{2jtab: Movie Review}

Cowboys & Aliens - Movie Review


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4 stars

For many long decades, people have scanned the horizons and wondered if humans were alone in the universe or if there were other creatures just waiting to communicate with us.  Yet, fear always sets in and our imaginations turn to galactic invasions and enslavement at the hands of aliens.  Why?  Well, it makes for a damn good story.  Hollywood, time and time again, always revisits the alien invasion story and maybe – after one too many Independence Day-like movies – our boredom with the subject has grown and it takes a bit more thought to get us into another invasion-themed narrative.  Well, what if the idea of an alien invasion took place during the Old West?  And what if that story starred Indiana Jones and James Bond and the babe from Tron: Legacy?  I’ll bet that would fire up your idle imaginations again…

…right?   Right.  Well, prepare yourself and set your geek-factor guns on stun.

Adding a bit of badass sci-fi wizardry to the western genre, Cowboys & Aliens rockets across the screen and straight into the stratosphere with highly-charged moments of stylized action and dry humor.  The film is a hard-boiled western as gritty as the scorched earth where the action takes place, yet combines an alien invasion to throw off audience expectations and boldly amps up the violence and the scares.  The film is directed by Jon Favreau (Iron Man) and displays the same type of confident swagger that have become staples in his filmography, yet it’s a film – because of its scope - that probably could have benefited with one more pass through the editing booth.

The film opens with a bit of a mystery as Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) awakens on the dry Arizona ground with a strange mechanical device attached to his wrist (just go with it).  The year is 1873 and such mechanisms shouldn’t exist.  We know this.  He knows this.  Lonergan can’t get it off, but that is the least of his problems.  His memory is vacant – brief flashes of what happened to him plague his thoughts – and a posse is forming to take him in.  It’s only when he walks into town and gets into a minor altercation with the son of Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) that he finds out he is actually a wanted criminal.

Before being sent off to federal prison, Lonergan and the town’s residents are attacked by a stealthy group of UFO’s and only the mechanical device strapped to his wrist and controlled by his impulses seems to be able to take them down.  All bets are off when the town realizes they all have a common enemy – hell-bent on stealing their friends and family – in the sky.  Aided by the mysterious Ella (Olivia Wilde), a bartender named Doc (Sam Rockwell), a young boy (Noah Ringer) and the town preacher (Clancy Brown), Lonergan and Dolarhyde join forces and wage a war against all manner of cowboy, indian, and alien.

With characteristically Steve McQueen cool, Craig embraces the mythic American hero of the Old West and delivers a two-fisted performance of male bravado.  Gruff and crotchety at the beginning of the film, Ford’s arc is more of a performance piece that certainly redeems the haze that surrounded Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  While age is certainly showing for both of these leading men, their cool is as timeless as the roles they play and seeing them together on the silver screen is one of the insanely cool parts of Cowboys & Aliens.

Another is that the film plays like a straight-up and old-fashioned western.  Full of whiskey-soaked attitude and tough guy moments, Cowboys & Aliens takes its time with the whole sci-fi part of its identity which might make heads spin when they finally see a spaceship hovering above a saloon.  The aliens – looking very cockroachian and a tad too Alien-esque for their own good – are frightening and handled with a ballsy approach as they are both scary and muli-hand disturbing.  They want gold.  And slaves.  They also burn people.  In fact, one tortured victim’s death is detailed so graphically you get the details of her skin melting to ash.  Just don’t expect to spend much time with them; they are the bad guys in the western formula.  You won’t get to know them.  You won’t want to.

The script is credited to six different writers and they do attempt to do each character justice via the script.  Maybe too much so as the film – especially noticeable as it nears its ending – attempts to be less ambiguous than it need be.  Some viewers may tire of the characters’ many happy endings and some may understand that character is always at the heart of the western genre and accept it.  And others may not be able to get past the whole genre mesh-up and be done with the film after the first attack.  While the pacing never completely goes off the rails, I certainly can see the point of view from those who feel cheated by the nasty little side-straddling hiccups along the way to the final showdown between the rugged cowboys & their pesky aliens.

The observant eye might depict two vastly different genres that appeal to two different types of crowds but the two-fisted strength in Cowboys & Aliens is in the rollicking good time that it, bullet after bullet after laser after laser fired, absolutely delivers.  It’s a high concept piece and it pays off nicely…even if that mechanical device strapped to Lonergan’s wrist is more of a McGuffin and less of a real mystery.

Relax, people, it’s only summer…and it’s almost over.  You'll get that Oscar season soon enough...

