Mixing genres is risky business when it comes to making movies. The last time sci-fi and westerns held hands, it ended in tears. The 1999 big screen adaptation of the TV show Wild Wild West was a bizarre and sloppy mix of Men In Black and a western. Of course, that feel can also be blamed on having the director of the sci-fi comedy helming the project in the first place, but the idea of full-on merging "cowboys" with "aliens" might send shivers up some film fans' spines as being just one bad idea. However, knowing that the source material for Cowboys & Aliens is a graphic novel with a cult following makes a whole lot more sense. Also, skilled actor-turned-director Jon Favreau has proven he can handle the camera quite well. He's scored with such gems as Elf, Zathura and Iron Man, so the thought of placing this kind of material in his hands is intriguing. But what's the real icing on this proverbial cake? Getting James Bond and Indiana Jones together to face-off with the creepy extraterrestrials.
With Cowboys & Aliens, Favreau completely embraces an authentic wild west feel. From the costumes, the grit and dirt of the lifestyle, to the weapons, posses and law keepers, it's all there. At the same time, Favreau takes the genre into a head-on collision with science fiction. As aliens enter the picture, the western culture can only describe them as "demons." They react convincingly to this out-of-this-world threat and it helps sell the concept well. But to really make this work, the director has enlisted the aid of an A-list cast. Lead by Daniel Craig (most known as the current James Bond) and then the legendary Harrison Ford, the pair are joined by TRON Legacy's Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell (Moon, Galaxy Quest, Iron Man 2) and a plethora of familiar faces and quality actors. It's strange to think a film like this works as well as it does, but it has a whole lot to do with its strong execution.
But Jon Favreau is no stranger to great action or sci-fi. Aspects of the action/adventure segments brought to mind a strange Jurassic Park feel at times, which reminded me that this movie seems like something I could have seen Spielberg doing in the 90's. However, Favreau actually tackles character development in a much more natural way than the famed filmmaker. Where Spielberg could sometimes be a bit heavy-handed with such material, Favreau gets a great performance out of his actors to get the job done right (whereas Spielberg might wrangle an A-list actor to mediocre results). Favreau also opts for some great on-location filming which really aids in creating the western vibe, and only relies on CG as needed. One of the most impressive scenes is when the posse tracking an alien come upon the wreckage of an overturned ferryboat in the middle of the desert, far from where any water would be. Not only does it make for a fantastic setpiece, but it makes for some great moments in a truly unique setting (although, I feel like it could have been used to a greater extent, but I guess it would have felt a little like The Poseidon Adventure set in the west?). In the end, no matter what sci-fi detours the film takes, it keeps its roots in a western base that never strays too far to lose that genuine vibe. The physical sets and on-location filming really encourage that.
Daniel Craig is excellent as a tough cowboy with a dark, mysterious past. It's strange to hear the British actor speaking without his signature accent, but he pulls off the American speech really well. Harrison Ford does his usual grumpy old man schtick, but adapts it nicely into a grumpy old cowboy with the chance to be something greater. Olivia Wilde is decent, although a little awkward at first, in her role as Ella, while Sam Rockwell proves reliable yet again, this time playing the timid Doc who gets a chance to shine when forced into action. Finally, Noah Ringer, who provided the title character in The Last Airbender is considerably better as Emmett Taggart here. He fulfills the story's unnecessary "need" for a kid to tag along, but he isn't annoying or a thorn in the film's side like throwing a kid into the mix can be. Also, there's a great preacher character in the film who makes some insightful comments that really affect a few of the story's characters, including Jake, for the better. It's nice to see such a man portrayed in a positive light in a film like this one. It was something I certainly appreciated. The aliens themselves are pretty cool. While surprisingly not as out-of-the-box as you might hope for, they have a cool look and some neat features to them, but there are also some characteristics that will remind you of the Super 8 and Cloverfield aliens. They're not full-on disappointments, but you may have expected something entirely different.
