Back to the Future III
It could be said the Back to the Future franchise's primary sci-fi sub-genre is Time Travel. The trilogy is even featured in SFMZ's Time Travel section, but with BTTF III, it's primarily set in the old American West. So I thought it was worth a mention in this feature.
Many sci-fi films have overlapping sub-genres, some with primary and secondary sub-genres, and even one or more subsets. So check out SFMZ's highlight on Back to the Future III.
A robot malfunction creates havoc and terror for unsuspecting vacationers at a futuristic, adult-themed amusement park. Westworld is known for the first film in cinema history to employ computer graphics. Take a tour through SFMZ's highlights on Westworld.
Wild Wild West
The two best hired guns in the West must save President Grant from the clutches of a 19th century inventor-villain. Hop aboard The Wanderer to visit SFMZ's highlights on Wild Wild West.
Here's another film where the plot employs both sub-genres, Western Sci-fi and Time Travel. Lyle Swann (Fred Ward) is a well-known dirt bike motorcycle racer who is in the desert competing in the Baja 1000, a multiclass vehicle cross-country race.
Swann has a reputation for being a great rider but is plagued by technical problems from the high-tech gadgetry he incorporates into his C and J framed XT500 Yamaha.
When Swann accidentally goes far off course, he stumbles across a time travel experiment that utilizes "maser velocity acceleration" to send objects (in this case, a simian subject by the name of Ester G) back in time.
Swann rides through the field and gets sent back to November 5, 1875. The scientists in charge of the experiment soon realize what has happened, but Swann rides off, unaware of what has happened to him, before he can be returned to the present.
While taking a swim break in a local spring, he runs into a gang of outlaws led by Porter Reese (Peter Coyote). Reese becomes obsessed with stealing Swann's motorcycle, and the outlaws pursue Swann into the small village of San Marcos, but his red suit and dirtbike scare the local Mexicans, who think he is the Devil.
There, he meets a beautiful woman, Claire Cygne (Belinda Bauer), who gives him a safe place to hide and severely wounds one of Reese's men (Tracey Walter). The village priest (Ed Lauter) compels them to withdraw, but Reese continues to plot the capture of Swann's dirtbike.
In the village, Swann is seduced by Claire and sleeps with her, but she is later kidnapped by Reese's gang as revenge for her shooting and wounding one of them.
They also manage to capture the dirtbike, leading to a series of hijinks, while Swann gets help from a posse (L. Q. Jones, Chris Mulkey) trying to capture or kill the gang. Swann manages to retrieve his dirtbike and rescue Claire, but the posse's leader is killed, and another is mortally wounded and dies later.
In a final showdown, Reese's band of outlaws faces Swann, the last survivor of the posse, and Claire atop a plateau. When a helicopter shows up (sent by the builders of the time travel experiment) to take Swann home, Reese's men run away in fear, but Reese stays behind and fires at the helicopter, killing one of the pilots.
The helicopter begins spinning wildly as the surviving pilot tries to maintain control, knocking the dirtbike off the side of the plateau. Reese is killed by the helicopter's tail rotor. The helicopter manages to land on the plateau and extract Swann.
Just as the helicopter pulls away, Claire snatches a pendant from Swann's neck that was handed down from his great-great-grandmother, who had stolen it from his great-great grandfather as a reminder of "one incredible night they had together." Swann realizes that he is his own great-great-grandfather.
As our referenced quote states in SFMZ's Sci-Fi Subgenres A to Z feature, Western Sci-Fi has elements of both the science fiction and Western genres. Or as Lord Wiki describes this sub-genre, it's a work of fiction which has elements of science fiction in a Western setting. It is the inverse of the Space Western, which is set in outer space and contains Western themes.
A science fiction Western occurs in the past, or in a world resembling the past (Westworld), in which modern or future technology exists. The anachronistic technology of these stories is present because scientific paradigms occurred earlier in history but are implemented via industrial elements present at that time, or because technology is brought from another time or place. The genre often overlaps with Steampunk.
