At the Movies: Cowboys and Ugly Things and… a Hummingbird?

It’s been at least a year since I last went to the movie theater. With my schedule, it is difficult to find the time. Plus, given the cost of movies, I would rather just spend the money on Netflix and watch the movies a few months later at home.

However, it was family night, I needed a break, and Cowboys and Aliens looked interesting. So, off we went for dinner (where service was too slow — didn’t have time to order the very tempting carrot cake for dessert), and then to the movie.

Basically, I think the movie is fun to watch, but not to overanalyze. It was worth a ticket, but I don’t think I’d pay that much to see it a second time. I might want to buy the DVD if it comes in under $20 at some point, but it would have to have some fun extras.

movie poster

Overall, the movie is mostly fun to watch. The scenery is gorgeous — and I don’t mean only Olivia Wilde (Ella) and Daniel Craig (Jake) (depending on your tastes): It was filmed in various places in New Mexico (standing in for Arizona) and it really is beautiful on the big screen. Plus, there is something for nearly everybody. There are explosions, bad guys, good guys, a wise old man, an Apache tribe, a brave young boy, emotional reunions, a cute dog (Dog), ugly aliens, a saloon piano player, some humorous touches, a space ship, a crotchety old guy with a heart of gold, yet more explosions, several doofuses, revelation, almost mystical occurrences, Absolution (the town, and partly the theme) and all the other clichés you might want (and a few you didn’t realize you wanted). And a CGI hummingbird that is supposed to be symbolic in some way.  Oh, and did I mention Olivia Wilde? She has beautiful eyes, especially when they’re about 2 feet across on screen.

The start is a little uneven, but once the movie gets going, there is a lot of nearly non-stop action. Of course, many people learn about themselves along the way (the ones that don’t die, that is), and in the end the “good guys” win. Yeah, it would be an interesting alternate ending on the DVD to have an alien fleet land and wipe out humanity in the last 5 minutes, but don’t expect that in a big movie out in theaters — only a few of us more twisted individuals would sit through the movie for an ending like that. (Never mind that the politicians in DC, especially the tea party nuts, seem to be doing that in the small in real life right now.)

I couldn’t help but have several nagging thoughts as I was watching the movie, however — things that were inconsistent and/or simply too convenient. Yeah, I know the idea of aliens in the old west requires suspending belief, but it was still a little much. I’ll mention a few below the line in the spoilers section. None took me completely out of the flow of watching the movie, but the cumulative effect did spoil some of the enjoyment for me.

Craig puts in a pretty good performance, although he has to show a limited range for most of the movie. But he does a good job of displaying angst, terror, and confidence when called for. Wilde also displays a rather limited range in the movie, but that is somewhat a function of the character she plays. Harrison Ford (the Colonel) is gruff and funny, and almost a caricature, but he could do this role almost in his sleep. Clancy Brown (Meacham), a wonderful character actor, plays a good guy in this, which is nice to see for him — he has more talent than he gets to show in most films. Sam Rockwell (Doc) and Keith Carradine (the Sheriff) are familiar faces in near cartoon roles (not surprising, as this story was adapted from a comic), but they play the parts well. Another familiar face is that of Adam Beach (Nat), another wonderful actor, who really makes the best of a small part. Lots of other unwashed, grizzled cowpunchers and Indians (several who are probably really American Indians, judging by their names), and one or two women, fill the scenes at various times.

Overall, though, I enjoyed the movie. Unlike some other movies, I didn’t leave the theater feeling like I’d wasted my time and money. I didn’t leave with a sense of “Heck, yes — I want to see it again!” either. Overall, I’d give it a 6 out of 10. You’ll probably like it if you like (or at least tolerate) science fiction and can check your mind in the lobby.

Spoilers follow — read at your own risk!

There were a number of things in the movie that simply didn’t seem right to me, and distracted me a bit. In particular, the physics of several things simply didn’t fit. The flyers, for instance, left an exhaust trail suggesting some form of jet, yet the “fingers’ for wings had no shape or surface for lift. How the heck did they fly? And the main ship? It had some form of combustion for propulsion (pretty good, too, considering the acceleration at take-off), but of what? The vessel clearly didn’t have big fuel tanks. If they used some form of advanced radiation power (what Ella blew up at the end) then why did they need flame? And what caused the huge flame and smoke explosion?

The aliens were also bothersome. If they didn’t see well in daylight, I would expect them to have big eyes, not beady little ones. And the placement of the hands (with fingers) inside their carapace jarringly reminded me a lot of Alien. But why would their hands be covered in mucus? It certainly didn’t seem to match the tools and controls we saw. And the fight scenes made me wonder why they didn’t simply wipe out the humans on horses? It seems that multiple arrows and gunshots were unlikely to kill them, and they were clearly faster and heavier than even the horses, plus they had claws and fangs. But… if they were attacking with claws and fangs, why did they have those bracelet weapons? They didn’t use them in the flight. Instead, they came in range of the human weapons to perform a physical assault. And these are a higher intelligence?

And about that bracelet/weapon: where the heck was all the power coming from? Jake blasted about 30 or more times with his, and each time it blew holes in the scenery or pushed a several-hundred pound (at least) alien yards through the air. That’s a lot of power and never needed recharging. And why did it only glow when an alien was around if Jake was controlling it with his mind?

And why were the aliens on Earth to mine gold? Coming into a large gravity well for gold when there is undoubtedly a lot of it in the asteroid belt and on some of the other inner planets doesn’t seem thoughtful.

There were simply too many things about science and engineering that got in the way for me to stay immersed in the story.

And it extended beyond the simply physical. For instance, snatching people using those lassos — most or all of them should have died immediately from internal injuries and snapped spines because that was a heck of an impulse force both forwards and upwards. And what was with the hummingbird — especially flying at night? Symbolism, I know, but still….

There were some other things, too, like at the very end as we look at the town and there is an “Ice truck” outside the bar. No electricity. Late summer and really hot in Arizona. Where the heck is ice coming from?

There were more, but those are the ones that come immediately to mind.

And, I was also bothered, in the end, in the way the relationships with the Apaches were handled and evolved. It seemed too condescending and clichéd to me.

None of these ruined the movie for me, and I suspect that most people will watch the movie and never notice any of these things. Unfortunately, I did and I bet many of the nerd set will as well. That kept me from staying immersed in the movie continuously.

Of course, the plot and the clichés also were a huge stretch, but the pacing could have made up for it.

Still, I did enjoy the movie. But I sure wish producers & directors of flicks like this had some science & engineering geeks to provide advice on things to avoid, or figure how to explain in the story.

Posted in Uncategorized. 1 Comment »

One Response to “At the Movies: Cowboys and Ugly Things and… a Hummingbird?”

  1. Esther Says:

    6/10 sounds about right. As Alan Tudyk put it, Cowboys & Aliens “wasn’t bad for a space western but suffered from a painful lack of Chinese.” Hopefully you’re a Firefly fan. 🙂 If you feel like giving your review a broader audience, it’s worth adding to Shameless promotion, since I’m a contributor, but we don’t have a write-up on the film yet and your style meshes well with our sorta vibe.


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