Cowboys, Aliens and Dad

I’ve been looking forward to “Cowboys and Aliens” for months.   I’ve never seen the trailer and prior to its release on Friday, I didn’t even know the plot.   All I knew was that it was a Western with aliens, Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, so really, what else is there to know?

After seeing it, I was happy to find that it wasn’t much more than that.  It was sincere, yet silly– just an entertaining summer movie that didn’t try to be more than that.   It’s not satire or cynical; it knows its pulling out all the cliches of both genres and it’s okay with that.  As Roger Ebert says, “Humanity is in danger, and it’s up to the rough-hewn cowboys of the Old West to save us.” It’s a movie with the security of predictability, which is almost refreshing.  It has a cheesy twist like those from movies that came from times when corny twists weren’t questioned or scoffed at.  While everyone else is trying to be The Newest Thing, revamping a couple old schticks requires more creativity and daring to be successful than coming up with something completely original, I think.   I loved it because it was a movie that was willing to just be a movie.

The mashup of genres reminded me of a game my dad used to play with my siblings and me.  I only have one brother, but he had more Hot Wheels, action figures, and toy soldiers than any one boy really needed.  So some nights, after dinner, while mom did dishes in the kitchen,  he’d drag up a bucket of them along with two or three of those toy castles with the trap doors and working drawbridges.  Action figures– a conglomeration of aliens, cowboys, superheros and spacemen– were divided,  alliances were formed (and as frequently betrayed), rules were written (merely to be broken), stakes were claimed, and plots took turns that would put M. Night Shyamalan movies to shame.  Watching Cowboys and Aliens was like watching my childhood imagination in movie form.

Then, of course, was the fact that it felt like an off-shoot of Indiana Jones.  I was a Disney girl from birth, but if there is one movie that I feel defined my childhood, “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” would be it. 

Daniel Craig was marvelous as a rugged bad guy gone good, and the role of steely-eyed cowboy fits him like a glove.  But it was Harrison Ford who really made me nostalgic for classic popcorn action movies. I felt like I was watching a true descendent of the Indiana Jones franchise, just with better CGI than they had 30 years ago.   No, it won’t have the staying power or legacy of the franchise itself,  and it didn’t have a John Williams score that people will be humming decades from now,  but it could stand next to the real thing, if not by itself.   I couldn’t help but think that maybe this meant that we could all put “Indiana Jones and the Guy from Transformers” behind us and pretend it didn’t happen.

I still remember the day, when I was about 9, that my dad popped in an old VHS with the title scribed on a handwritten label.  My mom was out of the house with my aunt and mom’s friend, Mary.  That left me and my siblings (which I believed totaled 4 at that time), Mary’s kids, (5 of them?) and my three cousins in my dad and uncle’s care for most of the day.   Some of the details are fuzzy, but I remember that it was soon after lunch, and my dad put the movie in the tape player saying that it was a movie he liked when he was a kid.   [This led to years of living in the belief that my dad grew up during the same time that the Nazis occupied North Africa, but I digress.] That tape played on loop long after, as did its sequels when we got our hands on them.

Perhaps it would seem strange to some if I said that the moment-long memory of my dad with that VHS is one of my fondest of him.  Some, I’m sure, would think that this implied that my dad gave me no better memories than popping in a movie to get a dozen kids under 10 to sit still for 90 minutes.  My dad himself might be insulted that rather than big memories like family vacations and Disney Land and the time he took teaching me how to shoot or ride a bike,  it’s a memory that took place in our living room–one that he may not even remember– that evokes the warmest feelings.   I can think of 19 years worth of good memories with my dad, but that one sticks out.  I don’t know why, but it does.

Dad was also the one who introduced me to Star Wars, and I’d join ranks with the other girls with crushes on Han Solo.  My dad gave me Harrison Ford in his glory days, so to watch him kicking ass again (in an aging John Wayne kind of way) at however-old-Ford-is-now-I-don’t-really-want-to-think-about-it, made me reminiscent. 

I sat in the theater on Friday, thrilled that the movie was everything I hoped it would be, but wishing I was watching it with my dad.

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