Spaghetti Western Sci-fi Extraordinaire

Sometimes a bad premise is all it takes to ruin a movie’s chances in the box office

Despite a few examples of insane popularity, science fiction is by far the hardest genre of film to take off in the mainstream.

Sure, everyone loves “Star Wars” and “Star Trek,” but outside of the big names of the genre, it is extremely hard to bring in audiences to a new sci-fi IP.

In order to bring people into the theaters, studios will try and come up with a gimmick that makes their movie stand out.

This week’s movie is the hilarious love child of a classic alien film and a spaghetti western: “Cowboys and Aliens.”

If you’ve never heard of this movie, then you are part of the majority. As the final film I’m looking at in March, it is a horrible box office failure estimated to have lost the studio around $70 million. But that once again doesn’t mean this is a bad movie. On the contrary, this movie is extremely well-made with great acting, only really lacking in some of its concepts and in pacing during the latter half of the film.

The best way I can describe this movie – it’s a B movie wearing the mask of a Hollywood blockbuster. It has a silly premise with flat characters and generic plotlines, yet it has star power along the likes of Daniel Craig (James Bond) and Harrison Ford and a decent budget near 150 million dollars. Its blatantly obvious that if the reference material was better, then the whole film would be improved because it is the only aspect that is lacking in the whole movie.

The story is some of the most mindless schlock I’ve ever seen. Super-advanced aliens want gold (for no reason) and end up fighting a bunch of cowboys to get it, only for the cowboys with Winchesters and the Native Americans with bows to beat them and destroy their ship. This then leads to the gold rush somehow.

It makes no sense, yet I love it.

Something about the juxtaposition between these dirty, sweaty cowboys against fleshy, monstrous aliens tickles the joy centers of my brain. I was laughing so hard during one scene where the main group is running away from a platoon of spaceships on horseback. Just the visuals of it had me in stitches: Picture a bunch of really fancy ships (which had awesome designs, unlike the aliens) failing to capture a bunch of cowboys and townspeople from the 1800s.

The biggest sin most movies can commit is being boring, and this movie does that during its second half. This movie is two hours long. But with some better editing and removing some unneeded scenes and plot lines, this movie could be a really solid 90 minutes.

This first half is great. When I was watching it, we had to pause the movie and noticed we were almost 40 minutes in. I could have sworn we were only watching for about 10 minutes because of how smooth everything flowed. It was paced to perfection, only to get ruined during the second half which has the third most drawn out fight scene I’ve ever seen in a movie (losing to “Turkish Star Wars” and “Food Fight”).

The aliens in this movie make me irrationally angry. Its not that they look bad (except for 1 scene where the CGI looked so bad, we had to pause the film), but that they are completely uninspired and make no anatomical sense.

They are essentially the aliens from “Independence Day” except the exo-suit is just part of their body. They had a second pair of arms that is stored inside their chest cavity that I guess is used for intricate tasks because the big, meaty claws are too clumsy. But when I say inside the chest cavity, I mean that they must open their chest and expose all their internal organs in order to use these little arms. Seems like a pretty big flaw to me, like something out of a video game, where the enemy shows its weak point in order to attack.

In one scene, a kid crawls into a cave while being chased by one of the aliens, and the alien can’t fit inside to get him. Instead of doing the normal thing which would be walking away and shooting the cave like a literal fish in a barrel, he pushes up against the cave and opens his chest to grab the kid with the tiny arms, only to get a knife in the heart. A child just killed one of the big bad aliens.

This exemplifies my biggest gripe with the aliens: They aren’t threatening. They seem invincible at the beginning of the movie and make a cool threat, but by the end, people are just killing dozens of them without breaking a sweat. They went from xenomorphs to zombies, completely removing any fear they could have brought.

Overall, it’s a good movie, but far from amazing. In the first half, I was ready to give it an eight, but after seeing it through to the end and sitting on it, I have to give it a six. I’d recommend seeing it only if you can get it for cheap or free, but it really isn’t worth buying it to see it more than once. Maybe rent it at a Redbox or something.

Now, I want to give a little shout out here to something I found in the menus of this Blu-ray disk which I had never thought of before, and that is the Audio Description function for the blind. This adds a narrator to the film that describes what is going on on-screen, so people who are blind can enjoy the film too. It can also turn any good film into an audio-book for car drives where you want to listen to one of your favorite movies.

This function is amazing, and I watched the first several minutes of this film with this on, and it was great. They have an extremely detailed script read by someone with an amazing voice, and I really suggest listening to a movie that you love and hearing the effort they put into it.

This was originally written for The University of Tennessee’s Daily Beacon and edited by Margot McClellan.

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