With Cowboys & Aliens set for a wide release this coming Friday, a few scores of lucky fans plucked from the huddled masses squeezed into the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con got the chance to enjoy the world premiere, complete with a glitterati of A-List stars, all courtesy of Jon Favereau who elected to unveil his latest thrill-ride at the event as a thank you to loyal fans who supported his previous projects, notably Iron Man and Iron Man 2.

Fans were invited to compete for the chance to win tickets to the event via teasing clues doled out via text. Treated to special guest appearances from not only the films stars, Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig, Olivia Wilde and Sam Rockwell, but also executive producers Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard, the lucky winners experienced an ear-splitting showcase with Universal having installed a state-of-the-art sound system especially for the grand unveiling.

A bizarre hybrid of science fiction stylings and period western trappings, Cowboys & Aliens represents something of a risky gambit for Universal, which has seen a number of high-profile releases underperform in recent years. Science fiction tends to do well at the box office, but only a handful of Westerns have ever broken the $100 million mark. Favereau’s choice of genres to mash-up is ironic considering that it was the new frontier offered by science fiction films of the 1950’s, fueled by Cold War paranoia and the threat of the atomic bomb that gradually kicked the western into its grave.

Details from the film’s premiere, gradually leaking out from San Diego ahead of the official release, shed light on some of the mystery hinted at in the trailer. Set in New Mexico Territory in the year 1875, Craig’s Jake Lonegran wakes up in the desert a la Jason Bourne with the reflexes of a stone-cold killer but no clue as to his identity. Striding into the nearby town of Absolution, Jake finds cause to school tyrannical cattle baron Colonel Dolarhyde’s (Ford) bullyboy son (Paul Dano) in manners, an act that sees him become a hunted man at the hands of the Col. and his gang of killers.

Elsewhere about town we find Rockwell’s world-weary saloon owner, Clancy Brown’s preacher, and a beleaguered sheriff in the form of Keith Carradine. When a swarm of alien ships descend from the sky, snatch up Dolarhyde’s son and half the town with him, those left behind must come together and fight the invaders to avoid extermination. On paper it may seem something of a mismatch, but the good guys may just have an ace up their sleeve in the form of Wilde, who plays a mysterious young woman who just might hold the key to Earth’s salvation.

Early reviews, while sketchy, are mostly positive, praising Favereau’s bravery in grounding his outlandish premise in clearly identifiable genre paradigms and his skills in balancing character development with bombastic action. All this is good news for Universal, who, not wishing to find themselves yet again playing catch up, need this movie to be something quite out of this world.

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