Perhaps no film or television show fits this subgenre better than The Wild Wild West, a popular television series of the sixties and an oft sneered at feature film starring Will Smith. The Wild Wild West could also fit in the Steampunk subgenre, but more confined to the American West.
I didn't include films such as Serenity, which is often considered a Space Western, which besides the description above it's also considered a sub-genre of science fiction that transposes themes of American Western books and film to a backdrop of futuristic space frontiers. SFMZ's Western Sci-Fi focuses on films where the American West past or even present are the central theme.
Cowboys and Aliens 2011
Plot & Screenshots
In 1873, Arizona Territory, an unnamed loner (Daniel Craig) awakens in the desert injured, with no memory, and a strange metal band shackled to his wrist. He wanders into the small town of Absolution, where the local preacher, Meacham (Clancy Brown), treats his wound. After the stranger subdues Percy Dolarhyde (Paul Dano), who has been terrorizing the populace, Sheriff Taggart (Keith Carradine) recognizes him as Jake Lonergan, a wanted outlaw, and tries to arrest him. Jake nearly escapes, but a mysterious woman named Ella Swenson (Olivia Wilde) knocks him out.
Percy's father, Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), a rich and influential cattleman, arrives with his men and demands that Percy be released to him. He also wants Jake, who stole Dolarhyde's gold. During the standoff, alien spaceships begin attacking the town, and Percy, the sheriff, and many townsfolk are abducted. Jake shoots down one ship with a device concealed in his wrist band, ending the attack.
Dolarhyde, Ella, and some townsfolk form a posse to track an alien that may have ejected from the downed ship. Jake, meanwhile, travels to an abandoned cabin, and in a flashback, recalls returning there with the gold just before he and a woman, Alice, were abducted by the aliens. Jake returns to join the posse. During the night, the alien they were tracking appears and kills Meacham, who sacrifices himself to save Emmett, Taggart's grandson.
By the next morning, most of the posse has deserted, and the others are attacked by Jake's former gang. Jake, who stole the gang's loot after their last heist, attempts to retake control, but fails. As he and the others flee, the aliens begin attacking again and Ella is seized. Jake jumps aboard the ship and attacks the alien pilot, causing the ship to crash, but Ella is mortally wounded.
Chiricahua Apaches capture the posse, blaming them for the alien attacks. As Ella's body is dumped on a fire, she is fully resurrected. Ella is actually an alien who traveled to Earth to help humans resist the invaders after they destroyed her homeworld. The aliens, who have been abducting humans to perform experiments on, are also mining gold to power their machines.
Ella claims Jake holds the secret to the aliens' whereabouts and says they must stop them before they exterminate all life on the planet. After taking Mescaline offered by the Indians, Jake recalls that Alice died in an alien experiment, but he escaped, inadvertently stealing the alien weapon. He can also remember the aliens' hidden location. They are not invulnerable, however: Jake's gauntlet weapon can kill them, as well as stabbing and shooting, though the creatures are far stronger and more durable than humans and have superior weapons.
Armed with this knowledge, the group, now led by Colonel Dolarhyde, prepares to attack the aliens' grounded mothership. Jake returns to his old gang and persuades them to join the fight. In a sneak attack, the humans breach the spaceship, forcing the aliens into a ground battle. Jake and Ella board the ship and free the captives, but Jake is captured. Dolarhyde rescues him and both men escape the ship after killing the alien leader.
As the remaining aliens are taking off in their damaged craft, Ella sacrifices herself, destroying the ship using Jake's gauntlet. Jake's memory partially returns, and some abducted townsfolk can recall their past. Still a wanted man, Jake decides to leave; the sheriff and Dolarhyde say they will claim that he was killed. The citizens intend to rebuild the town with the expectation that the newly discovered gold mine will soon bring many new settlers.