Take an ‘it’ director, hot off the heels of a major franchise success, and high concept idea with a punchy title (Cowboys Versus Aliens! Magic!) that promises a new hybrid of a film, an epic cast with a respected leading man, a Hollywood legend, and a supporting cast of platinum-grade quality, and expectations are going to be huge. It is a cross to bear for any production afforded these elements to deliver a product worthy of its pedigree. Did they do it?
Gunslinger Jake (Craig) awakens on the ground with no memory of who he is, where he is, or why he’s there. Added to which, Jake has some mysterious and decidedly out of place gauntlet permanently affixed to his wrist. As Jake reconnects with civilization, he quickly learns he is a wanted man, a dangerous man on many a folk’s hit list. Just as things look set to go down that well ridden western road, aliens attack the town and begin abducting its people. Together with an eclectic posse, including a cattle baron who wants him dead at first (Ford), and a mysterious beauty who knows more than she’s letting on (Wilde), Jake leads the ragtag bunch on a hunt for the creatures that attacked them.
It’s a wondrously inventive and original premise, and, in a sea of remakes and sequels, it’s a breath of fresh air. But alas, despite all its attempts to be something new, it falls short with its stellar cast in tow. Not that its merits should be overlooked—there are enough of them to recommend a viewing—but be forewarned that even with its cast and budget and originality, it doesn’t completely satisfy.
One of the film’s main problems is its constant desire to homage everything ‘western’, from characters to camera shots. The characters, from Craig’s loner outlaw to Ford’s grizzled baron, are so thinly derived even they can’t raise them from under a large shadow of clichés. But it’s not just characters that are thin; for all the characters that inhabit this film, and the inventive intrusion of some science fiction, very little happens in over two hours of story. The film seems too busy mimicking films of yore to bother much with a plot as inventive as the premise. Even the aliens, design aside, are shallowly conceived, given a rather bland and incredulous motive that Ford’s character openly mocks. Perhaps, therein, lay the central flaw: this constant and annoying wink at the audience that they (the filmmakers) know the whole shebang is rather thin an obvious, but just go with it. Well, with the talent at hand, so much more could have been accomplished.
Enough of the bad. It’s a fun movie; it’s got actors doing the very best with the roles they’re given; the effects and production design are outstanding; the action is constant and the clichés well emulated.
Expectation upon this film was huge for many reasons, none the least being that we are constantly starved for something new in these times. Cowboys and Aliens was at least an attempt to give us that very thing, and for that we should be grateful. However, with the budget and talent afforded this production, and with a little more effort, something wondrous could have been accomplished, which ultimately leaves this reviewer with a bittersweet taste: it was a fun ride but one that failed to rise above remake/sequel pandemic and pioneer a new era of truly brave, original risk taking in cinema.
Director: Jon Favreau
Writer: Roberto Orci
Cast: Harrison Ford; Daniel Craig; Sam Rockwell; Paul Dano; Olivia Wilde
Genre: Sci-fi | Western | horror
Tagline: Cowboys & Aliens
Memorable Movie Quote: "I want that man! You give him to me now, or I'm gonna take him!"
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Release Date: July 29, 2011
Blu-ray Release Date (UK): December 26, 2011.
Synopsis: Blockbuster filmmaker Jon Favreau directs Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford in an event film for summer 2011 that crosses the classic Western with the alien-invasion movie in a blazingly original way: Cowboys & Aliens. Joined by an arsenal of top moviemakers -- Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci -- he brings an all-new action thriller that will take audiences into the Old West, where a lone cowboy leads an uprising against a terror from beyond our world.
1875. New Mexico Territory. A stranger (Craig) with no memory of his past stumbles into the hard desert town of Absolution. The only hint to his history is a mysterious shackle that encircles one wrist. What he discovers is that the people of Absolution don’t welcome strangers, and nobody makes a move on its streets unless ordered to do so by the iron-fisted Colonel Dolarhyde (Ford). It’s a town that lives in fear.
But Absolution is about to experience fear it can scarcely comprehend as the desolate city is attacked by marauders from the sky. Screaming down with breathtaking velocity and blinding lights to abduct the helpless one by one, these monsters challenge everything the residents have ever known.
Now, the stranger they rejected is their only hope for salvation. As this gunslinger slowly starts to remember who he is and where he’s been, he realizes he holds a secret that could give the town a fighting chance against the alien force. With the help of the elusive traveler Ella (Olivia Wilde), he pulls together a posse comprised of former opponents -- townsfolk, Dolarhyde and his boys, outlaws and Apache warriors -- all in danger of annihilation. United against a common enemy, they will prepare for an epic showdown for survival.
The script for Cowboys & Aliens is by Star Trek’s Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci and Damon Lindelof (television’s Lost), based on Platinum Studios’ graphic novel created by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg. Grazer, Howard, Rosenberg, Kurtzman and Orci produce. Spielberg and Denis L. Stewart executive produce..
Triple Play (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy)  [Region Free]
Available on Blu-ray (UK) - December 26, 2011
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
Subtitles: English, German, French, Dutch, Italian, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Castillian
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; French: DTS 5.1; Spanish: DTS 5.1
Distributor: Paramount Home Entertainment
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set (1 BD, 1 DVD); UV digital copy; DVD copy; Bonus View (PiP); BD-Live; D-Box; Mobile features
Exceptional 1080P AVC encoded picture; it’s virtually flawless, as is the DTS-HD 5.1 lossless audio that accompanies it. For a quick demonstration of what a home cinema can be, it’s worth a play. Extras are generous and extensive.
- Recorded by a certainly confident-sounding and very relaxed Favreau, Cowboys and Aliens commentary track is pretty welcoming for casual listeners. The film’s celebrated director guides listeners through the ins and outs of the movie and covers everything from the cast to the crew. A secret, however, is revealed: Favreau admits to being partial to the Extended Cut of the movie which is, thankfully, included on the release. It is, in fact, superior to the Theatrical Version.
Housed in a slick-looking slip cover, Universal provides two versions, the Theatrical Version and the Extended Cut, of the film. The 16-minute difference in the two is quite amazing and clarifies some of the characterization beefs critics had when it was first released. The two-disc packaging also includes the DVD version of the film and the much-loathed ultraviolet digital copy.
Ultimately, the special features are pretty strong. There’s an 80-minute sequence that pools together interviews from Favreau about the film. The featurettes are maybe too brief to be that memorable but do feature some interesting points about the origin of the film and the use of practical effects vs CGI sequences. The U-Control picture-in-picture feature is also brief but features plenty of behind-the-scenes footage and interview segments to be a worthwhile inclusion.
The breakdown is as follows:
- Conversations with Jon Favreau (80 min)
- Igniting the Sky (18 min)
- Finding the Story (5 min)
- Outer-Space Icon (10 min)
- The Scope of the Spectacle (7 min)
- The BR release also includes a D-Box Motion code, My Scenes, pocketBLU and BD-Live enabled.