Here is a noble and seemingly original idea: confronting characters of the Wild West – Cowboys, outlaws and Indians, with aliens. Can two very specific genres work well when combined? How would ice-cream and hotdog taste if combined? How much more efficient a Toyota Prius may be if carted to a horse? Will the evening news be more appealing if anchored topless? Some combinations may never work, some may work under specific context and execution, and some may be a natural.
Here is what works for Cowboys and Aliens: good casting. Daniel Craig feels like a reborn Eastwood that brings along with him shreds of Jason Borne and James Bond combined, yet also original. Harrison Ford brings with him a long forgotten force of fighting aliens, as well as a character experienced in leading suicide expeditions. This role, by the way, finally allows Ford to put on his quirky half-smile again. Sam Rockwell and Olivia Wilde are noteworthy ,as is the direction trusted in the hands of Jon Favreau.
The start of the film feels like a good old Western, a feeling that later may make one wish it would have continued with being just that – a plain good old Western. The feel and spirit of a Western is there, and kudos to the art design and customs departments, music, cinemathography and editing.
And then the aliens are introduced... That is where the noble idea flops. For a story that avoided, or so it seems, clichés, the aliens’ characters are completely shallow and anything but two, let alone three dimensional. Coming from a presumably advanced culture that produced superior technology, the aliens don’t attempt to communicate but rather resemble a larger vicious version of the darker side of the gremlins. Their appearance ultimately drags the rest of the film down.
For a story that could have been much more, Cowboys and Aliens alienated film critics who rated this film poorly despite its relative summer success with audiences. I, for one, hope this flick will not go on the franchise way, but rather return to the planet where it was conceived. That is, unless a real fresh perspective will be brought onboard next time around.