A review of Cowboys & Aliens
August 29, 2011
Not, Not, Not, Not
In Cowboys & Aliens, the cowboys of the American west in the 1800s had more threats to their civilization than bands of trouble-making Indians—aliens have come to earth. It’s not dramatic, not cheeky, not funny; Cowboys & Aliens is the film of not.
When He (Daniel Craig) wakes up alone in the dirt in the American West, he cannot remember his name, where he comes from, what this thing is on his wrist, or why he cannot remember anything. When he goes to town, he gets on the bad side of rich cattle baron Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford). He meets Ella Swenson (Olivia Wilde) who takes an inhuman interest in him. Meanwhile, aliens begin culling people in a plot to take over the world.
Cowboys & Aliens takes itself far too seriously to be a comedy, and it is far too light-hearted to be a drama. There is no light and shade, just a boring monochromatic collection of emotionless attempts at expressing a plot riddled with historical stereotypes. It is a perfect collection of what is wrong with alien movies and what is wrong with westerns shoved together in a boring “blow-up-athon” that even eleven-year-old boys would find exceptionally dull.
The aliens in Cowboys & Aliens are predictably reflective of human beings. Humanoid in physiology and in motivation, the aliens are a carbon copy of all aliens that have come before: they’re depicted as probing, dissecting, and greedy; the Alien Anti-Defamation League could have a field day with this movie.
The problem with the aliens in Cowboys & Aliens is not that they have come to steal our resources, which is pretty much the only reason a race of aliens would take over another world. The problem is not that they are hostile or want to wipe out the human race. Stephen Hawking warns us, “If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans…. We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet.”
The problem is what they want to steal, how they look, and how they go about trying to wipe out humans. Why would an alien race with weapons powerful enough to zap a herd of cattle or group of people dead from the comfort of their mother ship ever concern themselves with collecting samples to find a way to kill a nearly defenseless, technologically inferior population? It makes no sense. It is like me dissecting an ant to figure out how to kill it instead of just killing its colony with ant bait. Sure, it might give you some insight, but wouldn’t killing the people with available technology be a better use of resources?
Why writers think aliens will find us so fascinating, I do not understand. It has never been the case that human beings have bothered to stop killing to study things. The same people who buy this nonsense are the people who think that the Japanese who whale in the southern Arctic Ocean are actually researchers.
While it is certain that an alien race interested in our planet would share some physiological similarities with some kind of life here, there is no reason to believe they would be similar to humans. I agree that they probably would be able to process oxygen and may be carbon-based, but why are they symmetrical? Why are they bipedal? Why are they so damned human-like? We are not the only species on this planet. The way we figured out how to survive on this planet is not exclusive. Why does every alien have to be a reflection of us?
What the aliens come to steal is equally ridiculous. If you were floating around the universe, looking for a planet to steal from, would it not make sense to come to this planet for the water? It is our distinguishing feature. Instead, their trip is as petty as our own greedy nature.
As if the aliens were not frustrating enough, the cowboys are not much better. The six-shooting nonsense that we have all associated with the development of the west is plain wrong. Getting away from the historical problems, Cowboys & Aliens stereotype fiesta is exceptionally dull. What will the cowboys act like? What will the cattle baron act like? How will the pretty girl act? Well, it turns out they act exactly as you’d expect. There is nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, interesting about the western characters.
I think the director, Jon Favreau, thought we would not notice the huge problems with the movie if he just blew up enough stuff during the film. In fact, there should be an acting credit in the film for fire, as it is one of the most prominent characters in the film. Maybe Favreau could not get a grip on the over writing that occurred because of the huge number of writing cooks (six), all adapting a comic book that throws a seventh writing voice in the mix (Scott Mitchell Rosenberg). Using seven writers is like asking for a delicious meal of blended curry, pizza, ice cream, creamed spinach, pumpkin pie, orange soda, and sweet and sour chicken.
In fact, the only person who seemed to have come to work with the intention of pleasing the audience in Cowboys & Aliens is the costume department. I want to thank the costume department for the chaps Daniel Craig was wearing in the early parts of the movie. It was a beautiful, inspired choice for which all we Craig admirers thank you. When this comes out on video, I know how I will be using my pause button.
A film can get away with being historically incorrect, or scientifically implausible, or stereotypical if it is a good movie. Cowboys & Aliens makes the mistake of being a historical mess, purging scientifically questionable content, being an uninspired collection of pigeonholes, and becoming unquestionably tiresome. I was really hoping for a fun and cheeky movie. That will teach me to hope.