If there are alien survey parties out there actively seeking civilizations or habitable planets, then in principal there is no reason why first contact couldn’t have happened in 1911, or 1811, rather than 2011. Surprisingly, only a handfull of science fiction writers have tackled this subject. The High Crusade by Poul Anderson is one of the few examples. The film of Cowboys and Aliens is another.
Cowboys and Aliens had the potential to be a very interesting film. If the story had focused on real, 1800s-type people encountering hostile beings beyond their ability to understand, then Cowboys and Aliens could have been a great film. Instead, the cowboys of the title are your basic Hollywood western stock characters. Clearly the intent is to have fun with the ‘six-shooters vs lasers’ bit, not make a serious film. The result is that the movie is a mediocre example of the Hollywood ‘big dumb sci-fi action movie’ style.
This is not to say that a ‘big, dumb action movie’ is automatically a bad film. Terminator 2 (1991), Jurassic Park (1993, the first one, not the sequels) and Inception (2010) are all, basically, ‘big, dumb action movies’ in the sense that they are high-action thrillers and/or shoot ’em ups, and the studios pushed them as ‘blockbusters’. Yet they are all excellent films, despite being ‘big, dumb action movies’.
The basic problem is that CGI and other computer based special effects/editing technologies have become cheap enough that just about anyone can afford them. Back in the early-mid 90s, when Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park were being made, CGI technology capable of putting, say, a T. Rex or a liquid metal robot killer on screen represented a large investment – even by movie studio standards. Everything from script to director to casting would have been scrutinized to justify the expense. There was a real focus on making films with wide appeal to a variety of audiences to maximize profit. In other words, they had to be really good films to be made in the first place.
Today, however, even direct to video and/or tv movie productions like Boa vs. Python or Mega Piranha can afford enough CGI to put fantastic creatures on the screen. The studios have always pumped out romantic comedies, mystery thrillers and the like, in all levels of budget/quality, on a regular basis. There has always been a demand from movie theaters, television networks, and even direct-to-video retailers, to fill.
Films like Cowboys and Aliens have become all too common. While there is nothing wrong per-se with Cowboys and Aliens, there is nothing exceptional either. It just blends in with the pack of so many similar films in recent years.
Rated PG-13. Contents are pretty much what one would expect from a typical film of this type. If you would take your kids to other such films, you can take them to this one.
As of Friday Aug 26, Cowboys and Aliens is now playing at AMC Lennox Town Center, AMC Easton Town Center 30, AMC Dublin Village 18, Marcus Crosswoods Ultrascreen Cinema, Marcus Pickerington Cinema, Cinemark Movies 16 – Gahanna, Regal Georgesville Square 16 and Rave Motion Pictures Polaris 18.