With that said, the content for Cowboys & Aliens is a pretty stern PG-13. The violence is the biggest potential problem and is frequently on the rougher side than not. It does add to the grit of the old west feel, but there seems to be a lot of focus placed on bloody wounds or, in one case, breaking a guy's tooth (sorry, but I'm pretty sensitive to any kind of graphic teeth "violence"). Also, the more serious handling of the material (as opposed to making it goofy or campy) makes a lot of the alien subject matter borderline horror at times. While the scenes during the daytime aren't quite as intense, it's the first reveal of the alien in the dark as well as flashbacks in the alien lair that can be pretty creepy. Also, the story does involve the aliens sort of torturing people some, and the way we see some people tied up in their captivity is also potentially disturbing; anyone who's sensitive to such things may have a problem with that. There is some language as well, primarily the use of "h*ll" and "d*mn," like with most westerns, but there are also a few uses of blasphemy that were really unnecessary that I wish had been kept out. Lastly, there is a little bit of partial nudity, but not nearly as bad as one might expect. In the scene, a woman emerges from a fire completely naked, but we only see most of her bare back. Before we see anything else, someone places a blanket around her shoulders to cover her up.
If you're a fan of westerns and don't mind the unique marriage of sci-fi with the genre, you're likely to enjoy Cowboys & Aliens. It's the kind of story that begs to not be taken too seriously, so anyone buying a ticket to a movie called Cowboys & Aliens shouldn't expect anything but outrageous events taking place. It's a fun action/adventure movie that just sets out to entertain... and it succeeds.
- John DiBiase (reviewed: 7/30/11)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
The Blu-Ray release of Cowboys & Aliens gives viewers a chance to watch two versions of the feature film. First and foremost is the theatrical version, presented in high definition, as seen on the big screen. In addition to this version is an "Extended Version" that offers 16 more minutes to the movie. The added minutes are tiny bits of dialog and action scattered throughout the film. There are at least two additional scenes with the preacher character, as well as additional footage in the upside down ferry scene, which includes some of Dolarhyde's gang getting attacked by the alien. Toward the climax of the film is a lengthy segment that is inserted after the various groups of cowboys and indians unite to fight the aliens, giving an evening scene around a fire. This scene actually adds some additional connection between Doc and the Mexican as well as Jake and Ella (he even kisses her and tells her not to ever leave him again, which adds extra weight to the finale). Most of the additional footage is minor, but during the climactic cowboys versus aliens battle, there's a great deal of added blood to the violence. You can tell that bursts of blood were added in digitally as cowboys are knocked from horses, blown to bits by the aliens' guns, and stabbed by the aliens' dagger-like fingers. It probably rides the line of PG-13 and R, but isn't quite as gratuitously graphic as most R-rated films tend to be. Still, the additional spurts of blood are significant enough. In some ways, the Extended Version is a fuller, more fleshed-out cut of the film, but it does feel slightly too long in comparison to the theatrical version. On the other hand, classic westerns were often longer with more character-driven stories that were short on action and more focused on story. So if you enjoyed the theatrical version of Cowboys & Aliens, then you'll likely enjoy the additional content that just builds upon an already fun and great mash-up of sci-fi and western genres.
Igniting The Sky: The Making of Cowboys & Aliens (40:12) - Jon Favreau, producer Ron Howard and executive producer Steven Spielberg, along with the main cast and additional crew, take a deep look into the production and planning of Cowboys & Aliens. This featurette is divided into five parts and offers a generous helping of behind-the-scenes footage, cast interviews, and production videos that are really intriguing. It also delves into the set design, costume design, and even the alien design. It's a fantastic collection of featurettes and one of the more satisfying behind-the-scenes extras in recent memory.
Conversations with Jon Favreau - Director Jon Favreau conducts candid interviews with various cast and production members that give excellent insight into the making of Cowboys & Aliens -- and beyond. For example, Favreau just chats it up with Daniel Craig about making Cowboys as well as getting cast as the latest James Bond years ago, and even his forthcoming projects in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and his third Bond outing. Favreau also conducts a twenty-minute interview with Harrison Ford that is wonderfully candid. Ford is usually pretty tight-lipped on regular media interviews, so it's great to hear him speak so relaxed--and even about such things as influencing an iconic scene in his second Star Wars outing. In addition to Ford and Craig, Favreau speaks with Spielberg, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer collectively, as well as Alex Kurtzman with Roberto Orci, Damon Lindelof, and finally, Olivia Wilde. The only downside to some of the interviews is that there is some profanity (not to much, although I did catch a mumbled "F" word from Craig) in some of the interviews because these are candid and uncensored. Overall, it's a really unique idea and something that more directors should do. Favreau is a bit of a movie nerd himself and it shows in the quality of his films and the bonus features he includes with them.
