Although it may not win an Oscar for “best picture,” I think “Cowboys & Aliens” should at least get some sort of award for being the most original film concept this year. A genre-bender to end all genre-benders, this movie is a mash-up of classic sci-fi and western film elements. The idea is definitely creative: after all, it’s not often you see a posse of horse-riding cowboys and Indians up against an army of aliens with futuristic ships and weapons.
Still, filmgoers didn’t quite seem to be feeling the magic. The movie will be released on DVD next Tuesday, after a somewhat disappointing run in theaters. It wasn’t an overwhelming hit with critics, either, and scored a modest 44 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
However, I think maybe this film has taken a harder rap than it actually deserves. Was it the best film of the summer? No. Could it have been better? Yes. But it was still a fun ride, and if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s one I’d recommend renting.
It’s fun watching actors Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford (best known as “James Bond” and “Indiana Jones,” respectively) as cowboys who have to band together to fight the invading aliens. Craig (perhaps channeling film legend Steve McQueen?) plays a drifter who mysteriously wakes up in the middle of the desert without any recollection of his past, while Ford plays a powerful cattleman who isn’t exactly beloved by the town. When aliens invade the town and start snatching up people to use in experiments, Craig and Ford head out with a posse to track them down.
Although the title of the film might lead one to believe the movie is going to be a comedy, the film makers decided to play it straight and did a pretty good job making the concept seem “believable” and helping audience members to take it seriously. The film looks and feels like a classic Western from Hollywood’s “Golden era” and is definitely more Western than sci-fi in tone. The sci-fi elements are worked in fairly seamlessly (the townspeople at first think the aliens are “demons”).
The strength of the film is definitely the fun and creativeness of its concept, but one of its weaknesses is character development. It has a great cast — including Olivia Wilde and Sam Rockwell, in addition to Craig and Ford — but I wish more time in the script had been devoted to fleshing out the main characters and delving into their personalities and back stories. This would have given the film more emotional weight, and I think, ultimately, more of an impact.
Yet even though I left the theater wishing for just a little bit more from this film, I still liked it and plan on watching it again. As one critic on Rotten Tomatoes put it, this is “a film that entertains, even if it doesn’t live up to the full-on madness potential the title portended.”
If you’re willing to just sit back and appreciate the novelty, you’ll probably enjoy this film. Alex Zane with Sun Online perhaps says it best: “There’s no doubt seeing a cowboy leap from a horse on to a spaceship is all kinds of awesome.”