“Cowboys & Aliens” is one of the more intriguing tentpoles to be arriving this summer. In a season filled with sequels and comic book movies, this film lands based on a property that most of Joe Public hasn’t read or heard of and it mashes up two genres — sci-fi and westerns — that traditionally have been a hard sell at the box office (see “Wild Wild West“). However, in the run up to its release later this summer, you can bet Universal will be pushing the film hard, hoping to sell audiences on its (relatively) unique concept. At the very least, the film won’t be lacking in star power as Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano and Olivia Wilde head up the cast. And with “Iron Man” helmer Jon Favreau at the fore, expectations are high for it to deliver some substantial popcorn entertainment.
At WonderCon over the weekend in San Francisco, Favreau not only sat in on a panel, but also hit the rounds talking with press, answering questions about his upcoming sci-fi genre mash-up and what became clear is part of his excitement for “Cowboys & Aliens” is that it’s a bit of an anomaly in the summer mix. It offers up an old school-like uncomplicated villain — not just a conflicted soul walking around in tights — as well as offering the director a chance to play and tweak genre elements and fold them into something new.
During the “Cowboys and Aliens” panel, Favreau expounded on the point that aliens are kind of the last pure evil enemy in a movie that people can go up against without having to really worry about political correctness. When we caught up with him later, he elaborated on what he meant.
“I think it’s just that. I think it’s fun to be able to play the enemy. I think now people are treated as complex and there’s no ‘them and us’ anymore. It’s just the world is too small,” he said. “I think what’s interesting is when you start dealing with our differences in a very intelligent way. I think a lot of that’s happening in cable television and in series, and in long form [programs]. But in an hour and a half movie you really have to be careful about being responsible about how you present things and that presents a lot of challenges in the comic book thing too. You know you treat people a lot differently then you did during wartime….when these characters first emerged the world was a different place and so in order to not be anachronistic about it and not make the wrong statement you have to update these things in a delicate way and inevitably you’re going to be violating the source material.”
“I think there was an age of Westerns that were a little bit more sensitive to that, the sort of ‘Dances with Wolves‘ moment…but it lost its grittiness as well,” he added. “In dealing with aliens you can create an allegorical evil presence that you have to muster up everything to fight against and show no mercy. And what’s fun too is then to bring the Apaches and the cowboys together and say what would be…I love to take reality and then change one little aspect of it and see how reality then shifts.”
But if the whole concept of “Cowboys & Aliens” seems pretty out there, it was actually its realism, of sorts, that attracted Favreau to the film in the first place. “That was what was fun about ‘Iron Man.’ You take one little thing — let’s say that this one piece of technology would change and he could create this power source. Or that Tony Stark could create a slightly higher than real technology and how does that affect the real world? As you get further from the reality it becomes harder for me to bring to a project what I’m good at, which is ‘What would it really be like for this to happen?’ What would it really be like in a western to have aliens arrive? You’re dealing with reality and bending one aspect of it…and what statement are you making about our world by changing one little aspect of it? ‘Being There,’ ‘Big,’ all of those movies that I really like, ‘Tootsie,’ you’re bending one little thing and then the ridiculousness comes from that one shift but you’re treating reality in the same way.”
“Cowboys & Aliens” arrives in theaters on July 29.