Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Cowboys and Aliens

This post comes out of a new series of writing I do on ASOIAF meta and other topics of popular culture over at the Patreon of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour. If you like to read stuff like this, chime in just 1$ and you get access to everything I write. If you throw in 2$, you even get access to mini-podcasts I'm doing with Sean T. Collins answering questions by listeners of the podcast. Give the Patreon a look!

I know, I know, this movie has been around a while, but it hit Netflix now, so I finally watched it. And boy doesn't it work. I think it's interesting to look at why, because it shows some things. So, for one, of course the premise is ridiculous. There are not many genres that don't lend themselves to mixing them up with Aliens quite as the Wild West. Ask Will Smith for further proofif you need it. That's no guarantee it can't work, of course, but in this movie, it utterly fails. The reason to me seems to be that they're playing it way too straight.

I mean, this is a rather ridiculous premise, so you can't just pull over some Wild West stereotypes that would bore John Wayne and imagine that'll work. There needs to be an angle that makes it interesting. Because, frankly, "will the cowboys defeat the aliens" isn't interesting. Of course they will. Oh, and by the way, these guys aren't even cowboys, they're guys with guns and hats, which is one of your major problems right there. So, your focus needs to be on the humans and their interplay. A confrontation of cowboys with aliens needs to tell us something about the cowboys. This movie doesn't. Aside from the props and costumes and Harrison Ford's strained accent, it makes no difference at all. This story is so generic, its characters so bland, it could be set in every time zone.

Speaking of characters, they're horrible. It's like all of the script was written by an alien, because it has zero regard for what actual human beings say and do. There are the bare skeletons of character arcs, but again, it's just the structure overimposed on bare nothingness. People act like a paint-by-numbers, but there's no reasonance to it.

And then there's the frankly abhorrent racial and gender stereotyping going on. With a totally straight face, Harrison Ford tells a boy the story of he "became a man" - slitting a man's throat with his own knife - and then gifts the knife to the boy, telling him to become a man. The only woman in the whole party is first captured and then exposed to be an alien in disguise herself, who comes to help the human males with information because she and her race were too weak to resist the aliens themselves.

When they come to the Apache camp, they are instantly taken captive and prepared for torture while savage war cries abound, and when the alien then exposes herself, their superstition leads them to allying with the cowboys. But fear not, they also have strange nature magic to assist them while they spout cliched "noble savage" dialogue.

It goes on like this. My point is: this movie is an utter dud not because of its premise, but because it's structureally weak and doesn't work at all. Poorly and lazily written, there's nothing there worth seeing it. It isn't even bad enough to enjoy as a bad movie, unfortunately. So don't watch it.

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