*Cowboys and Aliens*

Most critics didn’t like it, but here is one of the better reviews.  I found it original, deeply and subtly funny, and multi-dimensional in its aspirations.  Film buffs will enjoy the nods and homages to High Noon, Shaka Zulu, The Searchers, Raiders of the Lost Ark, James Bond, Ray Harryhausen, Aliens, and many other movies.   There is running commentary on the Bible, the history of Spanish colonialism, contemporary U.S. foreign policy, the development of the American Western, and there is even a poke at the gold standard.  Not for everyone (you might just think it’s stupid), but it far exceeded my expectations.


I was disappointed by it. Great premise, excellent cast and director. The first half of the movie was suspenseful and mysterious and had me. The second half was a mishmash of cliches from two different film genres. Indians appear apparently because, well, that's what they do in western movies. Never was clear what the aliens were doing with the people other than make them stand in a group and stare at an orb.

Should have been much better.

One man's "nods and homages" are another man's cliches?

The movie promise to put Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig together in the same movie, and it delivered. What's not to like?

I liked it, although it really should have been more hammy for a movie with that silly of a premise.

Not a cogent parable on a few counts: given the prominence they attain in the narrative, why wasn't the film titled "Cowboys and Indians and Aliens" (not PC, obviously, but "Cowboys and Native Americans and Aliens" or "Cowboys and First Nations and Aliens" would have failed for other reasons); as closely as I listened, I couldn't tell whether Dollarhyde was supposed to be a Union veteran or a Confederate veteran--I certainly hope it was the former, since no Confederates deprived the Union of a victory at Antietam (the Confederates battled at Sharpsburg); if the aliens' goldlust is so reprehensible, why is the town on its path of renaissance at the very end, and what pray tell became of the stalwart Indian/Native American/First Nations allies? Add to this the generous doses of sap and sentimentality (the dog, the kid, the wimminfolk, the earnest but ineffectual bespectacled intellectual, the noble savages, the stirring contrast between low-life nobility and noble commoner) juxtaposed with the unsentimental dispatch of human characters we're to identify instantly as unambiguously and thoroughly evil bad men, and the only thing that prevented me from pulling for the aliens as I did well before the end of Independence Day (humanity in that movie fully merited its demise if for no other reason than its talent for smirky glibness) was the relative lack of one-liners (though we're treated to a modest number here, too). --If it seems I ask too much of a mere entertainment, I hasten to point out that this mere entertainment cost untold millions of dollars to produce and market. I may not have wound up pulling for the aliens this time, but the humanity depicted did not earn my immediate approbation, either (plus, I heard no laughter in the theater when Jake leapt from his racing horse onto the wing of the alien aircraft, the single-most laughable moment in the film). If audiences are cowed by this film, I am not pulling for the audience.

Uhhhhh ... it was flying slowly?

I'm assuming from the presence of wings that the alien craft is intended to be aerodynamic. That being the case, no aircraft with any real payload capacity could rotate or maintain altitude at horse speed (40+/- mph).

This reminds me of another notable bit of cinematic bad science. In Waterworld, Kevin Costner uses his evolved gills to "breathe" oxygen in gaseous form into Jeanne Tripplehorne's lungs. Apparently the screenwriters didn't know how gills work.

Ha ha ha. "Deeply and subtly funny." This actually says a lot about you, TC. Did you ever consider becoming a psychotherapist? It seems you would be able to stay interested in the unconscious minds of boring people. I wish I could extract such nuance where none intentionally exists. I thought the movie was disappointingly made in every respect.

I wonder if Tyler could have written an almost identical review of The Smurfs, which seems to be on track to be just as audience-pleasing this weekend....

Thanks, I've been debating whether it's worth going to see. Now I just hope the wife won't think it's too hot for the Corvette.

Movies are (imo, and I know others will disagree) one of those things where the quality has increased tremendously over time thanks to things like CGI and generally better production values. Writing and acting don't always keep pace, but when I was a a kid we just didn't have anything like the visual spectacles we're treated to today.

...and yet there's nothing being made today like the films that came out in the 60s and 70s. 2001 or Apocalypse Now would be scrapped at drawing board these days, CGI or no CGI.

