Sunday, August 14, 2011

Cowboys & Aliens (live action movie)

Although I still go to my local movie theater a lot, I hardly ever write about the movies I see there anymore - it's usually just too much effort for me to keep what happened in my head. I just saw Cowboys & Aliens, however, and I really want to write about it, so here you go.

I waffled about whether or not I really wanted to see this movie. The weekend before last, I saw Captain America and the final Harry Potter movie, but I skipped out on Cowboys & Aliens. Last weekend, I skipped out on this movie again, because it was too hot outside for me to want to go anywhere. I read viewer comments and film critics' reviews, and I still couldn't decide whether I really wanted to see this movie. Comments ranged from "this movie sucked and I hated sitting through the whole thing" to "no, it isn't great, but it's still a fun time at the movies."

My verdict? If you haven't seen this yet and decide you'd like to, go with a friend. This is the kind of movie that's most enjoyable when you're making fun of it, and that always goes better when there's someone who can laugh along with you. It's a fairly crappy movie, but not crappy in a way that made me want to vomit or cry (see my post on Gamer for an example of a movie of that sort). My ticket only cost me $3, and I felt I at least got my money's worth in explosions and getting to watch the rich guy's annoying jerk of a son repeatedly get his butt kicked at the beginning of the movie.

Now for the details.

Synopsis:

A guy (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the desert with a wound in his side and no memory of anything about himself, how he got there, or how he got a big metal bracelet he can't remove clamped around his wrist. After stealing a horse, a gun, and some clothes, he heads to town, where he gets his wound treated and learns that he's a wanted man named Jake Lonergan. One of the people he stole a lot of money from happens to be the town's richest, meanest guy, Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford).

One of the women in town, Ella (Olivia Wilde), seems to know something about the things Jake can't remember, but, before he gets a chance to talk to her, an alien aircraft shows up and starts blowing things up and snatching various people away. Lonergan blows the aircraft up with his bracelet. The various survivors decide to band together to try to get their people back and kill all the aliens. Their group is later joined by Lonergan's gang (after some fighting) and some Indians (after some arguing and an Unexpected Event).

Review:

I have a feeling that someone at Hollywood originally came up with the idea for this movie after saying something like "Wouldn't it be cool if someone you totally wouldn't think could beat technologically advanced aliens did? Like maybe cowboys versus aliens?" So, there's the basic idea, but there still needs to be some kind of logic and story, right? What could a bunch of technologically advanced aliens possibly want from a bunch of Wild West folks?

Gold, of course. Because it's rare on every other planet, too. Or something. I guess the aliens really like sparkly gold jewelry. Or maybe they make digestive supplements out of gold powder? Who knows. That's already too much thinking, anyway. The basic conflict is established, and now the rest of the movie can be about a bunch of cowboys and Indians killing a bunch of fast aliens with nasty little secret slime hands.

The aliens with the secret slime hands capture humans so they can cut them up...because they want to figure out what our weaknesses are. Apparently, even after cutting up who knows how many humans, it doesn't occur to the aliens that our weakness is that, if you cut us up badly enough, we die. And also, burning kills us. Lots of things kill us, and yet they still go fishing around in human insides, trying to discover human weaknesses.

No, the premise is not stellar. It's a paper thin way to set things up so that a bunch of human beings have an excuse to go hunting after a bunch of aliens. As for the various human individuals, there are some good ones, some "meh" ones, and some "he needs to be punched" ones, plus the usual assortment of extras. Most of the people who were established as good at the beginning of the movie die, because it's more tragic that way. The "meh" characters survive or don't, and no one really cares. The ones who started off the movie needing to be punched...become good, maybe? Because shared danger makes people behave nicer towards others, or something? There is a dog, and, for those of you (like me!) who worry about that kind of thing, the dog survives. There are stereotypes (Indian medicine can cure amnesia!). There are people learning to work together when faced with a common enemy.

None of it is really all that unusual in Hollywood land. Even the mixture of genres has been done before (Firefly was also a mix of sci-fi and Western). The premise was stupid. Because so few of the characters were worth caring about, the action scenes were mostly just a bunch of explosions with some gunfire mixed in. I think I worried most about the dog and the kid, because I hate stories where animals and kids die (I'm looking at you, Cujo). Only a handful of characters had any kind of backstory, but that made them only slightly more interesting than the droves of characters who didn't have backstories. For those of you who are romance lovers, Jake was apparently once in love with a prostitute, and Jake and Ella have some Moments that consist of the two of them looking into each others' eyes, Moments that are interrupted by explosions and death. Just like the rest of the movie, these romantic aspects are paper thin - Jake and Ella's Moments, in particular, felt kind of tacked on, but I guess you can't have a movie with a rugged male lead and a beautiful woman and not have them be at least a little interested in each other.

Like I said, although this was a bad movie, it was not bad in a way that made me feel the need for brain bleach. It was a fun time at the movies for me, but only because I went with someone, and we enjoyed making fun of it and noting the things that didn't make sense. The movie's $163,000,000 budget (according to IMDb) is kind of horrifying when you consider that it is perfect MST3K fodder.

Watch-alikes:
  • Firefly (live action TV series) - If you'd like something that mixes Western and sci-fi genres, you might want to try this. Unlike Cowboys & Aliens, it actually has a story and characters who feel more like real people.
  • Independence Day (live action movie) - If you'd like more action scenes, things blowing up, and inspiring scenes of people putting aside their differences in order to work together against a common alien enemy, you might want to try this. If I remember correctly, the plot was about as basic as in Cowboys & Aliens, but there were a greater number of characters who were actually worth caring about.
  • Avatar (live action/CGI animation movie) - Great action scenes, and a group of people fighting a technologically superior enemy who's after a rare natural resource that can be found on their planet. The planet and its flora and fauna are so vivid and lovely that I wish I had been able to see this movie in 3D. I wrote briefly about this movie a while back.
  • Snakes on a Plane (live action movie) - This is the only thing of this list that I haven't seen. It's the only movie I can think of right now that, like Cowboys & Aliens, was hyped more for its concept than anything else. And, just like with Cowboys & Aliens, I think people expected it to be more of a tongue-in-cheek cheese fest than it actually was.

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