{2jtab: Film Details}

Cowboys & Aliens - Movie ReviewMPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of western and sci-fi action and violence, some partial nudity and a brief crude reference.
: Jon Favreau
: Roberto Orci
Harrison Ford; Daniel Craig; Sam Rockwell; Paul Dano; Olivia Wilde
: Sci-fi | Western | horror
Cowboys & Aliens
Memorable Movie Quote: "I want that man! You give him to me now, or I'm gonna take him!"
Universal Pictures
Release Date:
July 29, 2011
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
December 6, 2011.

Synopsis: Blockbuster filmmaker Jon Favreau directs Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford in an event film for summer 2011 that crosses the classic Western with the alien-invasion movie in a blazingly original way: Cowboys & Aliens. Joined by an arsenal of top moviemakers -- Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci -- he brings an all-new action thriller that will take audiences into the Old West, where a lone cowboy leads an uprising against a terror from beyond our world.

1875. New Mexico Territory. A stranger (Craig) with no memory of his past stumbles into the hard desert town of Absolution. The only hint to his history is a mysterious shackle that encircles one wrist. What he discovers is that the people of Absolution don’t welcome strangers, and nobody makes a move on its streets unless ordered to do so by the iron-fisted Colonel Dolarhyde (Ford). It’s a town that lives in fear.

But Absolution is about to experience fear it can scarcely comprehend as the desolate city is attacked by marauders from the sky. Screaming down with breathtaking velocity and blinding lights to abduct the helpless one by one, these monsters challenge everything the residents have ever known.

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. With the help of the elusive traveler Ella (Olivia Wilde), he pulls together a posse comprised of former opponents -- townsfolk, Dolarhyde and his boys, outlaws and Apache warriors -- all in danger of annihilation. United against a common enemy, they will prepare for an epic showdown for survival.

The script for Cowboys & Aliens is by Star Trek’s Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci and Damon Lindelof (television’s Lost), based on Platinum Studios’ graphic novel created by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg. Grazer, Howard, Rosenberg, Kurtzman and Orci produce. Spielberg and Denis L. Stewart executive produce..

{2jtab: Blu-ray Review}

Cowboys & Aliens - Blu-ray

Component Grades

Blu-ray Disc
4 stars

5 Stars

Blu-ray Experience
4.5 stars


Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - December 6, 2011
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
: English SDH, French, Spanish
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; French: DTS 5.1; Spanish: DTS 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set (1 BD, 1 DVD); UV digital copy; DVD copy; Bonus View (PiP); BD-Live; D-Box; Mobile features

Universal Studios Home Entertainment presents the film in a gloriously rich 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that fills the television screen with strong visuals and great landscapes.  The Arizona desert is a wonder to behold; rock formations are detailed and strong and the sands are filled with fine nuances.  The buildings are natural and the grain in the wood is clear as a bell.  Many scenes are simply ripe with precise and natural beauty.   Matthew Libatique's cinematography is noticeably stronger and breathtaking throughout.  Contrast levels are perfectly balanced and the saturation levels are dynamically bold.  The sound – presented here in a stunning 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that captures the western vibe and the science fiction bleeps and lasers with stunning results.  The immersive quality of the sound is beyond genius and results in a great overall experience for the eyes and the ears.



  • Recorded by a certainly confident-sounding and very relaxed Favreau, Cowboys and Aliens commentary track is pretty welcoming for casual listeners.  The film’s celebrated director guides listeners through the ins and outs of the movie and covers everything from the cast to the crew.  A secret, however, is revealed: Favreau admits to being partial to the Extended Cut of the movie which is, thankfully, included on the release.  It is, in fact, superior to the Theatrical Version.

Special Features:

Housed in a slick-looking slip cover, Universal provides two versions, the Theatrical Version and the Extended Cut, of the film.  The 16-minute difference in the two is quite amazing and clarifies some of the characterization beefs critics had when it was first released.  The two-disc packaging also includes the DVD version of the film and the much-loathed ultraviolet digital copy.

Ultimately, the special features are pretty strong.  There’s an 80-minute sequence that pools together interviews from Favreau about the film.  The featurettes are maybe too brief to be that memorable but do feature some interesting points about the origin of the film and the use of practical effects vs CGI sequences.  The U-Control picture-in-picture feature is also brief but features plenty of behind-the-scenes footage and interview segments to be a worthwhile inclusion.

The breakdown is as follows:

  • Conversations with Jon Favreau (80 min)
  • Igniting the Sky (18 min)
  • Finding the Story (5 min)
  • Outer-Space Icon (10 min)
  • The Scope of the Spectacle (7 min)
  • The BR release also includes a D-Box Motion code, My Scenes, pocketBLU and BD-Live enabled.

{2jtab: Trailer}