Releasing Studio: Universal
Disc/Transfer Specifications: 1080p High Definition; 2.40:1 Aspect Ratio; Region 1 (U.S.) Release
Tested Audio Track: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Director: Jon Favreau
Starring Cast: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Clancy Brown, Paul Dano
OSAGE’S PLOT ANALYSIS:
Jon “Iron Man” Favreau was taking a big chance in melding and fusing a Western with an alien attack scenario to create Cowboys & Aliens, and on paper, it had all the makings of a total disaster, as seemingly fetching as the idea is (the idea actually wasn’t his, as this was based on…something, according to the title sequence). Instead of cowboys and Indians, we get cowboys and otherworldly beings, and perhaps due to some external assistance from the likes of Close Encounters captains the project didn’t completely bust – but Daniel Craig as a smooth-talking “stranger” that’s trying to hide his British accent for nearly two hours? No way. I didn’t buy it, and still think he was an awful choice for this. I’ll get to that.
I remember seeing the trailers for this and being immediately smitten, as I suspect many were – it appeared as though a Western town was under aerial attack by otherworldly ships, and Craig’s character possessed the only weapon that could fight back…a wrist-worn contraption able to fire laser-like beams seemingly bringing down the alien ships. Harrison Ford seemed to be the “sheriff” of this small town under the attack, or something along those lines, and we had a pretty damsel in distress role, played by the tantalizingly cute Olivia Wilde. I couldn’t really make heads or tails regarding the plot just from the initial trailers, but it sure looked…different. Upon watching it about a week ago on Blu-ray, the experience left me satisfied in terms of my curiosity, but unsure as to whether this is a buy; Favreau opens Cowboys & Aliens with a depiction of Craig standing in a Western frontier eventually surrounded by cowboy hat wearing figures on horses, demanding to know what he is doing there and what the strange device is strapped to his wrist. With some moves reminiscent of his Bond roles, Craig takes the men out one by one when they begin to crowd him; this leads him to find the small town in which our main plot takes place, and once there, it’s clear that everyone is seeing him as a certain outlaw that has been wanted for some time. But Craig’s character cannot remember who he is or what his name is…he doesn’t even know why this strange iron wrist device is strapped to his arm and why he can’t get it off. Eventually, he begins to get flashbacks regarding his past, and these images are sprinkled throughout the film from time to time.
Once healing from his wounds from his earlier run in with the cowboys, Craig’s character makes his way through this small Western town, eventually being cornered and threatened by the lawmen of the area. One evening, as he is placed in a carriage with a wise mouth punk who started up with him a day earlier in the town, so he can be transferred to the federal marshals, strange fast moving ships swoop down on the town and attack. Craig is eventually freed from the destroyed carriage and finds the device on his wrist automatically locking on to the alien ships to fire weapons back at them, eventually bringing one down in the middle of the town. We then meet Harrison Ford’s character (who is actually the father of the kid that was jailed with Craig), who plays the leader of…I really don’t know, but his role wasn’t written that solidly or with much thought; apparently, he heads a gang of some kind, as did Craig before his amnesia, but that underdeveloped aspect of the script was a bit hokey. And herein lies the problem – Craig is desperately trying to hide his Bond-esque dialogue delivery behind some desperate lessons in dialogue coaching while Ford is attempting to portray some awesome Westerner on a horse which just simply falls flat. I didn’t buy Craig in this role, at all – beyond the blatant problem that he was obviously attempting to desperately hide that British accent with every line delivery, his physical appearance didn’t even add up. Case in point: He’s wearing the short, spiky-styled haircut he does in the Bond films, yet this is a Western frontier town and everyone has that long, nasty hair coming down from their cowboy hats. What was up with that? It was like a new Bond film, but set in an American frontier backdrop.
Anyway, Craig and Ford begin to investigate the downed alien craft, and this is kind of where Cowboys & Aliens got more interesting, in that we begin to wonder what it would be like if this actually happened…if the people from the Jesse James/Wyatt Earp era had come in contact with an advanced alien race that possessed technology never before seen or even dreamt of. Ford’s character keeps referring to Craig’s iron wrist weapon in varying “old fashioned” ways after he realizes that’s the only thing they have to go against the aliens; essentially, this was the main charm behind Cowboys & Aliens. We then meet the sensual but mysterious Wilde, who appears as a simple member of this town’s community, but who is also obviously hiding a secret about Craig’s identity. Ford, Craig, Wilde and others embark on a journey to track down the remainder of the alien ships and their pilots, following trails of varying kinds which eventually leads them to the mother ship which is “implanted” deep in a mountain range miles away.
