As we dive headlong into the Christmas season, we should also be aware that we’re in the period where the Summer Cinema Blockbusters are starting to appear on Blu-ray. One movie that I missed on its Cinema circuit tour was the CGI fest ‘Cowboys & Aliens’. It was largely touted as Sci-Fi meets Western and many people seem to have become hung up on the fact that they couldn’t understand how the two genres would work together. Several negative remarks ensued to the extent that it was an unfulfilling movie full of effects at the expense of characterisation and storyline. It was with such comments ringing in my ears that I settled down to watch the American Region free Blu-ray.
Now, we’ve all been caught out by movies that are a tribute to the work of the CGI artist, yet have left us not caring a jot about the characters or the story. I was pleasantly surprised by ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ as it’s nowhere near as bad as I’d heard and I’d go so far as to say that it’s good entertainment.
As far as the casting goes, it has two Hollywood ‘A’ Listers to pull in the audience. A gaunt, ruddy looking Daniel Craig (sans 007 badge) looking as if he could kick in any alien’s head that might be foolish enough to attempt an invasion of Earth. A weather beaten Harrison Ford with a face like a well worn saddlebag is there, shoulder to shoulder, with him and there’s even the beautiful Olivia Wilde to provide the eye candy and love interest with a twist.
The movie opens with Dan Craig’s character, waking in the desert with what we’re led to believe is a bullet wound and sporting a funky, chunky metal bracelet on his wrist. Not only does he not know how he came by either, he also can’t remember his own name or how he got there. Yes folks, it’s the ‘Man with no Name’.
A group of bounty hunters, suspecting him to be an escaped criminal, attempt to arrest him but pretty soon realise their mistake when he grittily despatches them. So in the first few minutes we’ve had our interest raised and our hero has seriously kicked the butts of four grisly looking individuals.
As the action moves into town we’re introduced to Doc (Sam Rockwell - so good in ‘Moon’) the mild mannered saloon owner trying to make a living as well as protect his pretty Mexican wife. Spoilt brat Percy Dolarhyde (Paul Dano), son of Cattle Baron Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) is in town trying to humiliate the townsfolk, but he reckons without a swift kick in the family jewels from ‘The Man with No Name’.
So, we’ve now been introduced to four stereotypical characters and you’d be forgiven for feeling somewhat depressed as we’ve seen it all before and it looks like downhill all the way. Now, that would have been the case but for the strong performances of the two leading men who bring their own personalities to the roles – and the script also delivers a modicum of humour which the two actors pick up on with a twinkle in their eye and a knowing look.
We’re fully immersed in the American West and Jake Lonergan (Dan Craig - who remembers his name) is about to be carted off in a paddy wagon along with the terrified boy Dolarhyde, when the attention of the townsfolk is taken up by some lights in the sky. Suddenly, alien spaceships are flying overhead and they begin to lasso and whisk the good folks of Absolution off into the night sky. Are they being kidnapped for some scary alien experimentation? Who knows?
All Dan Craig knows is that the metal bracelet on his wrist lights up and, with it, he can shoot down the marauding alien craft. As alien creatures stalk the night, we see that a Colt 45 has little effect on them and they seem large and powerful – ripping humans apart in their wake.
So, it’s up to Dan & Harry to unite against the common enemy and save the Western world. Will Dan’s character remember his own name and replace the missing hours in his life? Who is the mysterious woman who seems to know an awful lot more than she’s revealing? I’m not about to spoil anyone’s fun by giving away more than that.
What I will say is that the film moves along at a brisk enough pace so that it doesn’t drag – and this will suit both the MTV generation and those who like a story well told. Don’t bother with the Theatrical cut of the movie. The Extended version is 16 minutes longer and is much better for it as it uses the extra time to flesh out a few sequences that help the movie to be better explained.
Jon Favreau’s (‘Iron Man’) direction is skilful as he manfully masterminds the blending of the CGI, animatronics and Wild West location Live action.
The desert photography by cinematographer Matthew Libatique hits you right between the eyes, adding to the appeal of the whole film.
Perhaps my enjoyment of the film was due to having fairly low expectations of it, but at the end of the day (or even in the morning) ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ held my attention for its duration. While I’d seen similar things in other movies, it was well played and the CGI work provided no ‘suss jobs’. I’ve seen many worse and I don’t think that it deserved the criticism many levelled at it. It doesn’t really set out to be more than it is – and that is a good night out at the movies. There’s wit, there’s humour and there’s not too much to insult the audience’s intelligence.
Go on, give it a whirl! You know you want to!
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