What is the deal with Olivia Wilde? and 10 other questions about Cowboys & Aliens

Cowboys & Aliens left me befuddled, so here are some questions.

Spoiler alert. This post was intended for those who have seen the movie.

1) What is the deal with Olivia Wilde's character Ella Swenson? First, she chases around the man-with-no-name (Daniel Craig) for obscure reasons (She wants to know where he came from). Then, after she dies from an alien blow, Native Americans burn her corpse, whereupon she is reborn Phoenix-style and nude by the campfire. She turns out to be a shape-shifting alien (who speaks fluent Apache) from another planet in search of her parents? What the heck? I can imagine the conversation amongst the movie's 27 screenwriters went something like this: "Ella dies, so that's a sad scene, giving Craig a chance to emote. Then, she's reborn, so she can appear in the PG-13 version of nude, which should help with the movie's marketing. Win, win."

2) Is the inverted river boat stranded in the desert an allusion to Herzog's Fitzcarraldo (1982)?

3) Why are the aliens after gold? Is it because the filmmakers are?

4) Why do the Native Americans and the cowboys join forces to fight the aliens? Is it another example of the Dances with Wolves (1990) effect, a revisionist way for American audiences to feel good about the Native American holocaust?

5) Why is Paul Dano in the movie as Harrison Ford's character's delinquent son Percy Dolarhyde? Is he supposed to remind us of his work in the infinitely superior There Will Be Blood (2007)? Does that make Ford's Colonel Dolarhyde some bizarre variation on Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis)?

6) In the production notes of the Cowboys & Aliens' webpage, I learned that, in the 1875 town of Absolution, "nobody makes a move on its streets unless ordered to do so by the iron-fisted Colonel Dolarhyde (Ford). It’s a town that lives in fear."

If that is the case, why do we hardly ever see that side of the Colonel? He does take time to torture a man early on, but he's genial and laid back (in a distracted Harrison Ford kind of way) for the rest of the movie, chatting with young Emmet (The Last Airbender's Noah Ringer) about being brave. He even gives the boy his knife.

7) How many weird correlations are there between Cowboys & Aliens and Jonah Hex?

8) Why does C&A share a scene with Transformers: Dark of the Moon which closely resembles the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster of 1986?

9) Why do the aliens have retractable little arms in their chests? Are they meant to be cute? Are they a variation on the mouth within the mouth of the creature in the Alien series?

10) Did Jon Favreau & Co mean to make the aliens look like the fish-footman in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland?

11) Why does Cowboys & Aliens share a scene with Super 8 in which a bunch of people are found mesmerized inside a cave? In the more recent film, they are all glassy-eyed and hypnotized by a great glowing alien thing above them. Afterwards, they forget they were ever there. Does that have something to do with the way Jon Favreau wants us to react to the movie?


Snipes said…
I can "shed" some light on a couple of your questions because they were addressed in the film. Whether or not they're satisfying to you is another question, but one must remember Cowboys and Aliens isn't the type of film you should go into and attempt to reason everything out, it's a popcorn film it's supposed to be brainless fun.

1. Wilde's character was following Craig's character because he was one of the few to escape the clutches of the aliens, plus he had stolen some of their technology. This all was useful to her in gain access to their ship. Also she wasn't looking for her parents she was looking for vengeance against the aliens who had abducted and tortured her people, hence her blowing the ship up that the end.

3. The aliens were after gold because (as Wilde's character stated in the film) it was as rare to them as it is to you (humans).

4. Indians join the cowboys to fight the aliens because the aliens had abducted some of their people as well. Which is why the Indians surround the cowboys claiming they were responsible for bringing them, Wilde's character seemly brings them together after her resurrection, along with the help of Adam Beach's character. Also you can see the chief at the end hugging who is probably his daughter or wife being released from the alien ship.

The rest of your questions/statements I sense are probably more simply to condemn the film, overall I get the feeling you didn't like it, which is fine. Again I state this is not a film to be over analyzed or really analyzed at all, and therefore probably isn't a film for those who tend to do just that.
RJ said…
"it's a popcorn film it's supposed to be brainless fun"

That is probably the worst criticism of criticism ever, and I hate that it has become so pervasive these days. A movie doesn't get a pass on giant plot holes and lazy storytelling b/c it is supposed to be 'fun'.
Snipes said…
@RJ - well the "giant plot-holes" is entirely your opinon, or simply your lack of paying attention to what's going on. As I stated in my comment above, most of the author's questions regarding what he might have considered plot-holes were addressed in the film. Whether or not you want to accept how they were addressed is a whole other issue.

