Monday, October 10, 2011

Cowboys and Aliens (2011)

At the end of the week is New York Comicon and we're going to use that as the excuse to take a look at some of the more recent comic book films and talk about what they've done right and what they've done wrong (there will be a great deal on that last bit) in aweek we're calling Comics and Commentary.

Cowboys and Aliens is based on a "best selling" comic book.

The claim that the comic was a best seller (sales were inflated because the comic was used as a give-away) caught Hollywood’s attention. Additionally the simplicity of the comic’s title Cowboys and Aliens, made it an easy buy for someone at the big studio- It’s a title that told you exactly what the film was all about.

The trouble was that outside of one of the best exploitable titles you can imagine, they got a comic that wasn’t all that good. It’s a story that’s as simplistic as the title and as a result too simple for even the frequently brain dead summer movie machine.

Yes boys and girls Cowboys and Aliens is a lesson in what happens when Hollywood buys a property based solely on a title and then has to cobble together a film out of it.

The basic plot of the film and the comic has aliens carrying off people and a group of people riding off to stop them. They are aided by a man who escaped from the aliens but who can’t remember anything about it or himself.

The simply story took something on the order of 20 writers and ghost writers to put together a viable script. 20 writers to tell the story of a group of people wandering across the desert to find aliens and get their people back.

What is the number of cooks that is too many to spoil a broth? What ever it is they exceeded it.

Can you tell that I’m not a fan of the film?

Okay yes, I know the film isn’t brain surgery but you really have to try and put something interesting on the screen and they botched that. The film is slow and dull and not sure what it wants to be failing to integrate the science fiction with the western. You never really feel that the aliens are with the cowboys. And until the aliens show up I was wondering what any of it had to do with the aliens.

You might argue that the film is setting up the characters, but there are so many of them that outside of Clancy Brown’s preacher and Daniel Craig’s Jake Lonergan you really don’t know anyone. You could argue that Paul Dano’s whiny but evil son of Harrison Ford’s character is a viable character, and you’d be right except that he belongs in another movie, preferably one where he has a tad more backbone and is less wishy washy. (Keith Carradine’s sheriff is fine, but he’s carried off too quickly, and Sam Rockwell just disappears too deeply into the blandness of his character to register)

The problem with the film is that it took a simple one note comic and turned it into something slightly more complex but not complex enough to warrant two hours of screen time. Had the film been a short film or better paced this might have worked but the film just rambles on and on for a good chunk of it’s running time until all hell breaks loose at the end.

I blame director Jon Faverau for much of the pacing problems. If you look back at his body of work only Iron Man really works, the rest all have pacing and story problems that I think are his largely his fault. I think he's a nice guy who is too happy to do what the studio suits or big stars in the case of this film, want him to do. I think on some level he's just happy being with these people that he loses any sense of what he' shooting and how it will have to be cut together. I think Iron Man worked because he knew the character and the material enough to really craft a film. Iron Man 2 he was interfered too much with. (more on that on Wednesday when we talk of Thor)

This movie is a mess. Yes it made money but only because it had a huge ad campaign that had all sorts of people chomping to see it, many of whom hated it when they were done.

In a weird way this is a modern example of how AIP and Roger Corman used to make movies. Get a great title and you'll get people based on that. The difference is Corman and his contemporaries were making movies for a one thousandth of what this film cost.

I admit it, I'm a sucker, I paid to see this.

Whats worse was I knew the comic wasn't good and the bestselling label came with an asterisk, but I went anyway.

You've been warned. Don't plunk down your money to see this. Stop the cycle and maybe Hollywood will get better source material and make better films.

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