Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Even Aliens Have Showdowns in the Wild West

Today I'm reviewing the  2011 film Cowboys and Aliens. Directed by Jon Favreau and based on the 2006 graphic novel with the same name, written by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg.


Now the main plot revolves around a man (played by Daniel Craig) who wakes up in the middle of the desert with amnesia and has no idea who or where he is. All he has is a photo of a woman and a strange wristband (that all the characters call a "bracelet"). He then heads into the nearest town and meets the rest of the main cast, namely Ella (Olivia Wilde),  cattleman Woodrow (Harrison Ford),  saloon owner Doc (Sam Rockwell) and young boy Emmett (Noah Ringer). Then aliens show up and start taking people and those who remain go after the aliens to try get them back.

So, what did I think of the actual movie? Well to be honest, I think it was very flawed and not very interesting. There are so many plot holes and the film is pretty predictable. The characters are hard to identify with, as none of them seem to have much of a personality- especially our main man- who I swear only has one facial expression throughout this entire film. And the rest of the characters aren't much better. Scenes that you'd think would be filled with emotion feel lacking in it. You don't really care about ANY of the people at all. This probably isn't helped by the use of entirely generic characters. Seriously, there's the wealthy man who basically controls the entire town, who has a son whose far too big for his boots and painfully obnoxious. There's the kindly preacher, the mysterious love interest, a very brief interaction with the funny sidekick, an innocent young boy and even a dog whose sole purpose is to bark when an alien is near. I mean, one or two generic characters could maybe be forgiven, but the ENTIRE cast is just ridiculous! 

Speaking of generic- the main man has amnesia. That's right, it's an amnesia story. However, the main issue with his amnesia is not that the concept is overdone already. It's more that it serves no purpose to the story whatsoever.    
And there is no reason why he should have amnesia anyway. Why would aliens give people amnesia? Are they expecting them to escape? Do they not want them to tell other people about their existence? And, if that's the reason, why then immediately attack everyone in the area? Seriously, there is no point in him (or anyone else in this film) having amnesia.

Onto the aliens themselves. Sigh, I didn't think there design was awful, but it was nowhere near great either. There are very few shots where the aliens are stationary and in full view (as opposed to just their faces or upper bodies), but when they are, if you look closely, you can see that it almost looks like people in costumes or dummies. Maybe that's what they actually were, but the filmmakers could have made more of an attempt to hide it. All the fast action scenes are, of course, CGI, but (like I said) the stationary shots make the aliens look fake. Maybe that was just me.

There are also some weird script problems. An example would be when Emmett is calling for the dog the day after it ran off barking towards an alien, then we hear yelping and the dog doesn't come back. Surely, this means the dog died right? Otherwise, what? Did it just find the alien and run away yelping? It's just weird that he would call the dog when it would seem that it was dead, and the day afterwards as well. Not right after. Not at all during the night. No, just as they're about to continue on the journey. Now, I don't think this is really a spoiler, but skip this sentence if you don't want to know, but just before the end of the film the dog does come back. Or, rather I should say, we see it with a gang. Is this explained? Do we find out what happened or why it's with the gang? No. There is no explanation at all as to where the dog has been all this time. 

There's there the "romance" between the main character and Ella. If you can call it that. They barely say anything to each other. For the first half of the film he's telling her to go away. Also, he keeps having flashbacks of the woman that he obviously loves or loved. It's just weird. They have very little actual interaction, other than just riding horses next to each other and occasionally sharing a line.

I know I keep on knocking this film, but that's because there is so much to knock. Maybe I went into this film with too high of expectations. The trailer looked awesome and I expected the same out of the film. It's always sad when we find out the reality in a bad way. Oh well, on with the review. Another major flaw that I have with the film is that every time our main character/s get into trouble, either the mysterious "bracelet" on our main man's wrist or the aliens get him/them out of trouble. Fair enough the aliens aren't purposefully helping him/them, but EVERY time. Without fail. There are so many scenes where escape (and therefore life) seems highly unlikely, and then aliens show up and take all the bad people away or his wristband randomly blows them away. This means that the audience never really believe there's any threat to the main cast. So there's no tension and the film drops a few notches on the exciting and enjoyably scale.

