Sunday, July 31, 2011

Cowboys and Aliens

**Spoilers Ahead** be warned.

I've been so excited about seeing Cowboys and Aliens.

First off, much of it was shot around Abiquiu, where we spent six months or so a while ago. Some of it was even shot at Ghost Ranch, and if I was more organized, I could even show you my photos of the exact location of the opening scene. Unfortunately, organization isn't my strong suit, so I can't find them right now.

Instead, I'll repost this one,
which should give you some idea of the area.

Anyhow, as I said, I was really excited about this film. What's not to look forward to? Daniel Craig, who I have the biggest crush on. Harrison Ford, finally playing to his age. Directed by Jon Favreau (a hit or miss record for me, loved Elf, ditto the first Iron Man). And I love Westerns. It was looking good.

And you know what? It started out really well. Beautiful cinematography (although who can go wrong with that scenery?). A good solid footing character wise, I was really enjoying it.

And as long as they stayed with the Western genre, everything was all right by me..

Then they introduced the alien aspect and the whole thing began to fall apart. I mean, really fall apart. The premise (**SPOILER**) is that the aliens have been seemingly randomly blowing the crap out of various parts of the area, abducting folks and generally doing who knows what.

Then, rather than being a good old fashioned Western, it became a mash up, and not in a good way. Now don't get me wrong, I knew there were going to be aliens. And cowboys. And Indians. But I thought there was also going to be a story. And maybe some dialogue. And even a little bit of character development.

I guess while the aliens were busy abducting all these people, they also abducted the premise that this was going to be a film in which I actually cared what happened to anyone.

All of a sudden, I found myself watching a bad blend of genres. Spaceships chasing men on horses, spaceships blowing the whole landscape to Hell and back, aliens that moved so fast you could barely see them. It felt like the film makers just sat back and said, WOW, look at what we can do with special effects and CGI.

Another disappointment, I was led to believe a good part of the story had to do with the cowboys and Indians joining up to fight a common enemy. Well, they did, but just like in history, the Native Americans pretty much got the short end of the stick here. NO character development, they were just there.

Of course, the aliens were even worse. We got no idea of who or what they were, or really, why they were there. Oh yeah, they wanted gold, but why? You never got a sense of them at all, other than as mindless predators. Every story needs a good villain, and this film sure could have used one.

When the final battle ensues, the whole thing really falls apart, and actually had me looking at my watch. One plus, the whole final battle is shot at Plaza Blanca, also known as the White Place. This is a spot you shouldn't miss if you're ever in the area. So I guess for me it wasn't a total loss.

One thing about the film really bothered me. When we were at Ghost Ranch, I would drive the bus for the Georgia O'Keeffe tour, which would take guests out to the back of the ranch (where parts of this was filmed). We were always very careful to keep people off the desert floor. The ecology is such that once you tear up a piece of soil, you are disturbing an area that may have taken years to thrive. These plants, and even the surface soil is fragile. As I watched the explosions, and the thundering horses, running full speed across virgin ground, I couldn't help but cringe. Even if they tried, I know a lot of this terrain will show the aftereffects for years to come.

As I watched the credits, I saw that there were no less than six writers on this film (and IMDB lists nine!). Maybe that was the problem. Film by committee always seems to sink to the lowest common denominator, and this one certainly did.

We came home and watched Red River. It restored my faith in the Western as film.


Angie said...

Don't you think that many movies have gone the direction of special effects/CGI with little character development or plot? It also seems that movie makers have run out of creative ideas so they keep making one sequel after another. Thanks for the well written review.

heyduke50 said...

love the Abiquiu and Cuba area so much to photograph...

Merikay said...

I'll wait for the Netflix version!

Donna K said...

Thanks for the warning...I think I'll avoid that one. Glad you got to see a good one when you got home.

Russ Krecklow said...

Did you ever see "Firefly" on TV? While my oldest grandson was here he wanted to watch the first season episodes that Netflix has on streaming video. I'd never seen it, but he said it was one of his favorites. I found it to be very interesting. Kind of a future oriented "space western" with some horses, and cowboys and some pretty interesting characters.

Jerry and Suzy said...

That's part of the reason we carry a lot of old movies on DVDs with us.