When I first heard about Cowboys & Aliens, I had mixed feelings. A western with aliens? Don’t know if that will work. Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford star? The guy who never will be Bond teams up with the guy who looked so very old in his last action film (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)). Doesn’t sound so great. Directed by Jon Favreau (Iron Man (2008))? Sounds great.
So, with uncertainty about how decent this particular summer movie was going to be, I waited and watched as Cowboys & Aliens – surrounded by hype – hit theaters…and, it seemed like, faded quickly from the public consciousness. Of course, since it was released in July, that fading was easily explained away, thanks to the plethora of other big flicks hitting theaters each and every week.
Now that Cowboys & Aliens has arrived on DVD, my uncertainties didn’t seem as major. After all, they may have deterred me from going to spend the big bucks in theaters, but when I can rent a DVD for $1 from redbox®, the cost of uncertainty is so much less. So, would Cowboys & Aliens justify my concerns, or would I be pleasantly surprised?
Daniel Craig, who still seems a bit wooden as an actor, lets that Pinocchio quality work for him in Cowboys & Aliens, playing a stoic character whose emotions are few and far between. Most of the time, he just has to dive headlong into action, and, like any robot, does so with ease. The emotional sequences, which he doesn’t exactly excel at, are quick and Favreau is able to make those Visine tears seem real when they are needed.
Harrison Ford, still looking his age, is also used to full advantage, with most of his focus not centered during the heat of the action, but instead in his mentoring of a young boy and his complicated relationship with an Indian servant, Ford is able to act in an action movie without having to bare chest and take on the enemy one-handed, so viewers never even notice how aged he has become, and how silly Indy looked on his last outing.
Most of the success of Cowboys & Aliens lie with Favreau’s talented directing. While the characters are a bit undeveloped, Favreau manages to get viewers connect with them anyway, and cheer them on as they take on an evil enemy, even though that enemy’s motives are never fully explained. He manages to take a rather simplistic culture clash storyline and turn it into something worth watching, getting the viewer involved enough that they don’t question how light the story is on actual character development.
The special effects are also a large part of Cowboys & Aliens, and, thankfully, doesn’t fail at any point. Despite it’s large amount of effects (from alien spaceships to “hooked” humans to creature effects to even the solid makeup effects that transform familiar faces into nearly unrecognizable characters), the special effects budget must have been tremendous, but, in this case, that budget was very well spent. And, unlike some films, the special effects never take over the characters in the film. In fact, the special effects help to hide some of that lacking character development, creating a more enjoyable ride for the casual viewer.
Like many a summer film, Cowboys & Aliens won’t stand up to an in-depth breakdown of it’s parts. But, with Favreau’s directing, the film will satisfy most popcorn munchers, and viewers should come away from the film initially without many regrets. A fun ride that combines aliens with the classic Old West scenery, Cowboys & Aliens is worth a DVD rental.
Just don’t try to think too hard on it after it’s over, and you should be fine.