Middle Row, Centre: They Came for the Gold

As its title suggests, Cowboys and Aliens is a mélange of western and science-fiction genres. Unfortunately, it is another example of a good idea gone wrong.

As the film opens, we see a lone figure stranded in the middle of a New Mexico desert setting, circa 1875.

He has a mysterious wound in his side, and a weird-looking metallic bracelet that glows and flashes intermittently on his wrist. The man has no recollection of how he got there, or even who he is.

After a short while, a trio of ruffians shows up, with threatening intentions towards him. With lightning speed, he dispatches them, relieves them of their weapons, horse and a dog, and wanders into a nearby town, ironically named Absolution.

He soon learns from the local sheriff the answer to his identity crisis. It turns out that his name is Jake Lonergan, and that he’s wanted in a number of states for armed robbery, assault, murder and miscellaneous other acts of mayhem.

He is imprisoned, along with the firebrand son of Woodrow Dolarhyde, the rich cattle rancher who runs the town. The son has just been confined for trying to shoot up the town square and a number of its inhabitants – an act, it seems, which he performs regularly.

Just when it looks as if both will be transferred to the jurisdiction of a federal marshal, they are unintentionally saved by a sort of heavenly intervention.

As the townspeople watch in horror, a squadron of extraterrestrial craft swoops low over Absolution, illuminated by blinding lights and wielding mysterious rays that burn up everything in sight.

Along their way, they snatch up various townsfolk in their wake, with long tentacle-like appendages snaking out of the spaceships.

An indignant band of citizens, led by Dolarhyde, gallops off into the desert to rescue “our people” from the mysterious alien presence. That’s where things start going downhill, and Cowboys and Aliens turns very, very conventional.

It transpires that the aliens are of course hideous, ugly and malevolent. What’s worse, we find out that their motivation for gracing 19th-century western skies with their presence is preposterously venal.

Turns out that what they’re really after is gold, which – we are informed – is as rare on their planet as it is on ours.

We are left to wonder why a civilization capable of extraplanetary or interstellar flight has not gotten itself beyond our own propensity for scarcity-based primitive monetary systems. Maybe they power their spaceships with it. Who knows?

The plot-line gets more and more improbable from there.

Daniel Craig, the newest James Bond hero figure, convincingly plays tough-guy Lonergan, while Harrison Ford is featured as rancher Dolarhyde.

Olivia Wilde, last seen in 2010’s Tron: Legacy, is Ella Swenson, the love interest who plays a pivotal role in explaining Lonergan’s story and the missing pages in his life through flashbacks.

Canadian Saulteaux actor Adam Beach, from the popular ’90s TV series North of Sixty, is featured as Dolarhyde’s adopted son.

Jon Favreau, director of Iron Man, is responsible for this combined collection of S-F and Western clichés, and Steven Spielberg is listed as executive director, prolifically adding to his previous lineup this past summer, such as Super-8 and Transformers 3: Dark Of The Moon.

Cowboys And Aliens plays at 7:00 and 9:15 pm, with weekend matinees at 1:00 and 3:15 pm at the Qwanlin Cinema Centre, and is rated 14A for violence.

Brian Eaton is a cinema buff who reviews current films and writes on other film-related topics on a regular basis.

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