I kid you not… about a year ago I was talking to my brother about a screenplay idea I had: steampunk cowboys versus aliens. I had begun outlining characters, creating backstory, and even creating motivation for the aliens.
And then… I saw a movie preview for Cowboys and Aliens.
I said to myself, “crap… there goes my original idea.”
My concept was way better. It was kind of like spaghetti western meets steampunk and would have involved a dramatic gun fight (with lasers) at the end.
After seeing the movie preview, I reworked my story idea and set it in the future instead of the past and scrubbed the alien concept altogether. Instead, I began working on creating a graphic novel with a steampunk theme.
The movie stars Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig, and the woman who played Number 13 in House. I never caught her name while watching the film, so I referred to her as 13. Ford’s character was villainous, but still a good guy underneath. Craig’s character, Jake, was pretty interesting.
Two things threw this movie into shark jumping mode: Number 13′s character, and the fact that the aliens were mining for gold in the Wild West.
I don’t want to give away plot points or story details. (I hate spoilers.) However, 13′s character was more than she appeared to be and the movie for me jumped the shark. There’s a point in the film where she does something and at that point, my suspension of disbelief went, “poof!”
I’ve written an earlier post about villains. (Lex Luthor: a Study in Villainy.” ) Villains need to be menacing, not just a convenient plot device or special effect. In C vs. A, the aliens are simply a convenient effect to get you to take money out of your pocket.
As a science fiction fan, and one who has dabbled in writing science fiction, aliens can be awesome things for storytelling. They can be awesome because they are:
- a narrative device to have us look at humanity
- others… wondrous, inspiring, frightening
Aliens as villains don’t even have to speak English or be remotely humanoid. (Look at the alien in the movie, “Alien.”)
In Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the aliens are other-wordly, imaginative, and invoke curiousity and mystery. In ET, we see an alien again as otherwordly, mysterious, cute, and loveable. In each movie, when the aliens take off, you are filled with a sense of wonder. “Who are they?” “Where did they come from?” “Is there life elsewhere in the universe?”
The aliens in C vs. A, are simply dumb brutish monsters. They have nothing more than a base animal intellect. It makes you wonder how they ever invented interstellar spaceflight.
If you want to make a movie that has geek appeal, it has to have something that triggers the intellect, curiosity, a sense of mystery, or at the least give us a sense of drama and suspense. These aliens were very standard, two dimensional, unimaginative aliens. They were a convenient plot device that would work much better in a first person shooter than in a movie.
When 13 tells us the aliens travelled across the cosmos to mine gold, and they simply abduct humans to find our weaknesses, I disconnected from the movie.
Seriously? Aliens are going to travel trillions of miles, past innumerable asteroids, planets, and star systems to land on Earth to mine gold. While they’re here, prepping for an invasion, they’re going to look for human weaknesses. 19th Century humans, mind you.
Uhm… the aliens have the capacity for interstellar travel, energy weapons, flying robotic aircraft, and humans have what? Six shooters and Winchester rifles. We didn’t even have Zepplins or biplanes, for Pete’s sake! Clearly, a quick scan of our planet would tell the aliens that we are not a threat to them.
I know, you could say… it’s just a summer movie. Grab some popcorn, sip on a 48 ounce bucket of soda, and turn off your brain.
I go to movies to be entertained. I love movies that take me out of the world for a couple of hours and put me in another one. Movies can be magic like that. Close Encounters of the Third Kind was like that. ET was like that. This movie was stupid and disappointing.
I think what sucks the most is I can’t tell my steampunk western vs. aliens story without it being compared to this unimaginative movie.
Bleh! GRRR!!! Damn!
So, I think that’s it for summer movies. What a disappointing year for summer movies. Most stunk.
Well, I liked Super 8, produced by Steven Spielberg, that had an alien in it. (That alien, although kind of cliche, had a motive for what it did what it did that made sense.)
Go see Super 8. That was a movie made by people who love to make movies.
Cowboys vs. Aliens failed to cross two genres; science fiction and westerns. It really failed.
The movie had great casting, Ford and Craig were good in the movie. It had good special effects, but it lacked a workable story.
Seriously, can anyone in Hollywood write good movies anymore? Is it really more cost effective to just throw some scraps together and say, “Meh?”
I give this movie 2 out of 5 alien arm blasters.