A stranger with no memory of his past stumbles into the hard desert town of Absolution. The people of Absolution don't welcome strangers, and nobody makes a move on its streets unless ordered by the iron-fisted Colonel Dolarhyde (Ford). But Absolution is about to experience fear it can scarcely comprehend as the desolate city is attacked by marauders from the sky. Now, the stranger they rejected is their only hope for salvation. As this gunslinger slowly starts to remember who he is and where he's been, he realizes he holds a secret that could give the town a fighting chance against the alien force.
Comic Book: Cowboys and Aliens, by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg
Set in 1873. Cowboys & Aliens starts with Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig, who is also James Bond) waking up in the Arizona desert with no memory and a big, metal bracelet on his arm. When he makes it to the nearest town, he discovers that he is wanted by the law. Before being arrested, he meets a mysterious woman named Ella (played by Olivia Wilde from "House"), who seems to know who he is and claims to "need" him. While Jake is being turned over to federal marshals, a powerful cattle farmer named Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford, who is also Indiana Jones), from whom Jake has stolen a sum of gold, rides in and tries to take Jake himself for a little "frontier justice." Before Dolarhyde can get Jake away from the marshals, the town is attacked by crazy flying crafts that shoot lasers, blow things up and lasso the townspeople and fly off with them. During the assault, Jake discovers that his bracelet is actually a gun and shoots one of the things down. The creature that was piloting the craft flees, and Dolarhyde (whose son is one of the abducted townspeople) organizes a tracking party to follow it. Dolarhyde and Ella wisely convince Jake to join the expedition, since he seems to have the only weapon that is effective against the aliens. Along the way, the group not only has to deal with more alien attacks, but is also confronted by more typical wild-west obstacles like Indians and outlaws. Eventually, Jake regains his memory and Ella reveals her true identity, and the group realizes that there is more to the quest than simply getting their family and friends back from the aliens.
There are a lot of huge names attached to Cowboys & Aliens. Not only does it feature both James Bond and Indiana Jones, it is directed by Jon Favreau, who directed both Iron Man films. It is produced by Favreau and, among others, Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard. The visual effects were done by Lucasfilm and the sound was mixed at Skywalker Ranch. There are some heavy Hollywood players involved with Cowboys & Aliens, and it all adds up to summer blockbuster.
There's more to Cowboys & Aliens than high-tech effects, sweet sound and a high-profile cast. Slick production is nothing without a captivating story, and Cowboys & Aliens has a great story that is not only original, but entertaining. The film avoids being a simple mash-up of genres by playing more to the science fiction angle instead of the western one, and the result is less gimmicky than one would expect. The whole thing feels like an organic and genuine science fiction film.
The special effects in Cowboys & Aliens are exactly what should be expected from the director of Iron Man when he has access to Lucasfilm's CG technology. The aliens could be Iron Man's next enemy. Looking like a cross between a muscular pit-bull and a grasshopper on steroids, they interact so smoothly with the humans and animals in the film that it seems like they're aliens from the old days, just in better rubber suits. And the flying spacecraft come right out of a Star Wars prequel. They look like flying insects, and they seem to swim through the sky even while actors are riding on them and being abducted by them. And, of course, there are tons and tons of explosions.
Favreau used his old cinematographer Matthew Libatique (who did both Iron Man movies, as well as Black Swan) for Cowboys & Aliens, and they took full advantage of their New Mexico locations. They use beautiful helicopter and crane shots that show off the desert landscape, and the high angles really accentuate the desolation of the town. Favreau and Libatique also use inventive things like alien point-of-view and looking-through-spyglass shots to remind the viewer that they're not watching a desert documentary, so the balance between breathtaking scenery and stunning action is achieved. Cowboys & Aliens is extremely well shot, and that is a big part of why it is such an effective film.
The score to Cowboys & Aliens was done by video game composer Harry Gregson-Williams (who also scored the first two Shrek movies), and it is the perfect mix of old-time cowboy and new-school sci-fi. Walking the thin line between past and future, Gregson-Williams' score creates the western feel when it needs to, and just as quickly tells the viewer that they're watching an alien movie, all the while manufacturing the typical epic blockbuster score that audiences expect and demand from their action films.
Action, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Western
July 29, 2011