ILM/Universal Studios and DreamWorks II Distribution Co. LLC
Ford, Craig, and company confront the intergalactic marauders.
The Dinner : Crab and Cheddar Melt, at The


Harrison Ford Versus the Crab-Men Space Invaders

ILM/Universal Studios and DreamWorks II Distribution Co. LLC
Ford, Craig, and company confront the intergalactic marauders.
The Dinner: Crab and Cheddar Melt, at The Fisherman's Restaurant & Bar (Pier 57).

The Movie: Cowboys & Aliens, at Pacific Place (600 Pine St.).

The Screenplate: Appropriate grub for a cowboy movie, set in the New Mexico territory circa 1875, would be freshly slaughtered steer or perhaps some baked beans. Neither of those options is particularly appetizing on a warm summer evening, so I let the villains of this new sci-fi flick, not the frontier heroes, determine my choice of cuisine. Taking a break from his James Bond duties, Daniel Craig saddles up with Harrison Ford (and others) to combat a marauding crew of alien gold miners descended from the skies. Director Jon Favreau wisely keeps the aliens hidden for the first 45 minutes of the picture (taking a page from Jaws and the shark), which was my main area of curiosity about the picture, having read the comic book on which it's based. Craig and Ford--we know what they look like (buff and grizzled, respectively). Likewise the eye candy of the film, Olivia Wilde. But every new beast from beyond the stars demands some novelty, no matter how they all tend to resemble the monsters from Alien, Predator, or all the great sci-fi comic books of the 1950s. So when the first alien revealed itself, my first thought was "I'm suddenly hungry for crab."

Perhaps because I celebrated a few early birthdays at the Food Circus in Seattle Center (today the Center House, its Bubbleator long gone), I have a soft spot for big, crowded mall-eterias where many varieties of bad food are served to indifferent diners by surly staff. Everyone knows it's a poor bargain, but this is what parents must do to please their kids (who, in gratitude, get car-sick on the ride home). Miners Landing, aka Pier 57, serves essentially the same function: It's where Seattle hosts must go to please their out-of-town guests. It's a tourist trap, like the rest of the downtown waterfront, where everything is overpriced, garish, and greasy. And I mean that as praise. Go to the best, most expensive gourmet joints in town, and our haughty foodies will find something to criticize or complain about. ("Excuse me, but is this salt local and organic?") At Pier 57, which comprises six restaurants and trinket shops, no one has such high standards; and as a consequence, everyone is happy. Out at the end of the pier, the Fisherman's is OK for sunset beers on the patio after work. But to eat there? Forget about it. And yet I was determined to find some crab, despite my intense aversion to crabs (another relic of childhood), which Cowboys & Aliens recalled to me.

In a PG-13 movie, these crab-men (called "demons," since sci-fi didn't exist in 1875) can't be so savage as in Alien or its many sequels. They abduct several frontier dwellers--including the wife of Craig's character and the son of Ford's--and Indians; inside their mothership, which doubles as a gold-mining rig, they perform vivisection on the human specimens they've captured. ("You're like insects to them," our heroes are told.) Though several supporting characters die up to and during the final battle, their deaths aren't very gory or specific. But the aliens are reasonably scary: They scuttle about on two legs, greenish, with sharp claws on their forelimbs. Their eyes swirl and pivot like a gecko's, and their mouths snap like a turtle's beak. They have a hardened exoskeleton that resists most bullets, yet surprisingly soft dome-like skulls. (Given a good clubbing, or run through with an Apache spear, they bleed green goo.) But when they grab you up close, or prepare to lance you with their glowing space probe, there's a surprise: Their hardened abdominal shell opens up to reveal the soft crab guts inside--plus a creepy third set of limbs reaching out to grasp their victims (this undoubtedly inspired by the double mandibles of Alien).

Thus my dislike of crabs: Hard on the outside, soft on the inside, and so difficult to separate the two. Shake them from the trap and they scratch their claws frantically against the aluminum hull of your boat (I hate that sound!); pinch them safely from behind, at the butt, and they wave all their legs and claws indignantly and gobble at the air with their little mouth-feeder stalks. They're disgusting, and they can't be boiled too soon. But as for the shelling and the cooking--leave that to someone else.

The invaders in Cowboys & Aliens are equally unsympathetic: no language, no goal but gold and destruction, and no cool gadgets save one. When Craig's amnesiac character awakes, following his abduction, he's wearing a mysterious bracelet/laser blaster that he learns to use against its former owners. (Six-shooter in one hand, laser on the other--that's very much the movie's hybrid sensibility.) Eventually recovering his name (Jake) and personal history (outlaw), he joins a rescue party (shades of The Searchers) with Ford's Col. Dolarhyde and a familiar gallery of John Fordian frontier types. Adding some Apaches to the mix, along with a boy and a woman (Wilde), makes these searchers a multicultural mob with a shared mission. "We have to work together," says Wilde's smooth-browed ethereal beauty.

Favreau keeps things moving along nicely, with welcome beats of humor in a movie that's generally darker than his Iron Man pictures. After so many comic-book adaptations this summer that you don't want to see (Thor, Captain America), Cowboys & Aliens is a welcome surprise: a well-made, balanced action flick where the actors aren't upstaged by the effects. The craggy Craig is entirely convincing as an American gunslinger (especially good when wordless); and Ford, so sour in recent years, actually appears to be engaged in the project. (Spielberg, his old Indiana Jones director, is among the producers.) Is it a great movie? No, but it's far more satisfying than this summer's non-Harry Potter blockbusters. They should've opened it Memorial Day weekend instead. (Also, extra points for the peyote trip.)

And about the crab/cheddar melt? The concoction is served casserole style, in a dish, with fries on the side ($14.50). You eat it with a fork and knife. There are chunks of tomato and onion; avocado, though promised, seemed more of taste than a texture. But it works when washed down with an Interurban IPA ($5.50), and it's probably a safer bet--a smaller risk, really--than ordering a whole fish at the Fisherman. That it's something of a baked purée is, to me at least, an advantage: If I wanted to be confronted with menacing, otherworldly eye-stalks and shells and claws, I'd go see a movie.

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