The entire plot begins to unravel, in which we learn of Craig’s previous identity as a thief and how he was “abducted” by the aliens some time ago along with his woman, where once aboard their ship, Craig was able to escape their experiments but not before having a strange wrist device permanently clamped to his arm. This device apparently allows him to “track” the location of the alien beings while also possessing a weapons system, as a whole acting as a piece of the alien technology taken from the ship and now attached to him like an appendage. Further, the mysterious Wilde tells Craig and the other cowboys on the trail of the aliens that they are here on Earth to steal gold – apparently, this commodity is as valuable to them as it is to humans, and they have settled upon this Western town to forcibly take the gold from beneath the ground. Thus, that is why the massive mother ship is buried halfway into the ground in this mountain range, as the aliens can easily “suck” the gold from the catacombs below. Sound hokey? Sure; but at least we have an answer as to why the E.T.’s are here. We also learn exactly who Wilde’s character really is – and she ain’t no pretty human female. Apparently, she is part of another race sent to protect the humans or monitor the activity of the aliens to protect her people; it’s a bit spotty, but she sure is eye candy throughout this.
Getting back on point, Ford, Craig and a bunch of bloodthirsty native Americans plan an attack of the mother ship, and the concluding frames of Cowboys & Aliens gets rather interesting as the primitive weapons used by the cowboys and Indians such as confederate era rifles and bows and arrows (I’m not kidding) have to do in their war against the fast moving alien attackers that rush out of the mother ship and from their smaller satellite ships (the rapidly-scurrying creatures actually look a lot like the thing from Cloverfield with crab-like appendages and elements). While the aliens take out a load of frontier cowboys and Native American chiefs, the humans actually fight a good battle, killing many of the ghastly creatures during the ensuing fight. Meanwhile, Craig, Wilde and others make their way into the mother ship and discover trapped human hostages that have apparently been experimented on by the aliens, as their eyes are glazed over and they’re unresponsive hanging in a holding area. Craig uses his wrist weapon to blast his way through the ship and its underground catacombs, eventually getting the weapon off through Wilde’s instruction that it is his mind that controls the device – Wilde takes the bracelet and fights off the aliens within the ship as Craig finds his wife amongst the abducted humans, leading them out of the ship as it blows into smithereens before it can escape Earth’s atmosphere…thanks to Wilde’s sacrifice aboard it.
Indeed, it is possible room is left open for a sequel to Cowboys & Aliens as the final frame portrays Ford’s character offering a joint union between him and Craig, and Craig riding off into the horizon on his horse – but I’m not sure this film needs a sequel. The questions were answered: Why the aliens were here, why they attacked the town in the beginning, who Craig’s character was and why he was wearing the strange bracelet…yet still there was something missing from this film that didn’t make it a spectacular experience. I didn’t walk away from it thinking “wow…I gotta own this!” or anything of the sort; Craig himself was a terrible choice for the role of the alien contraption-wearing stranger in the Western town, while Ford didn’t have much to work with here in terms of material. Further, much of the production just felt “empty” without much substance, even though many of the alien attack sequences were cool enough. I think Favreau needs to concentrate on expanding the Iron Man franchise – although rumor has it that he’s not directing the third one when it arrives after The Avengers, so…
VIDEO QUALITY ANALYSIS:
In typical Universal fashion, Cowboys & Aliens exhibited a clean, detail-rich 1080p encode/transfer; presented in a 2.40:1 aspect that rendered the letterboxing on my particular display overtly distracting and unavoidably noticeable, the film pretty much sparkled from start to finish, with the Western town shots providing eye popping clarity and detail while the darker nighttime sequences portrayed the appropriate sense of looming doom. Some areas of the transfer exhibited a bit of softness especially compared to Universal’s other stellar Blu-ray transfers, but this could just as easily been a stylistic decision on Favreau’s behalf, or a problem inherent in the particular scenes shot.
AUDIO QUALITY ANALYSIS:
The DTS-HD Master Audio track required a bit of volume goosing to really get going, but once dialed in, the alien attack sequences, the stampedes of the horses and cowboys riding them and other spatial cues were rendered realistically and accurately enough; while far from a reference track, the audio served Cowboys & Aliens well enough.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATIONS:
Definitely give this a rental. The concept was intriguing, and I really wish the end result had been more satisfying; you’ll see what I mean about a Brit portraying a Western frontier butt-kicker and how off-putting this was, especially as Craig attempts to hide the accent too blatantly throughout, but as far as general entertainment goes, Cowboys & Aliens is definitely worth a spin for one evening.
I would be interested in hearing what you all thought of this film if you have seen it, so please comment away!