Blu-ray Review: Cowboys & Aliens

Cowboys & Aliens Blu-ray boxSTUDIO: Universal | DIRECTOR: Jon Favreau | CAST: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 12/6/2011 | PRICE: DVD $29.98, Blu-ray/DVD Combo $34.98
BONUSES: extended edition of movie, featurettes, commentary, Second Screen, Flick View
SPECS: PG-13 | 119 min/135 min. | Science-fiction western | 2.40:1 aspect ratio | DTS-HD audio | English, French, Spanish subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Cowboys & Aliens is one of those movies I really wanted to love. The premise screams fun. Aliens in the Old West? Oh Yeah! But, unfortunately, in director Jon Favreau’s (Iron Man 2) hands it’s an, “Uh, okay.”

Daniel Craig (Dream House) is good as Jake Lonergan, a bad-ass cowboy gangster who wakes up in the middle of the wilderness with a strange metal contraption on his wrist. Olivia Wilde (Tron: Legacy) is fine as a mysterious woman who doesn’t quite fit in. And Clancy Brown (TV’s Carnivale) is great as the old preacher with a kind word and his finger on the trigger.

Cowboys & AliensBut the casting of Harrison Ford (Morning Glory), Sam Rockwell (Conviction) and Paul Dano (The Extra Man) weren’t as well thought out. Ford is okay but never truly inhabits his former-Colonel-turned-mean-cattle-owner. Rockwell seems uncomfortable as the doc-turned-saloon-owner, who’s alternately brave and cowardly. And Dano simply tries too hard as Ford’s spoiled-trying-to-be-a-big-man-but-secretly-weak son.

The main problem with the movie, however, is its lack of tension. These people have lost family members, stolen before their eyes by some kind of alien. Scared and angry, they do what anyone would do: track the alien. But the film’s ragtag group has no sense of urgency. They mosey along like they’re on vacation. In one scene, Rockwell’s Doc even describes their journey as a “trip.” So much for a rescue attempt.

The extended version of Cowboys & Aliens doesn’t add much fun to the watching experience either. It’s a good 30-odd minutes longer than the theatrical version, but the new scenes don’t give us any new information. We see Doc actually being a doctor, which is nice, and a bigger celebration at the end of film. One scene, involving Craig’s Lonergan and Wilde’s Ella, really should have been left out altogether. Instead of an extended cut, maybe it would have been better if Favreau had given us a shorter version of the film that has more tension.

Cowboys & Aliens does look and sound good in Blu-ray’s high-definition. The film has some nice sweeping shots of countryside, and the slime coming out of the aliens’ mouths is appropriately shiney. But the presentation didn’t blow us away like other movies have on Blu-ray. In some places, the separation in the audio could be better.

Universal packed the Blu-ray with special features and is debuting a new “Flick View” with this disc. With “Flick View,” viewers who are watching the movie synced with the Second Screen extra footage and interviews on a tablet can “flick” the bonus from the tablet to their TV screen for better viewing. To me, this solves a lot of the problems with Second Screen. I like watching extras, but a) I don’t want to watch it while the movie is playing and b) I’d rather watch it on the bigger TV, not a computer or tablet.

Outside of Second Screen, the Blu-ray looks at the film’s production in a series of “Igniting the Sky” making-of featurettes, but mostly they’re disappointing. There are some good moments, but you have to slog through a lot of “he’s such a genius” and “[fill in the blank] was so cool” to get to them.

The best featurette is “Outer-space Icon,” in which we hear from the creators at Legacy who designed the movie’s alien. They spill that part of the inspiration came from director Favreau’s love of sea turtles. Yep, cute, sweet sea turtles. “The Scope of the Spectacle” is fun too, looking at the film’s stuntwork.

In his commentary, Favreau goes through his decisions during the movie making, his homages to older westerns and other behind-the-scenes tidbits. The opening scene, in which Craig repeatedly punches a cowboy, almost got the movie an R rating, Favreau tells us. But luckily, they were able to keep it and squeak by with a PG-13.

Maybe the best set of extras on the Blu-ray are Favreau’s conversations with various cast members, including Craig and Ford. The pieces show the director and his actors relaxed and comfortable, talking not only about their experiences with this film but also with others, such as Bond in the case of Craig and the Star Wars movies in the case of Ford.

Ford also reveals that he was happy to be involved in the choosing of the hat he wore in Cowboys & Aliens. In the original script, he says, his Woodrow Dolarhyde had a hat and whip like Indiana Jones and Ford quickly put a stop to that. We’re glad he did.

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About S. Clark

Sam Clark is the former Managing Editor/Online Editor of Video Business magazine. With 19 years experience in journalism, 12 in the home entertainment industry, Sam has been hooked on movies on since she saw E.T. then stared into the sky waiting to meet her own friendly alien. Thanks to her husband’s shared love of movies, Sam reviews Blu-ray discs in a true home theater, with a 118-inch screen, projector and cushy recliners with cup holders.