Those were both very good for their day, but as great as they were I'd argue they're subpar by today's standards.

It's sort of like comparing relativity or quantum mechanics to Newtonian or Aristotelian physics -- movies today are better because we have those in our past to build on, but we can do things today they only dreamed of.

It's funny, I remember Ferris Bueller's Day Off as a classic of my youth, but watching it with the wife, who has almost no pre-2000 American pop culture reference points, she found it dull beyond withstanding -- and I could see her point.

I enjoyed C&A quite a bit. The aliens were reasonably well-thought-out and nicely rendered, the actors were fun to watch, and the combination of Western and sci-fi was fairly deft.

Alternatively, comparing Apocalypse Now with Cowboys and Aliens is like comparing the Antikythera Mechanism with an eighteenth-century clock. Plus, it's the case that contemporary reliance on computer generated special effects brings more to the screen than the audience is expected (or permitted) to bring to the viewing: our SF/fantasy films reliably inhibit audience exercise of imagination, since the directors/producers do all they can to dispel all possibility of imaginative participation. SF/fantasy feature films have generally lost their ability to elicit imaginative viewing, and Hollywood films as a class show no signs of gaining this ability by virtue of technical prowess; the most imaginative film of 2011 thus far (I say without having seen it) is probably Herzog's "Cave of Forgotten Dreams", which is a documentary.

Eh, I can sit at home and exercise my imagination.

There was plenty of garbage made in the 60s and 70s; we just don't remember it, because it wasn't memorable.

There's no denying that stuff blows up real good these days.

"There is running commentary on the Bible, the history of Spanish colonialism, contemporary U.S. foreign policy, the development of the American Western, and there is even a poke at the gold standard. "

Oh another political lecture masquerading as cinema. That's deeply and subtly funny, and multi-dimensional in its aspirations?

Ten bucks to sit in an uncomfortable seat loaded with ground in slushy and popcorn and be lectured? Why aren't movie theaters the next Borders?

Anotherphil - "Why aren’t movie theaters the next Borders?"

I think I can answer this one. Movie theaters haven't gone the way of Borders because very few people can put that big of a screen in their house.

The problem with movies is that they tend to overpromise when it comes to the sort of thick narratives I like to see (when movies do deliver this, well, they are something which I can always find enjoyment in). That's why I prefer well done television instead.

Sorry... I considered it one of the worst of the big summer movies. Harrison Ford was incredibly stiff and cheesy. There was no real connection with the Daniel Craig character. And oh my with some super cheesy 'twists'. There are some interesting concepts that could have been interesting, but the writing was just too bad to save it.

A truly awful movie.

Warning to new MR readers: Tyler has a massive blind spot for bad sci fi movies. See here:


I dunno ... I would rather have seen Clint Eastwood playing the Clint Eastwood part rather than Daniel Craig. Same thing for Harrison Ford in the Jimmy Stewart part. Only that's a little harder since Jimmy Stewart is dead. And the girl in the Megan Fox ought to have been played by Megan Fox.

Other than that, I thought the movie was good enough.

I haven't seen it myself, since I almost never bother with an actual movie theater any more, but it doesn't sound like I'm really missing much. Not even sure this is one of those "watch if it's on TV and I'm bored" things.

This site has some pretty good reviews, even if they don't always match my taste.

Great review, having not seen the movie; I'll like it, but then I kind of liked Jonah Hex. The point is that this is probably an intellectual's comic book movie, for someone who will find the erudition in fantasy literature by any means necessary. Me.

Aliens with superior tech arrive in the Americas, and do nasty stuff to the locals while extracting gold. Too bad for the Aztecs et al. they didn't have a helpful alien girl to help them take out the scout ships.

Ugh, yet another Spielberg-produced piece of "entertainment" about a quadriped alien race that rapes and pillages the Earth. The clichés abound. Why is this man considered such an authority on the subject? We always get the same thing. Borrrrrrring. First 30 mins were interesting but the rest was just TEDIOUS.

PS Tyler, you have terrible taste in movies.

Its coming out in London this month! Will try and catch it!

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