The film is also painfully predictable at times. I guessed the entire ending down to almost every last detail and never had a moment where I was like, "What?!". Okay, once. But again, that plot point had no relevance whatsoever to the story. If you've seen the film, I'm sure you know which one I mean. I'll give you a hint, it involves fire and a character. Now think. Did it make any kind of difference to the story? Would the ending have been any different really?

And I have to mention it. The random "filler feeling" scenes, whose sole purposes are just to gather more people in one place, so that the aliens can come back and take them without further diminishing the main cast. No other reason. Speaking of which. At the start of the film there's some character development in some of the secondary characters, then a lot of them get taken and no further development happens during the rest of the film. To ANY characters. It's just weird. It's like, okay he's this person and his role is this- oh never mind, he's gone. Oh well. The rest of the characters don't grow. Yeah, some of them learn to use weapons and the wealthy cattleman learns to care about other people, but that actually happens pretty early on in the film. I mean, right after they set out, he's already giving the little kid a pep talk and giving him a knife that was his father's. Which reminds me, the saloon owner learns to use a gun throughout the duration of the film and the boy gets given a knife and told that in the moment, he should just kill and not think about it. (Is that a good lesson?) And you just know that at some point in the film, they're going to have to use these new skills. 

Also, the reason why the aliens are taking people? What they want? Truly awful. I don't understand it at all. You may say, fair enough what they were after was a valuable resource, but my point is more, why do they have to even involve humanity in their quest? Seriously? Nobody knew where their lair was- they could have just stayed there and taken what they wanted without anyone ever knowing. They didn't need people for that.

On a side note, a lot of the plot holes or character issues are never explained or gone into. The scene I mentioned earlier involving fire. Why aren't any of the other characters interested in it? Why don't they want to know more? Why is it never mentioned again? You'd think it would be a big revelation, but the film just passes it off like, yeah, that's right, and now it's irrelevant. And one of my major plot holes? How did our main man escape in the first place? What he just managed to elude every single alien on his way out? Had he already lost his memory? How did he come to be lying in the middle of the desert with no memory? Surely he must have remembered escaping?

Like I said, the ending is predictable, right down to individual battles and the death of one particular character with their predictable cheesy death speech. And the battles with our main man are done in a very video game like way. He just points the wristband and shoots and something dies. And that's the whole battle. I will admit that when he fights other humans it's pretty cool. Daniel Craig's James Bond training really comes through and it looks great. But there's very little of these scenes once the wristband takes over as weapon of choice.

And one final plot hole. It is implied during the film that the aliens have attacked other places in the universe. Wouldn't this mean that there's probably more than one spaceship? The universe is a big place and you'd think you'd need more requirements- but maybe I'm just over analysing now.

Overall, I think the plot was predictable, the ending anticlimactic and the characters underdeveloped and hard to identify with. It's a shame because I think they could have done so much more with the characters- what with the amazing cast they had to play them. Instead we have emotionless and almost irrelevant seeming characters. I didn't hate this film, but it's doesn't score very high with me. Maybe 4 or 5 out of ten, just because the sets do look amazing. Being out in the West, they do have a lot of big landscapes and amazing scenery, but I'm not sure this is ever going to be a film that I'd have no reservations about re watching. Obviously, I can't say never, but I don't think my life would suffer at all if I never got round to watching this movie again. I haven't read the original graphic novel, so I don't know what there was for the filmmakers to work with, but you'd think that even if the graphic novel wasn't that developed the film writers could have filled those holes in. As it stands, I'm going to stick by my theory (and feel free to tell me otherwise if you've read the book) that the book is usually always better than the movie. At least I hope so.

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