Title: Cowboys & Aliens

Format: Blu-ray + DVD +Digital Copy

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Directed by: Jon Favreau

Written by: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby

Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Adam Beach, Paul Dano, Noah Ringer

Studio: Universal

Film Rating: ★½☆☆☆

Blu-ray Rating: ★★★★☆

Review by: Bill Jones

The Film

The premise of Cowboys & Aliens is infinitely appealing. It’s a merging of two huge movie genres. It’s a battle between old gunfights and space-age weaponry. It’s James Bond and Indiana Jones. It’s got the potential to be played as a B-movie or the summer blockbuster that it was. It can be funny and it can be serious. And it’s got Jon Favreau at the helm. Unfortunately, it’s a little less Iron Man and a little more Iron Man 2.

That is to say, Cowboys & Aliens has a lot of spectacular things flashing on the screen and big name actors, but it lacks any real substance, a good story and characters that actually engage us. Instead, it’s another mess of a summer blockbuster that had too many cooks in the kitchen, leaving audiences with a half-baked cacophony of filmmaking. It aims for serious, but fails to make us care about either the cowboys or the aliens, and in the end we’re left with flashy lights that fail to engage us.

The film opens with Craig’s Jake Lonergan waking up with a strange device on his wrist and some ill-meaning baddies coming to get him. The device turns out to be a space-age weapon, and Lonergan finds himself in an Arizona town in the time of classic cowboys and Indians. Ford’s Woodrow Dolarhyde has a son who is causing problems in town, but his influence as a bandit hangs over the entire population.

Things kick off with the characters going through their trials and tribulations in town when an alien invasion occurs, forcing them to band together to fight for their lives. Meanwhile, Olivia Wilde “acts” as Ella Swanson, a mysterious woman about town who takes a peculiar interest in Lonergan. And so on and so forth. The premise of film, again, is fantastic, but the motivations for the characters are weak. That’s not to mention flashback sequences drenched in horrible lighting, crappy dialogue that isn’t even the memorable kind of crappy, and action sequences that serve action sequences, not plot. And they aren’t even engaging for the pure visceral thrills of well-choreographed action, because there isn’t any. All in all, the film is an unfortunate big-budget dud that started with a bad script written by five screenwriters, poor direction by Favreau and the editors failing to salvage enough to make it all work.

The Blu-ray

Now here’s the kicker. The Blu-ray can be fantastic, even for those who don’t like the film, and there’s one simple reason. Jon Favreau used to do an IFC television show called Dinner for Five, on which he would sit down for dinner with figures in the entertainment industry, depicting them in a casual setting but also featuring very engaging conversations with said figures. If nothing else, Favreau still has the gift of drawing out a good, honest conversation with fellow celebrities.

The Blu-ray disc features a section called “Conversations with Jon Favreau.” He talks to Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, writers, producers and more not only about Cowboys & Aliens but also various other aspects of their careers and lives. Each segment is equally fascinating and practically worth the price of admission.

The Blu-ray combo pack also features the increasingly more popular Second Screen feature, with which viewers can use a computer to get the special features while the movie plays. Instead of using Disney’s sound-syncing technology, though, Universal bases it on internet connection, which means it’s not available unless the viewer has the Blu-ray player online.

Rounding out the disc are a series of making of features that depict the good intentions but poor execution of the movie (my words, not theirs) and a feature-length commentary by Favreau. The set also features a DVD copy and a Digital Copy horribly routed through the UltraViolet system. All in all, it’s a decent collection of special features; it’s just a shame they are for a bad movie.

For more info, cowboysandaliensmovie.com

Pads & Panels received a copy of the Blu-ray courtesy of the studio for review purposes.