Monday, February 27, 2012

Cowboys and Aliens

Last night was Oscar night so our minds drift to Hollywood, the land of red carpets, limos and stars in sidewalks. By now you know The Artist took home its share of honors, and the best actress of our generation, Meryl Streep, won best actress. But I wanted to write about an entertaining 2011 film that I enjoyed this weekend on DVD, even if it was panned by the Academy.

Hollywood has a habit of returning to favorite themes: love stories, monsters, murder mysteries, the rich & famous, thrillers, musicals… themes of all kinds. But westerns seemed to really draw the attention of American television and movie viewers. Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Roy Rogers and Maverick were on the tube. And think of all those cowboy and Indians stories on the silver screen like the epic How the West Was Won to the more politically correct Little Big Man and Dances with Wolves. Clint Eastwood cut his teeth doing spaghetti westerns. The Duke finally got his Oscar in True Grit. So here is a film that has yet another twist on the cowboys and Indians saga that is both surprising and entertaining, even if improbable, Cowboys and Aliens.

The influence of all those old westerns could be seen in my second grade art class where I did some pictures of cowboys. One of my stuffed animals had a vest with a sheriff's badge on it.

From the very first, you can tell Daniel Craig was born to be a cowboy, gritty as any of the Magnificent Seven ever were. He must have had fun playing this role. He wore his chaps and holster well.

I could probably find out with minimal research but the location where this film was shot reminded me of the South Dakota Badlands, one of our family vacations when our kids were young. Nearby the film Dances with Wolves was shot. But a lot of Hollywood Westerns were shot in the neighborhood of Sedona, Arizona and that opening shot could have been there as well. We have a lot of beautiful landscapes in the country.

The story…. Good guys and bad guys and Natives and … well, aliens. If UFOs can come to earth in our modern time, who’s to say they couldn’t have come to earth just as easily in the 19th century…. or fifteenth… or fourth…. For the purposes of this story, they came in the 19th century, the wild west era, because folks in Hollywood know how much we Americans love Westerns.

These aliens were indeed gruesome. Why is it that Hollywood has such a fondness for making aliens, monsters and ghouls green? Is green really the color of evil? The aliens here are truly creepy with insect-like features, reptilian hides. E.T., the Mask and the Creature from the Black Lagoon come to mind here as green creatures. But look at the Disney world and we find plenty of other evil characters portrayed in greens and blues. (Insight courtesy artist Kim Abeles of Los Angeles.)

The stars are bright in this film, Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford pre-eminent and Olivia Wilde being a heroine of exceptional beauty. You'll recognize other faces in this vast cast.
The special effects were as expected with a movie of this size. Director John Favreau, who did Iron Man, clearly knows how to play the special effects game. Though spectacular, they do not distract from the story, which was fun and full of surprises, though maybe a bit tedious at the end.

If you get the chance, give it a chance. Even if the critics panned it, a lot of film buffs enjoyed it. I'm one of them.

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