The bracelets and sidearms of Cowboys & Aliens

The new film, loosely based on the graphic novel, is a rousing adventure, but don’t put your thinking caps on.

Cowboys & Aliens is barely recognizable as the same story which is to be found in the graphic novel upon which it is based. I mean: there are cowboys, there are aliens, and they shoot at each other, but that about sums up the similarities. Even the nature of the aliens and their purpose for coming to earth has been altered. The characters don’t even resemble the characters from the book. It’s a very loose adaptation.

The cinematographic style is interesting especially during the overture.

It’s filmed like a modern western with sweeping vistas, and often shots which contain more scenery than character or action.

Occasionally we get the ‘character looks off into the distance from the side of the frame, while desert fills the view’.

It all makes the film feel very much like a western, and not much like a sci-fi.

Because of this, the aliens, their ships, and the protagonist’s alien-tech bracelet all seem much more out of place than they would otherwise, which drives the point home, I think about how unfamiliar these aliens would be to the humans.

These are people who have never even seen an alien invasion film. They’ve never read comicbooks or heard War of the Worlds. Mostly, it’s played off well.

Realistically, I think folks in that time period would be considerably more freaked out by all this stuff, but maybe I’m not giving them enough credit. Then again, a movie in which people completely freak out about the existence of aliens the whole time might be kind of dull, so perhaps it’s for the best. At least they maintain some verisimilitude by never referring to the creatures as “aliens.”

The amnesiac protagonist might be a bit over done but Daniel Craig plays it well. I may not be fond of the way he does Bond, but he’s got a great ‘stoic cowboy’ thing here. If he had been born a couple generations sooner, he may have been one of our great western stars. Maybe if westerns come back into style, he still can be. He’s certainly shown here that he has the part down.

Olivia Wilde also does a wonderful job for her part as the mysterious townswoman who knows more than she lets on. While her talent shows through here, especially in the action scenes, which she doesn’t get to do nearly enough of normally. Interestingly, the director chose not to give her much opportunity to show off her body, which goes back to the western film style, but is still a surprising – and perhaps refreshing – decision.

Of everyone, however, Harrison Ford plays the most interesting character. He’s a crotchety retired cavalry officer who mostly runs the small settlement the protagonist finds himself in. This mean old man is the most dynamic and dimensional character in the film, and his depiction and well-roundedness was another very pleasant surprise in this otherwise fairly straightforward picture.

Overall, it’s a fun gun-slinging action flick which has its real quality moments and is well produced and stylized for what it is. Sure, it might not make a lot of ‘sense’ – especially the depiction of the supposedly advanced alien race – but it’s not really supposed to.

Cowboys & Aliens is in theaters now.