Summer movies and escapism have always gone together like popcorn and artificial butter substitute, but this year the dream factory seems to have short-circuited. Instead of serving up soothing respites from an all-too-real world where nobody can find a job and no one can agree on anything, Hollywood's message seems to be: You think that's bad? Let me tell you, brother, it could be a whole lot worse.
How much worse? Well, in movie after movie, we are transported to distant worlds, only to have them -- and, by extension, us -- threatened with total annihilation.
In 'Cowboys & Aliens,' out this week, a motley group of plainspeople are forced to set aside their differences and unite against an invading army of aliens whose handling of detainees makes Dick Cheney look like an Amnesty International chapter leader. These otherworldly visitors also have far more powerful guns than their human adversaries, making it seem entirely plausible that they will succeed in their plan of enslaving the entire human race.