Monday, August 1, 2011

Cowboys & Aliens

I went into this one with high expectations.  When you make a movie with Indiana Jones, James Bond, and Thirteen from House in it, that's what you're asking for, really.  But I'm pleased to report that it was not a disappointment.  In fact, I was impressed.  It had everything: blasts, chuckles, and chases, with a couple of tearjerking moments as the cherry on top.  In a word, Awesome.  But I've got lots more words.

For starters, the concept of the movie was brilliant.  I've seen a couple of terrible alien movies in the past month (don't waste your time watching Super 8 or Battle: Los Angeles), and one good western a while ago (True Grit, despite reviews from disappointed John Wayne fans, was excellent).  But as soon as I saw the first trailer for Cowboys & Aliens, I was excited.  Why do aliens only attack in present-day situations? Because we can send the Marines after them now? Because a covered wagon transforming into a giant robot seemed unlikely?  Because a movie can only be one genre at a time?  I say it's because it never occured to the writers to try anything different.  If Transformers sells movie tickets, make a Transformers 2.  It's easy.  It's boring. (By the way, Transformers 3 wasn't a total disaster, but take a deck of cards or something--the final battle gets a little monotonous after 45 straight minutes of explosions and screaming.)  But I digress.

Cowboys & Aliens, although a gamble, was a success on both fronts.  Not only was it a western complete with Indians, cattle, and saloons, but it was a sci-fi flick with all the bells, whistles, and blue-ish pulse-like ka-booms.  I especially appreciated the fact that all of the technologically advanced rays and blasts were accented by plenty of good, old-fashioned shotguns and pistols.  Add to that a tribe of angry Native Americans with spears and arrows, and you've got yourself a nice little final battle that doesn't grow boring and actually carries the plot forward (unlike a certain recent release I have already mentioned.)

I also appreciated that although Lonergan (Daniel Craig) is introduced with amnesia and later identified as a dangerous outlaw, time is not wasted on his quest to recover his memory.  That wasn't what the movie was about.  The loose end is tied up about halfway through, and the story can move along without having to worry about tripping over its shoelaces.  If I remember correctly, it's also around this time that we are told why the aliens are there.  I won't give it away, but it fits both the plot and the time period, and doesn't feel like an afterthought the way it did in Battle: Los Angeles.  ("Aliens! Aliens! Oh no!! Oh, also, they're after our water... That doesn't sound too far fetched, does it?")

Apart from the plot, the camerawork was exceptional.  Many of the scenes were so high-contrast and edited in such away that they could have been photographs in their own right, had you paused the movie.  It's not something you usually see on the big screen, and it worked.

John Favreau had a pretty good leg up with his cast, but he didn't fall short on his end, either.  The dynamic between Jake Lonergan (Craig) and Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) as enemies-turned-allies was a flawless blend of banter and facial expressions that drew laughter from the audience at every turn.  Craig's cowboy-tough posture (head down, hat brim low, arm poised above his gun) sold his character perfectly.  We even get to see Harrison Ford's iconic half-smile toward the end, when I had begun to worry it wouldn't make an appearance.

There's another element to every movie that's easily just as important as the characters:  the score.  The Cowboys & Aliens score met the same standard as did every other element in the movie.  It was different, interesting, but in a very good way.  It was western music woven with sythetic alien-sounds, as well as choral arrangements that represented the otherwordly angle.  What I noticed the most was how animated it was.  Most scores are meant to be almost unnoticed, a background sound that tells you how you're supposed to feel about whatever is taking place on the screen, just like a laughtrack tells you when to laugh or gasp at a sitcom.  But composer Harry Gregson-Williams (who, interestingly, also scored Unstoppable, and you know what I thought of that movie), really took advantage of scenes where there was no dialogue, bringing the music forward with more melodic pieces and complex tunes that did more than offset the visual component, they accompanied it.

This movie was the whole package.  A seamless blend of two popular genres.  Go see it.  Seriously.  It's better than whatever you have planned for this weekend.


  1. Nice review Raz D! I thought it was a great movie too. :)

  2. I wanted to watch the movie but somehow missed it with all the travel. Need to watch it now for sure.