Tuesday, August 16, 2011


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *psychological, sociological*

There isn't a helluva lot to say about COWBOYS VS. ALIENS, except that its poor box-office performance disproves the canard that no one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American moviegoing public.

COWBOYS, while pleasant enough to view in uncritical mode, strikes me as a wasted opportunity to play with the conventions of the western. Trouble is, given that the script passed through about nine writers, one is never sure if any of the writers know what those conventions are. I got more authenticity from any single scene of RANGO than in the whole CVA film.

The plot is so simple that it avoids the entanglement of making the main character Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) interesting. He's a walking plot-device, in that he begins the film in an amnesiac state, though he's not too befuddled to remember he's a badass when faced with some bounty hunters. Lonergan dispels them quickly with the help of an alien bracelet clamped about his wrist, but that doesn't help him figure out where the weapon came from. Not surprisingly given the title, pretty soon some aliens come along to help solve the mystery.

Most of the characters who join Lonergan in his quest are disposeable, with the exception of the love-interest Ella (Olivia Wilde) and Dolarhyde, a gruff old rancher who represents an earlier heroic generation (Harrison Ford). Ella is also something of a humanized plot-twist, and never quite becomes more than that. The writers almost manage to craft something like a three-dimensional character for Ford to play, and even though they don't succeed Ford puts much more energy into this character than I've seen in his last five films.

The underwriting of Dolarhyde is particularly egregious since the script contains some dramatic nuances that go nowhere. As in the Jimmy Stewart film THE MAN FROM LARAMIE, we have an old rancher who has a spoiled real son who's become a rotten kid, and a ranch-hand who, despite being no real relation to the rancher, seems much more like a son to the old man. A good dramatic arc might've been reached had, say, Dolarhyde been forced to choose between his blood-kin and his loyal employee. But COWBOYS VS. ALIENS can't exert itself to drum up this much conflict.

Most of the alien action looks pretty good, if not overly inventive (note the signature "Star Wars" moment in the illo above). CVA also works in some Indians to help the Cowboys fight the Aliens, but in a move sure to promote egalitarianism, the noble red men are just as underwritten as the white men, so that the potential sociological themes of the western lie fallow here.

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