Cowboys & Aliens

MOVIE REVIEW: Cowboys and Aliens …and lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

The cast of Cowboys & Aliens at the 2010 San D...
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 What do you get when you mix two popular but completely different movie genres? From my viewpoint it is a bit of a mess like a hot fudge sunday with bananas, strawberries, and pineapple thrown in and a cherry on top. Oh, that’s right, that’s called a banana split.

Cowboys and Aliens is a science fiction/western/action film starring Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig. It goes deep into cowboy country but then takes a sharp turn into Star Wars. It is a bit unsettling to be lulled into the rhythm of a cowboy lullaby accompanied by the clomp, clomp of the horses and then jerked awake by aliens descending to earth in something left over by the star fleet.

If I had not seen a program on the History Channel about unexplained UFOs sighted in the old west in the 1800s, I would have found the premises pretty hard to take; but it seems that the movie is, indeed, based loosely on fact with a lot of fiction thrown in. I guess this earth could have had visitors from the great beyond many times over the centuries but as movie goers we become accustomed to only one genre at a time. We go into the theatre wearing either our cowboy hat, tri-cornered hat, or baseball cap and settle back to be entertained. Combining the two genres is certainly new and something we might expect from the most accomplished producers of our time—Steven Spielberg, and Ron Howard and Brian Glazier. These names are synonymous with great entertainment and it is reassuring they are still trying to push the envelope and not be content to rest on their laurels.

Our main character, Jake Lonergan, played by Daniel Craig awakes in the middle of the desert with no memory of how he got there or why. He finds a strange metal bracelet that won’t come off but comes in handy shooting the bad guys. The protagonist of the story, Col. Woodrow Dolarhyde, played by Harrison Ford rules the town with a mean temper and cold heart. In a typical western, the basic plot would end here with the two main characters fighting to the bitter end; but once these two main characters are established cue the Star Wars music. Once another conflict is added to the story then the two enemies join forces to fight their common enemy. In another plot twist to the traditional western, we also find the cowboys combining forces with their traditional enemy the Indians. One more element is added to the plot in the form of beautiful but mysterious Ella played by former House cast member, Olivia Wilde.  

As a former English teacher I must take a detour here and comment on the obvious symbolism of the names of the two main characters—Lonergan and Dolarhyde. We get the impression that Jake Lonergan has been a loner all his life and would be happy to continue as such if it weren’t for the current circumstances. On the other hand, Col. Dolarhyde owns the town and has bought off every citizen in it.

With all these non-traditional ingredients thrown together, the movie could have become a farce as in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World; however the strength of the main characters keeps the movie on track and propels it towards its climatic conclusion. Craig, formerly known as James Bond, and Ford, formerly known as Indiana Jones and Hans Solo, adapt well to the western genre and I would love to see both of them in similar movies in the future.

Cowboys and Aliens is a fun summer film to watch. Will it become a classic, only time will tell; but it is definitely groundbreaking in combining genres. I give it a B.