll gladly add it to my film collection.