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 1/2/12)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
Sex/Nudity: A man comments on being kicked in the "p*cker," While the preacher is teaching Doc how to shoot, he says "Don't yank on it. It's not your p*cker," Men refer to the woman Jake was previously romancing as a "whore" repeatedly. Another tells him earlier that Jake was seen with a "hooker;" A man drops his pants to go to the bathroom in a river, but his shirt covers any possible nudity; We see a woman emerge from a blazing fire completely naked, but we don't see anything but most of her bare back. A man then comes up to her and wraps a blanket around her
Vulgarity/Language: 19 "h*ll," 8 "d*mn," 4 "g*dd*mn," 4 "S.O.B," 2 "J-sus," 1 "G-d," 1 "a" word, 2 "p*cker"
Alcohol/Drugs: We see a drunk man stumbling around and slurring his speech; Jake has several drinks in a saloon; We see lots of people drinking in a saloon and partying there
Blood/Gore: Jake wakes to find a spot on his shirt is soaked in blood. He's soon attacked by some cowboys (two of the men seem to have dead animal skins on their saddles that have flies buzzing around them) and we briefly see some blood as he shoots one of the men and then tackles another before punching him (just barely off screen) several times to finish him off. Jake has splattered blood on his face; Jake looks at his blood-soaked side again and rips open his shirt around the wound to find that it's a small bloody looking cut. We then briefly see a man stitching up the wound; Percy accidentally shoots a man in the arm and we see a little bit of blood squirt out when it happens; We see Dolarhyde standing over a cow carcass that looks like it was blown in half; We see blood splatter onto a window from inside a house where an alien is attacking those inside; Jake punches a man in the face and it cracks his tooth. We then see his broken front tooth and some blood on his mouth; A woman has some blood on her head and a bloody wound on her side (causing her shirt to be soaked with blood) and we briefly see the bloody scrape wound beneath it; Jake has a bloody mouth from being punched repeatedly; A man is shot with a blast from the weapon on Jake's wrist and we see a big burning/smoking wound in their chest (and partially on their back) as they're flying through the air; A man has some blood on his mouth after being stabbed to death by an alien; We see some green alien blood on the ground; We see a flashback of a large needle going into Jake's side under the skin and we see a laser wash over a woman's body and turn her to ash. We also see a man slash an alien's face, giving it a red, bloody gash across its eye; During the climactic battle, we see lots of aliens blowing up with green blood spilling out, aliens getting stabbed with green-bloody results, a man and an alien blow up at the same time, as well as aliens pouncing on and stabbing lots of cowboys; We briefly see a bloody, slightly gory neck wound on a man as he's dying after having been stabbed by an alien and bitten on the neck; A knife has lots of gooey green alien blood on it after a person drives it into an alien's heart; We see an alien with a gross-looking scar across its face. An alien is then shot up and burned with a molten liquid; A lot of people have blood scrapes on their faces after the fight is over. Doc's hand has some blood on it
Violence: Extreme action violence: Jake stabs a man in the thigh with a knife and shoots two guys with guns before punching another to death; Percy randomly shoots signs and stuff around the town before accidentally shooting a deputy in the arm. Jake knees him in the crotch; A bunch of men attack Jake in a bar and Jake fights back, knocking several out before he himself is knocked out; Percy spits on Jake, waking him up. Jake then slams Percy's face into prison cell bars; Alien blasts kill a couple men. Later we see a man who survived the attack strung up between two horses and being stretched nearly to death. He's then cut down from one horse and dragged away by the other; Aliens attack the town, blowing up buildings and miscellaneous cowboys and then snatch up random people and carry them away; We hear gunshots and screams from within a house before blood is splattered on the window; Colonel pushes Jake and Jake punches him in the face; Jake tackles Ella when he finds that she is following him; A man taunts Doc about his wife being taken and the preacher suggests Doc start carrying a gun; Jake sees a flashback of a woman being abducted; The preacher tries to teach Doc how to shoot; An alien attacks a young boy but then attacks another man, killing him, before it is shot; Jake punches a man in the face; A man repeatedly punches Jake in the face. A group of men hold others at gunpoint. The man menacing Jake is then shot to death; Another alien attack kills more men and captures others. Jake then jumps onto a flying craft, shoots it, causing him and another person to fall and then they are attacked by an alien. He shoots it, but not before it mortally wounds another person; A group of native Americans rough up the cowboys; A dead person is thrown into a fire; We see flashbacks of a woman being examined/probed by aliens and then turned to ashes. We see a man stabbed with a large needle before he attacks the aliens and escapes; There's a large battle between the aliens and cowboys that results in lots of casualties of both (both cowboys and aliens being blown up, stabbed, etc); We see a large ship explode; and other sci-fi action violence
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most
reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content
really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.