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Cowboys & Aliens (Blu-ray Review)

11 Dec, 2011 By: John Latchem

Sci-Fi Western
Box Office $100.2 million
$29.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of Western and sci-fi action and violence, some partial nudity and a brief crude reference.
Stars Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Adam Beach, Paul Dano, Noah Ringer, Keith Carradine, Clancy Brown, Ana de la Reguera.

The thrust of Cowboys & Aliens is an entertaining genre-bending adventure of the sort usually seen in ‘B’-movies and time travel stories such as “Doctor Who.” The film sneaks up on viewers with some unexpected character development, especially in the extended cut, which includes 16 more minutes that were cut to speed up the pace of the theatrical version.

Director Jon Favreau sets up the film as a Western about a wanted criminal wandering into a frontier town and setting off a dispute between the sheriff and a local land baron. And then aliens attack and abduct people.

With the sheriff among those abducted, the wealthy Col. Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), whose son has been taken as well, leads a posse searching for the missing people by tracking one of the aliens, which crashed after Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) shot the ship with some alien tech he woke up with at the beginning of the movie. It’s The Searchers meets Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a premise that requires just the right tone to avoid devolving into the realm of the ridiculous.

Finding that balance is one of the major recurring subjects that comes up in what may be the Blu-ray’s best extra, a series of candid interviews between Favreau and the film’s stars, writers and producers. The focus here is less on the movie and more about the circumstances that brought these people here. And when you combine the likes of James Bond (Craig) and Han Solo (Ford), the anecdotes are pretty eye-opening (producer Damon Lindelof basically admits that most of the plot devices on “Lost” were designed to screw with the audience).

Favreau finds a lot of common ground with Craig over his “Bond” movies, as they discuss approaching a line where the film verges on self-parody (comparisons of some Bond films with their Austin Powers spoofs does come up). The discussion with Ford includes some insights with Favreau about the benefits of 2D over 3D in contributing to the disorientation needed in this film to put the audience in the shoes of an inhabitant of the Old West, since modern audiences obviously will have a better sense of technology and movie aliens.

Equally amusing is seeing Harrison Ford’s critique of the impersonal aspects of CGI, in which he cites giant CGI ants as an example of what not to do (without explicitly naming Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull).

The disc also includes the usual array of behind-the-scenes featurettes and a good commentary with Favreau.

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