I saw Cowboys and Aliens last week at the drive-in movies in New Jersey. It was my first drive-in movie experience, and despite the beautiful immensity of the movie projected in front of dark shadows of trees from the encroaching forest, the fireflies jumping in the field beneath the screen, the soft underscore of crickets and cicadas, the cool air smelling like the mountains and summer, and the thrilling novelty of hearing the movie through our radio in the privacy of our own car -
I have to say I was disappointed.
I'm sorry, but Cowboys and Aliens just did not hold up to the awesomeness of the title. During the climactic action sequence, my companion turned to me and said, "How are you not in total suspense right now? A kid just stabbed an alien! And you're texting?" (Um, I was tweeting, thankyouverymuch.)
But no, I was not particularly invested, even at the penultimate moment. Despite being called COWBOYS and ALIENS, a name that just screamed of imagination, there was not much original about this movie. The characters were stock characters and (the worser sin, in my opinion) the aliens were stock aliens. Nothing unique or inventive or dimensional or developed about any of them. And the sad thing is, I don't think you even need both to have a good movie. You can have stock characters and interesting, original aliens, OR you can have rich, highly developed characters and standard, run-of-the-mill aliens, and the movie would still work. You would simply get, respectively, an alien movie with cowboys or a Western with aliens. (I wanted the latter, which why I mourn the loss of the good aliens more.)
Sadly, Cowboys and Aliens had neither. And you know what the REALLY sad thing is? This movie, this unoriginal, formulaic waste of a great idea, was written by five - count 'em, FIVE - people.
Which makes me wonder: is this the Hollywood equivalent of a a play that's overdeveloped until it has no teeth? It kind of smacks of another face of the same beast. At the same time, I really, really want to believe that had this been a play, at SOME POINT in the development process (as flawed as it may be) somebody would have said, your characters are all stock characters, there is nothing about them that makes me understand or identify with them as individuals at all, and your aliens are equally by-the-numbers and uncompelling. Right?