Cowboys & Aliens

Art & Culture

The hook for this film was the trailer which created an intriguing Bourne-like premise of a man arriving in the Wild West with no idea of who he is or why he’s there. Then the aliens arrive. The only trouble is that the premise is more interesting than the payoff. So what’s new? But there is still some fun to be had along the way. Daniel Craig plays Jake Lonergan, an outlaw with a $1000 bounty on his head. But he doesn’t know he’s Lonergan, or anything else much except that he’s got this weird thing on his wrist, which turns out to have the useful knack of zapping alien spaceships, when they zoom into town and start lassooing people into the sky. Harrison Ford is Woodrow Dollarhyde, a crabby old rancher with a bad attitude and a worse son (Paul Dano), who has every reason to want Lonergan dead. However, since Jake is the only weapon he’s got against the flying creatures who kidnap the son along with lots of others, then he’ll have to postpone the pleasure of killing him. Oh yes, and there’s this improbably hot babe (Olivia Fox) who hangs around Lonergan insisting that he should remember who he is.

As I say, it all starts out very promising, and you can imagine the thrill of the studio executives when they came up with the idea of mingling a western with sci fi, and managing to persuade Craig and Ford (oh, allright, James Bond and Indiana Jones/Han Solo)to appear as the leads. Why, it was like printing money just thinking about the potential. Ah, but then you have to make a movie, and not just that, but make a movie that has more than a first act. And that’s the problem.

Once you’ve got this cool setup, and a great cast (full of good actors btw), where do you go with it all? Some riding and shooting, obviously, and of course Indians and outlaws, and inevitably the aliens themselves. Who look exactly the same as every other movie alien, with the same convenient strengths and weaknesses. They’re big and fast and indestructible and lethal, and have nasty slimy bits and a kind of hard shell and bug eyes. Like giant insects, in fact. But of course, when push comes to shove, they are also fairly easy to kill, because otherwise they’d wipe out all the humans, and then where’s the film? But that disconcerting question still remains. Where, or rather, what is the film?

I don’t think there’s an answer, because I don’t think the people who made the film (and there are a worryingly large number of scriptwriters and producers – always a bad sign) know the answer either. They figured that we’d go simply because we’d be curious to see what Dan and Harrison were up to. Which is fine, except they’re not up to much. The reason I give it a good, is that a) I am a wholehearted admirer of Craig who is a screen presence like few others, and makes anything he appears in look better; b) the supporting cast are quality and c) that the western part of the film as opposed to the scifi stuff, is actually pretty good. In fact I wish they’d left the scifi stuff out altogether, but as we all know, westerns don’t make good box office, so we have to have the aliens thrown in for the geeky fanboys (no offence, lads).

If you keep your expectations low, you should have a reasonably good time. It’s OK, but nothing special.