My point was if your going into an action film and attempt to analysis and reason everything that's going on you're setting yourself up for disappointment. You don't like the film, fine, but I'm tired of hearing plot-holes as an excuse for every action oriented film out there, especially in cases like this where most of people's issues were addressed, they simply weren't paying attention or chose not to accept them. If you're not going to accept them why are you going to see a film called Cowboys & Aliens in the first place? I would think the subject matter of the film alone would give you a migraine attempting to rationalize! If you can't do that I suggest staying away from the action genre altogether.
Thanks for your answers, TheAnswerMVP2001, and thanks, RJ, for your thoughts.

I see how the filmmakers wanted to blend the two genres together creatively. Harrison Ford is the exact right man to cast, since his work as Hans Solo (killing aliens) shows how the Star Wars films complements Cowboys & Aliens in the way they foreground science fiction over westerns. C&A emphasizes the western over the aliens, but the effort seems less seamless, perhaps because people are less familiar with western conventions. The first major western that I remember was Blazing Saddles, which showed how the genre had already reached the parodic phase. The filmmakers mentioned the influence of Ford's The Searchers, but I'm not clear about how.

Still, even given the film's popcorn aesthetics, I had difficulty accepting the triple somersault backflip narrative maneuver of including another kind of alien in the form of Ella Swenson. When she died, was she just faking it? Couldn't the filmmakers explain her presence more? That whole plot point seemed unnecessarily confusing, forced, and inadequately explained.

I understand the reason for the cowboy/Native American alliance, but I disliked the way the Indians and especially the chief seemed to lack much characterization as a result. The film seemed to want to reconcile the train robbers (shades of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), the Native Americans, and the townspeople awfully quickly, just as the Colonel's rough edges get smoothed out as soon as he joins Jake.
Richard Bellamy said…
FilmDr. - Good call on the Lewis Carroll frog-footmen. You have a knack for accessing visual parallels. As for the mini-arms jutting from the alien's stomach, that was too much of an attempt to tap into Alien, and it comes off as unintentionally silly. As for Wilde's character, I could kind of piece together who she was and what she was up to, but I could have used more specific explanations; for example, with all of Jake's flashbacks, I expected to see one through her eyes. That was a missed opportunity. Despite all this, I rode with these "cowboys" and I had lots of fun with this movie.
Richard Bellamy said…
Sorry, fish-footman. Actually, the aliens look like the frog-footman too.
Snipes said…
@FilmDr - they did briefly address the whole resurrection thing of Wilde's character. When she came out of the fire she said something to Craig about her reasoning for not telling him who she really was and that she "could possibly" come back to life is she wasn't sure if the form she had taken could come back, or something to that nature. I don't remember if she said the body she was inhabiting or the form she had taken on. For me that's really the only confusing factor with her character; was she inhabiting a real human body or was she a shape-shifter? But in almost every action or science fiction film there's always going to be unknowns in some form. That unknown didn't effect my enjoyment. I'd say this is probably one of those films that deserves a second visit to fully notice everything, especially for those who didn't catch all the explanations the first time around.
Thanks, Hokahey and TheAnswer,

Yes, perhaps Favreau & Co used a composite of the frog footman and the fish-footman when they were designing their aliens.

I wish that I could've swallowed my inability to suspend my disbelief and just enjoy the movie. I notice that I had the same problem with Rise of the Planet of the Apes. While a friend of mine enjoyed it immensely, my appreciation was hampered by considerations of how much one should see through CGI creatures acting. Should you really identify with a computer-generated ape? In the case of C&A, can one get past the relative banality of its aliens, its Disney-esque love of resurrection, and the sentimentalized way it brings together Native Americans, train robbers, and the people of Absolution?
Richard Bellamy said…
Ah, darn, FilmDr, you didn't like Rise of the Planet of the Apes either. (I'm calling it my favorite "summer" movie of 2011.) It's definitely flawed, but there's a lot of fun and entertainment in it - more successfully so than Cs & As.
I liked aspects of the monkey movie, but it didn't affect me nearly as much. Occasionally, I just write off films that don't strike any sort of chord (either positive or negative). I'm more curious about The Help and I'm really enjoying Jason Zinoman's new book Shock Value. Will post on it soon.

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