Friday, August 12, 2011
Cowboys & Aliens may satisfy you if you: (a) have never seen a movie before, (b) don't speak English and plan to watch the film without subtitles, or (c) enjoy going to the movies so that you can invent a better version of the story you are currently watching. That being said, I'm afraid fans of Westerns and Alien invasion films would be well advised to stay away. Although I tend to agree that there is 'strength in numbers' the rule typically does not apply to screenwriters of which Cowboys & Aliens has seven, not including the uncredited ones.
The story we're served is a gourmet platter analagous to the "snake surprise" in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, but without the surprise. It all begins when Daniel Craig wakes up in the middle of the desert with a mysterious electronic cuff on his wrist, not knowing who he is or how he got there. By the end of the movie, I'm not sure he finds the answer. What he does find are lots of explosions, several alien attacks, a rivalry with the curmudgeonly Harrison Ford and romantic tension in the form of a woman who isn't really a woman and comes from a planet we never learn about. Along the way there are triumphs, tribulations and unfortunate Native-American stereotypes, which compliment all of the cliches smashingly. The aliens grow increasingly unfriendly but we never learn what it is they want and after a while it becomes unimportant.
The most unpredictable aspect of the story is Craig's wrist-cuff which seems to have a mind of it's own (shades of my old Waring 7.5 amp blender) and knows exactly when to kill people without even being programmed. We never learn how this is possible or why the cuff repeatedly rescues Craig from the very beings who designed it. Add to this the fact that in spite of some dandy special effects and a stellar cast of actors, the movie completely loses its hold in the second half. The end result feels more like a visit to a wax museum than the cinematic joy ride that could have been. You can make out the familiar faces but there's something unsubstantial about it all. Something that no measure of special effects can make up for.
I know it sounds jaded but believe me, I'm really not knocking the filmmakers here. I'm actually reveling in the realization that I was naive enough to have expected more. With each passing summer movie season it's becoming increasingly important to let go of one's lofty expectations; they interfere with the fun. Yes, a concept can be more than the sum of its special effects but who am I to purport that one man alone could effect this change? We're all in this together. This is the kind of entertainment we'll all be paying for well into the 22nd century, unless of course we can learn as a civilization to appreciate the Smurfs. At least then we might actually get our money's worth.