Director Jon Favreau follows up the disappointing Iron Man sequel with Cowboys & Aliens; a western with a sci-fi mix starring Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford. A concept that sounds so nutty it almost might work, especially in the hands of Favreau. Did it work theatrically? Not so much, but the Extended Edition on Blu-Ray is proof that there was something fun that could have come out of this project, but most of that fun was left on the editing room floor.
Jake (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the middle of nowhere with a high-tech silver bracelet attached to his wrist. He has no memory of what happened prior to this, but he knows that he needs to find out before something worse happens. After beating the crap out of three drifters with his own bare hands he heads to the town of Absolution, looking for answers.
He runs into a mysterious girl named Ella (Olivia Wilde) who continues to question him about where he’s been and where he got the bracelet. Ella tries to help him, but stubborn Jake ends up getting into a load of trouble with the local law enforcement. While on his way to a judge for prosecution Jake and the entire town of Absolution is ambushed by flying alien crafts. These crafts take most of the townspeople while leaving the rest of the town in ruins.
Jake must team up with Ella and a few locals to hunt down these aliens and figure out what is really going on. Woodrow Dollarhyde (Harrison Ford); the toughest and one of the most powerful men in the Wild West decides to step up and take control after the aliens took his son and after Jake strolls into town. Dollarhyde and Jake have a past that Jake’s forgotten. They all put aside their differences and team up in hopes to find out what’s going on and to hopefully save mankind before it’s too late.
Cowboys & Aliens is very much an old school western. It starts out very tough and mean, with Jake angrily beating up a group of thugs. It establishes the bad ass character of Jake very early on. He’s not someone you want to mess with at all. Daniel Craig has no problem sporting an American accent for the role and his physical appearance is just the right level of believably tough, yet gentle underneath. For the majority of the film he plays the simple cowboy looking for redemption, which is all that’s asked of him by the script and director.
Harrison Ford also provides another surprisingly good performance. He continues with his usual modern day dark grumpy voice, but it fits his character well. Woodrow is a man with a past in war and a man that’s willing to go to war if necessarily. He has a spoiled kid that he shows some tough love for and he has an attitude like no other. He doesn’t take shit from anyone or anything, alien or human.
The rest of the cast consists of a few good performances, but nothing worthy of deep discussion. Olivia Wilde literally channels a mentally retarded adult playing Ella. Her vacant stare and constant nagging doesn’t help the third act twist from coming full circle. It’s predictable and quite frankly stupid and unneeded. Sam Rockwell doesn’t do too much as Doc, but he fits the bill.
The problem with Cowboys & Aliens isn’t in the character work (well it is in Wilde’s case), but it’s in the actual story. It starts out without a problem establishing the western tone and easy going intentions. It shows how tough it can be, but it also shows that it has a sense of humor. But then in the middle it becomes weighed down with too many side stories and scenes of characters simply talking to each other for the hell of it. None of that is really touched up on in detail and it only slows the films pacing down. Then, to top it all off you have one of the dumbest “twists” in modern memory. It adds absolutely nothing to the story and it comes across as obvious and for the most part completely pointless.
I noticed this problem more with the theatrical cut of the film. The editing felt really choppy and off-balanced. One minute the characters would be doing battle with alien crafts and the next they’d be sitting around a campfire telling stories that no one cares to hear. In the extended edition the scenes of lengthy dialogue are still left intact, but they are given more detail and more connectivity. It no longer feels like action scenes cutting to dialogue scenes, instead its action that slowly eases into some dialogue that helps establish the characters more. Dollarhyde and his son are given much more detail in the extended edition and the general flow of the film feels much stronger.
It also helps to note that all of the blood is reinserted. You’ll see alien’s literally knocking heads off of people and blood will spurt and spray from every bullet shot. The extended edition fully embraces the fun to be had in the film and tones down the seriousness.
