Friday, February 25, 2011

Cowboys and Aliens

This is the first time I'm going to talk about a film that hasn't opened yet. You've probably already seen the trailers for Cowboys and Aliens which is slated for release in late July. When I first saw it, I had one of those moments of realization where you think, "It's so simple, why didn't anyone think of it before?". There are many film genre's that are based on historical periods - Victorian, Medieval, World War II, Ancient Rome, even Prehistoric, and of course, Westerns. Stories that are set in these periods usually stick to their own historical turf, even though they are completely fictional. Once in a while, science fiction writers will dabble in these other genre's via time travel tales, where someone from the present travels back to an earlier era. But in that case, the story setting is really the present and includes only an intrusion into the past. The thing that really made me stop and think was that I still cannot recall any serious science fiction work that actually takes place in a former historical period - an earth period of course, not just "A long time ago...".

To some degree, this is understandable. Science fiction writers are a creative bunch, and they like having a blank slate to draw on. That is why many of their works are set in the future. Even in period stories where characters make early discoveries of known science and technology, because the discoveries are not new to the reader, these are not really classified as "science" fiction. On the other hand, alien invasion films, from War of the Worlds to the many film and TV offerings coming out just this year (Battle L.A., Falling Skies), are always classified as science fiction. This is because it is usually assumed that such an epic event has to be set in the near future, and that works better anyway because it gives the humans a fighting chance and hits closer to home. But if aliens are allowed to exist and visit earth in present day, there's no rule that says they could not have visited earth in some other time period. After a century of alien invasion films, someone has finally decided to give it a shot. And thank goodness it is not just anyone.

I am not surprised at the specific names I'm seeing involved. Among the many contributors, Spielberg and Ron Howard appear in the producer list (of about 15!), and Harrison Ford managed to get on the ticket. These are all people who know how to sniff out an original story concept. At least 8 people are named as screenplay contributors, including the guys behind Star Trek reboot and Men In Black. It's quite a big production. What they are trying to accomplish is not just a new setting for an alien invasion movie, but a merging of two film genre's. You can tell from the trailer that they want to duplicate the sets, style, characterization, and flavor of a bona fide Western. The point is to convince an audience that has grown accustomed to modern Western film making that they are in familiar territory so as to enhance the impact of the new material. Will they succeed in this? My guess is they could overdo it. With a production crew this polished, the tendency will be to try to iconize the look and feel but miss the texture. Witness the film title, which would sound truly corny if it weren't for the ground breaking nature of the material (and of course the graphic novel). It indicates that they are perhaps too aware what they are trying to do. But as I said before, I'm glad it's these folks rather than some nobody. It will give it enough credibility to pave the way for future experiments. I hope they can come up with a decent script. The fact that it was born from a graphic novel does not guarantee its quality.

There is one old film that originally broke ground in merging sci-fi with a Western called The Valley of Gwangi. Here it was the introduction of a "lost world" with dinosaurs into the wild west. You can see a clip of it on one of my earlier entries here. That's another idea that is traditionally classified as science fiction which could also be extended to other time periods. How about a dinosaur rampaging the Medieval World before anyone knew what dinosaurs were? Of course, they would most likely just call it a dragon. What about a Roman army going up against alien invaders? The door could be wide open now.

No comments:

Post a Comment