The western has had a long and turbulent history in American history, undergoing numerous changes as the attitudes of the time change too. Science fiction, however, still maintained an evergreen appreciation with the public. Cowboys and their encounter with supernatural elements form an offshoot genre known as the weird west. But it’s rare for a film to combine the two aforementioned categories, wholesale. Turning to a 105-page graphic novel in order to bridge the gap between these genres Jon Favreau looked to do just that with a story, that story was Cowboys & Aliens.
Waking up in the vast frontier of territorial New Mexico, our hero, Jake Lonergan, wakes up with no memory of how he got there, a strange metallic shackle, and adept killing skills, he travels to a community called Absolution where most of the town’s income is propagated by cattle-magnate Col. Dolarhyde and his son Percy. Percy is an agitator who in an altercation with Jake gets thrown in jail. If that wasn’t enough, Extra-terrestrials invade and kidnap some of the townsfolk, Percy included, so now Jake Lonergan, Col. Dolarhyde and a select group of concerned others must go across the wild west to stop the space-faring menace.
Keeping with its rich cinematic heritage, the shots of Cowboys & Aliens remain breath-taking with sweeping vistas aplenty. The film also employees some interesting effects and colours that subverts the western and brings some well-established tropes of sci-fi into the mix. Both the worlds of the alien menace and the community of Absolution feel substantial, and if either was in its own independent film, would have stood solidly. Drawing on recognisable themes, yet still putting together interesting stories that feel like they got perfectly blended.
A prime selection of a cast helps brings these recognisable archetypes to life, even the smaller parts have legendary casting, seeing the light after his experiences with evil in Carnivale, Clancy Brown, here is playing an effectively good preacher for a change. This is not to suggest that the story isn’t aided by its main cast. Daniel Craig is a surprisingly good fit as a lone outlaw (despite the fact he’s not American) and Harrison Ford feels a natural to and it’s obvious that all his work battling C.G.I. Aliens has helped him here. Regarding C.G.I. the aliens have an interesting visual look and are not your typical greys, each looking detailed, unique and lifelike…for C.G.I.
Cowboys & Aliens is a celebration of the two titanic genres in motion picture history, with fresh and exciting ideas that emanate from the creative fusion of them both. By playing it straight, the film feels daring and willing to answer the call of creative ingenuity, that is much-needed in the cinematic world today. It is a well-realised foray into the world of the Weird West. Cowboys & Aliens is currently just a singular entry into an interesting universe, but it makes you wonder what other stories are out there in the old west that could benefit from such a combination?
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