Alien Invasion or Outlaw Redemption? Why not Both?

Cowboys & Aliens Movie Description

Film Review  Cowboys & Aliens May Be Someting, But It’s Not Art

Bad Movie Review  Cowboys & Aliens Has the Goods to Be Bad

Sometimes a film or videogame can claim to cross genre boundaries and create something new Sean of the Dead, for instance, is the perfect RomComZom (romantic comedy zombie movie). Some films stay wholly within the conventions of a genre, yet clearly transcend it. (Unforgiven is a good example.)

More often, however, trying to blur genre lines results in something that isn’t good within any genre and isn’t very good outside of them. Sadly, Cowboys & Aliens falls into this group.

Genres add value to movies because they provide an established background and context, some well-known themes, and an audience that is already educated in them. This takes a lot of burden off the film itself. A vampire movie doesn’t have explain and justify the existence of vampires, it can move straight to the story it wants to tell.

Cowboys & Aliens tries to fit into two sub-genres of two very different genres. While I love it when filmmakers take on a challenge, this one didn’t work.

The Alien side of the movie falls into the Alien Invasion sub-genre of Science Fiction. As such, it doesn’t really do too badly. Arguably, the aliens are kind of stupid and their invasion is motivated mostly by “we’re aliens, that’s just what we do.” But the standards for this particular sub-genre are pretty low. One of the iconic movies is Independence Day, which is also iconic for being a terrible movie.

There have been some pretty solid Alien Invasion movies. District 9 comes to mind. But generally audiences are used to some pretty low-quality stuff, even from major films. (Battleship, for instance). Remember, also that one of the worst movies of all time, worse even than Independence Day, was Battlefield Earth. So this particular genre sets a very low bar, and Cowboys & Aliens easily clears it. Were this just an Alien Invasion movie, I would give it 4 out of 5 stars.

But it also tries to be a Western, specifically an Outlaw Redemption Western. Though there have been a few clunkers, the western genre is actually filled with some very high-quality movies. Western outlaws have included the great Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as well as the previously mentioned Unforgiven. An even closer parallel, from which several plot elements and scenes were clearly lifted, is The Outlaw Jose Wales–another great movie.

Cowboys & Aliens gets almost everything about the genre wrong. Daniel Craig could be a great western character if he never talked. He has deep, intense, thoughtful eyes–the iconic stare of the western hero. But he does talk. He also takes his shirt off. So does Olivia Wilde. Great abs were never a thing in the old west, and Olivia Wilde would have been consider tubercular.

The number of generic western elements include the outlaw gang, the tough rancher dominating the local town, the gunslinger who stands up to the bully, the weak sheriff, bounty hunters, and the completely stereotypical indian tribe. Also sidekicks.

Harrison Ford tries to bring a serious interpretation to his role, and a movie about his character could have been great. But everyone else looked as though they had, at most, watched a couple old westerns.

For Ford’s role, I have to add half a star, so let’s say one and half. Combine that with the solid 4 for the science fiction side and I come out with somewhere between 2 and 3. Because the action was as exciting as action should be, I’ll round up and call it 3.

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