Cowboys & Aliens DVD REVIEW

How the West was blown

Daniel Craig as alien-zapping outlaw Jake Lonergan.

Daniel Craig pays Universal exec Ron Meyer a little visit.


Release Date: 26 December 2011
2011 | 12 | 130 minutes | £19.99 (DVD)/£27.99 (triple-play Blu-ray)
Distributor: Paramount Home Entertainment
Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig, Olivia Wilde

It doesn’t matter whether you’re making a film, writing a novel or starting a business, titles are important. For example, Incest And Patricide In Space sounds like a pretty ropey proposition, but Star Wars? That’s a winner. With that in mind, let’s consider the implications of a title like Cowboys & Aliens for a second.

In the context of the recent glut of genre mash-up movies that have sprung up all over the place like a particularly virulent strain of herpes, it’s one of the better ones. It’s outrageous, especially for a huge Hollywood blockbuster, goofy and intriguing. Plus, it sounds like a whole lot of fun. In the wake of the magnificent True Grit, cowboys are once more the cool and compelling tough guys of Hollywood legend, and aliens – well, we all love aliens. They’re from space. We can conclude then, that Cowboys & Aliens is a splendid title.

Unfortunately, it’s a godawful film. Waking up in the middle of the brush alone, injured and with an unbreakable metal bracelet strapped to his wrist, a nameless amnesiac (Daniel Craig) makes his way to the small town of Absolution, where his wounds are patched up by the local preacher (Clancy Brown). Making an enemy of local rich boy Percy (Paul Dano) and recognised by the sheriff (Keith Carradine) as notorious outlaw Jake Lonergan, he’s apprehended by mystery lady Ella (Olivia Wilde) and arrested. Percy’s father, well-heeled civil war veteran Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), returns to town and also recognises Lonergan as the thief who recently robbed him. Before he can take him, alien fighters appear out of the sky, bombarding the town and kidnapping various locals, including Percy and the wife of local barkeep Doc (Sam Rockwell). When the mysterious bracelet turns out to be a futuristic weapon and Lonergan downs an alien craft, he and Dolarhyde put together a posse to track down their kin.

Reading that, you’re probably thinking Cowboys & Aliens is essentially Han Solo and James Bond dressed as cowboys and shooting at aliens, but neither Ford nor Craig can do anything about the inherent problems with the movie. The first third attempts to create a rich and detailed frontier town, but misses the mark by several miles. The Wild West created here is a cliché-riddled shell, populated with stock characters who spout hackneyed and uninspired dialogue. The characterisation is half-arsed at best, making it impossible to care about the kidnapped townsfolk or the cardboard cut-outs who are chasing them. It’s horrible, turgid viewing, made worse by the frustrating fact that the cast is packed with genuine talent. It’s like watching a master chef being forced to serve up a Big Mac and smile while he does it. It shouldn’t be allowed.

The cowboys, then, are a busted flush. Unfortunately, the aliens fare little better. Generic space beasties given the scantest of motivations, they’re bigger, faster, stronger and vastly more developed that our rootin’ tootin’ cowpokes, and yet in the end are simply six-shooter fodder. Far and away the most interesting thing they have going for them are their creepy chest-hands, but that’s about it. Most first-person shooters have more interesting alien antagonists than Cowboys & Aliens; we know nothing of their race, their culture, their motivations (apart from a gold-mining fetish) or their plans. And for such an advanced bunch, they’re beyond stupid, allowing a single human armed with one of their weapons (taken from a ship presumably stuffed with the things) to rip them apart.

The single biggest failing of Cowboys & Aliens is that it takes an excellent premise full of potential, and makes it dull. While both the action and the effects are dealt with efficiently, for the most part they’re like watching somebody else play a computer game, boring cut-scenes included. Jon Favreau somehow filmed a movie utterly devoid of the sort of zippy wit that made Iron Man so brilliant, and the whole thing is played so achingly straight that any sense of fun and adventure is drained from it. Ford gives a solid performance, as does Craig – who struggles manfully on, even though his hat makes him look a bit like a butch leprechaun – but even their combined star power can’t put things right. It’s no wonder that even the president of Universal disowned it. It should have been beautiful, but instead of racing through the stratosphere, Cowboys & Aliens barely makes it off the ground.

Extras:

The single-disc DVD (rated) includes two featurettes – “Finding The Story” and “The Scope Of The Spectacle” – and a Jon Favreau audio commentary. The triple-play, two-disc Blu-ray edition has all of the above, as well as interviews with Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Steven Spielberg, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof. Three extra featurettes, “A Call To Action”, “The Folks Of Absolution” and “Outer-Space Icon”, complete the package.

Rob Power

For an alternate take, read our theatrical review of Cowboys & Aliens.

Read more of our DVD reviews.