5 Movies To Fill The Gaps In Jon Favreau's Cowboys And Aliens

By Sean O'Connell 2011-07-28 15:04:23discussion comments
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Reaction to Jon Favreau's genre mashup Cowboys & Aliens has been decidedly mixed. On one side, there are those who hoped for more traditional, Old West storytelling touches. Others thought Favreau should have upped the alien quotient. And then there are those, like our very own Katey Rich, who just wanted a better story.

Hey, we understand that mixing science-fiction and Western rhetoric can be difficult. Just ask Wild Wild West director Barry Sonnenfeld. That's why we're here to help. If you find Favreau's Cowboys & Aliens lacking in some crucial categories, from on-screen chemistry to gee-whiz imagination, then check out these five films. They all build on the genre elements Favreau samples in Aliens, but they remember how to take things to the next level. And when paired with Favreau's summer tent pole picture, they just might help fill in the gaps.


The Searchers
I'm pretty sure Cowboys & Aliens was pitched around Hollywood as The Searchers with extraterrestrials standing in for Comanche Indians. Like Favreau's film, John Ford's influential drama follows flawed cowboys saddling up for a grueling rescue mission after a loved one is abducted by foreign forces. But that's where the similarities end.

Where Favreau's film only concerns itself with empty popcorn thrills, Ford and his leading man, John Wayne, explore the physical and emotional strain such a quest can inflict on men while also commenting on pressing themes of racism, vengeance and genocide. Guess that's why Ford's The Searchers is considered the quintessential Western, while Favreau's film currently has a Rotten grade?


Zathura
Earlier in his career, Favreau wondered what would happen if regular people were surprised by an alien encounter. But instead of cowboys saddling up for an adventure, Favreau's heroes in the spacey thriller Zathura were squabbling siblings and their teenaged babysitter (K-Stew!)

Know what? It was way more fun than the oddly serious Cowboys & Aliens, blending the milieu of a typical John Hughes teen comedy with impressive special effects and a sense of danger that Aliens could have used. Sci-fi has been a vital component in Favreau's early films, most notably the Iron Man series. But rarely was it as entertaining than when he first dove into the genre for the 2005 adaptation of Chris Van Allsburg's imaginative book.


Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
One selling point to Favreau's Aliens was the pairing of Daniel Craig and Harrison FordÖ or, as EW so bluntly put it, ďWhen Bond met Indy

Great idea. Except once you get past the machismo pissing contest waged between the alpha males (captured in an admittedly great scene where Ford hits Craig and the chiseled antihero retaliates), they don't have much chemistry. Both men are accustomed to sharing the screen with beautiful leading ladies. The bro-mance, if that's what Favreau had in mind, never materializes.

Then again, maybe I was just hoping for the next incarnation of Butch and Sundance. Silly me. The relationship between Paul Newman and Robert Redford's outlaws on the run can never be matched. Will never be matched. If you want to see a Western that's not interested in being a Western, rent George Roy Hill's masterpiece and drink in one of the best buddy pictures of all time.


Memento
I don't think it's a spoiler to reveal that Craig's character in Aliens, the outlaw Jake Lonergan, suffers amnesia. He spends the bulk of the film piecing together hazy memories that involve an alien abduction, a lost love and some crimes he might have committed with his gang.

It's not a bad plot device, just one that has been done better so many other times, For my money, the most recent film to masterfully use the amnesic hero is Christopher Nolan's Memento, which actually works backward as it recounts the mystery surrounding confused protagonist Guy Pearce. So one screenwriter (Nolan) spelling his story out in reverse produced a tighter script than the six credited Aliens screenwriters who were tracing their narrative in conventional terms. I don't know whether to laugh or to cry.


Back to the Future: Part III
Sure, it's the weakest installment in the trilogy. But Robert Zemeckis' Western still did a better job with his fish-out-of-western-waters than Favreau manages with Aliens. As Marty McFly pretends to be Clint Eastwood and Doc Brown romances a local beauty, Back put the finishing touches on a brilliant trilogy that seamlessly meshes sci-fi tricks with America's history (be it the 1950s or the late 1800s). Plus, there's Christopher Lloyd and Mary Steenburgen on a hoverboard. Hard to beat.
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