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TV & Film

Cowboys & Aliens

Hemal Jhaveri August 8, 2023

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This week on Ten Movies:

A glossy, modern Hollywood western movie made with extreme attention to detail and featuring beloved A-List stars? And also aliens show up? The premise is solid gold – but the execution, sadly, left much to be desired.

In ‘Cowboys & Aliens’, released in 2011 and directed by Jon Favreau, Harrison Ford plays an excessively curmudgeonly ranch boss in the old West whose thoroughly unlikeable son is kidnapped by space aliens. Meanwhile, Daniel Craig is wandering around suffering from amnesia and bearing a mysterious alien weapon on his arm. (See? This all sounds terrific.)

As they compete for the “most craggily handsome man”, the two stars assemble a gang of people representing every Western movie character stereotype and head off to fight the aliens. Olivia Wilde goes with them, who turns out to also be an alien, but with a different flavor. This explains her mysterious knowledge but does not explain why she’s always gazing adoringly at Daniel Craig and taking her clothes off. Eventually, they have a big battle, and the two characters who aren’t white guys get killed.

All in all, a bit of a muddle, which was perhaps foreshadowed by the fact that the script had six authors.

Brian and Hemal felt that the filmmakers lavished a great deal of love and care on the “Cowboys” part of the movie, while the “Aliens” part was given short shrift. In the movies that inform the alien component of the film, like ‘Aliens’ and ‘Predator’, the extraterrestrial entities are genuinely menacing, sources of dread and suspense. But here they are just rampaging monsters with laser weapons and flimsy motives.

Worse, though, is the degree to which the movie makes no attempt to even acknowledge, much less answer, the outdated ideologies of the Western genre. One can perhaps understand why a movie from, say, 1975 might depict women and Native characters in subservient or unimportant roles and not question the right of European settlers to do whatever they wanted, but it’s baffling that a movie made in The Year of Our Lord 2011 would do the same.


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