Cowboys & Aliens

Rhonda January 5, 2012

Back in the 1960s, there was an episode of Doctor Who that created in an attempt to mix the sci-fi and Western genres together. It was a failure, but they took it to the air anyway. Over the decades, the writing of one of the best BBC sci-fi shows has gotten drastically better. The cross-genre theme works very well in books, as there have been many of these sold in the last few decades. There have also been attempts but low-budget studios to mix the genres together, but these movies tended to get very little press and they were forgotten and set on old VHS tapes in the rental section of C-stores and small video tape rental outlets, unless someone looking for something unusual wanted to take a chance on it. There have been a few successful, steampunk-based movies that use this forumlae, like Wild, Wild West. So here, we have another attempt to bring these together in a movie that uses a title with variation on a cliche’ phrase, and there the movie becomes a cliche’. While this movie has some big names in the cast, production, and direction, it seems the movie itself has no direction, and no logic to it.

So let’s get to the summary of the film, and let you in on why this movie might have looked good as a script, but its final result was not so great. We open in the desert Southwest. There is a man there (Daniel Craig), passed out, dressed in standard clothes from the late 1800s, except that he is missing his shoes and any outdoor weather wear. He has a huge unusual bracelet on his arm, and does not remember where it came from and cannot seem to remove it. Three men on horses find him, and ask him his name. He says he can’t remember his name, and that he does remember that he was heading to the town of Absolution. He has a bloodstain on his shirt, so they assume he has been shot, and might be a bandit on the run from the law. They try to capture him, but end up getting killed. Apparently, this nameless guy is very skilled in fighting and with a gun. He takes what he needs from the dead men, and goes into the town stealthily. He breaks into a house, and attempts to clean his wound, but is caught by the owner. The owner of the house is Reverend Meacham (Clancy Brown), and he reluctantly helps the mystery man out. After the preacher stitches him up, there is a commotion out in the street. It turns out that Percy Dolarhyde (Paul Dano) has been drinking a bit too much, and the local saloon owner, Doc (Sam Rockwell) has had enough of the arrogant punk’s ways. Percy is the son of “Colonel” Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), a cattle baron, whose business is the only successful one keeping the town of Absolution alive. Percy has had way too many free drinks at Doc’s saloon, and the preacher is attempting to stop the fight that is going to happen between Percy and the Doc. Percy sarcastically starts a collection for the Doc, and threatens to shoot those who won’t give. He waves his gun towards the stranger, and it misfires, and he shoots a deputy. The stranger disarms Percy, and the Sheriff has had enough of Percy and his waving his social status around. He tells Percy’s companion, Nat Colorado (Adam Beach) to tell his father that the kid is being held, and that he will be heading to the U.S. Marshall in Santa Fe. Not only is the kid being held, but it turns out that the newcomer has been identified as Jake Lonergan, a stagecoach robber and leader of a notorious gang. Sheriff John Taggart (Keith Carradine) has now got two birds in his cage, and they are awaiting trials.

Meanwhile, out on the range, Dolarhyde’s men are taking a break from their work, near the river. The new guy has been nipping at some whiskey, and the other warn him about his lackadaisical work ethic. The new guy could care less about Dolarhyde’s rules, and says so as he stumbles off to relieve himself in the river. Just then, there is huge flash of light, and he gets blown back into the water. Above the water, we hear muffled sounds of what sounds like laser cannons, and screams, both human and animal. When the former drunk comes up from the river, he finds the cattle in burnt shreds, and his co-workers missing.
Dolarhyde soon learns about the cattle killings and threatens his new guy to give him some answered by torturing him on the American West’s version of the rack. Nat soon informs the rancher about his son’s actions in town, so not only does he have to deal the strange business of the cattle and the “demons” that the drunk claimed killed them, he has to take responsibility for his son’s stupidity. Well, as a green teen with a silver spoon in his mouth, maybe Percy is a bit stupid, but not as much as this script was.

As the sun goes down, Dolarhyde’s posse comes riding into town to gather up Percy, and then we see blue lights in the sky, and the “demons” are here to gather up some test subjects. Their manner in doing so is odd, as they use remote control crafts, and snatch humans from the ground using a kind of lasso technique, which somehow, does not do any damage to them. These aliens are going to do plenty of damage to them, though. Ella Swenson (Olivia Wilde) is another newcomer to Absolution, but she is not what she seems. She is a human-looking alien, and has come to stop these things in their tracks. The aliens are very odd, with eyes like bugs, movement like apes, and even though they seem bi-pedal, they have an extra set of T-rex like arms that they can bring out from the softer part of their thorax. but that is also their vulnerable spot.

All the classic Western themes are here, the bandits, the natives, and the ex-military men trying to eek out a living on the range. The aliens are after gold, so Ella tells us, but it would seem that there are planets that are far more easier to harvest gold from that are not inhabited by so many other species already. I guess these nasty bug-apes need oxygen to breath, too. How convenient. While this movie is visually stunning, and filled with great action sequences, and some really scary horror effects here and there, and it seems to be a waste of some great talents. Save your viewing time for some of their better performances.

I give this film a Musing review of ★★★☆☆☆ 

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