I’m assuming Jon Favreau or the studio thought it was best to tag the film with a PG-13 rating, hence the heavy editing on all the blood and action sequences, but I’m still left bewildered at why they would cut out some truly good character work. An entire ending sequence involving Sam Rockwell and Paul Dano is removed and replaced with a 4 second clip. It’s stupid stuff like this that bogs down the theatrical cut and raises the extended cut. I was bored with the film in theaters, but I enjoyed myself much more at home with the extended cut.
Whether you liked the movie or not I think one thing everyone can agree on is how incredibly detailed the 1080p video transfer is. Universal spared no expenses porting the sandy Arizona landscape onto Blu-Ray with fine clarity. The films daytime scenes are truly remarkable. Every speck of sand, dirt, blood and sweat can be seen. Skin tones are natural and the CGI alien creatures for the most part blend in with the environment. I noticed a few areas where the aliens looked offsetting, but those were few and far between.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is even more impressive. It’s loud and aggressive. Dialogue takes center stage on the front channels, but the activity is kicked up a notch on the rear channels, with alien ships flying in between channels and explosions and gunfire coming at you from all angles. The track is constantly active and very immersive.
Cowboys & Aliens comes to Blu-Ray with a decent set of extras. Check the full list out below.
- Theatrical & Extended Editions (HD): The theatrical edition clocks in at 119 minutes while the extended edition comes at about 135 minutes. I strongly suggest checking on the extended edition because it inserts all the blood and a few scenes of connecting dialogue.
- U-Control Picture in Picture (HD): Universals latest PiP feature that comes and goes throughout the film if you choose to use it. It contains behind-the-scenes footage and other fun stuff to enjoy.
- Audio Commentary with Director Jon Favreau: Favreau provides another ordinary commentary that comes off enjoyable despite your feelings on the film itself.
- Ignite the Sky: The Making of Cowboys & Aliens (HD): Six segments depicting how they made the film. They’re entertaining for the most part and very informative.
- Conversations with Jon Favreau (SD): Several conversations between Favreau and various members of the cast/crew.
- Second Screen: A nifty new feature that requires the pocket BLU app to connect your tablet or smartphone to your Blu-Ray player to gain access to even more features.
- DVD Copy
- Digital Copy (both regular digital copy and UltraViolet copy)
Cowboys & Aliens is one impressive film on Blu-Ray. In theaters the film left me wanting much more from such a talented director like Jon Favreau. The film made you realize that maybe it wasn’t Marvel that messed up Iron Man 2. Maybe Favreau was a true one hit wonder with Iron Man? The extended edition on Blu-Ray helps silence that thought, but the film is still kind of a misfire. The talent is there and the concept is there, but it’s the poor editing decisions and odd pacing that drags the film down. The theatrical edition runs over two hours and most of that running time is pointless chatter, but the two and a half hour extended edition is pure entertainment. The blood and violence is kicked up to an R-rated level and the dialogue that’s inserted helps make the films characters a little more meaningful.
Still, Olivia Wilde‘s performance is pointless and dumb and a lot of the sidetracking before the final battle could have been cut. The film is still something to be enjoyed at home, especially with the remarkable video transfer and the very immersive audio track. It also comes loaded with a decent amount of extras and nifty new features like Second Screen and U-Control.
If you enjoyed the film in theaters than the Blu-Ray disc is a no brainer, but if you were hesitant like I was I would still suggest renting it and giving the extended edition a shot. It raised the bar of enjoyment for me and made the film something I might want to re-visit on occasion. There just aren’t enough fun westerns out these days.
Cowboys & Aliens is no Iron Man, but it’s better than Iron Man 2 without a doubt and its proof that Favreau knows how to make a good western, full of action and fun. He just needs to focus more on piecing together the action with a better story.
Cowboys & Aliens is no Iron Man, but it's better than Iron Man 2 without a doubt and its proof that Favreau knows how to make a good western, full of action and fun.