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FROM PAGE TO SCREEN: COWBOYS & ALIENS (2011)
 



 

Daniel Craig is teaming up with the director of  Iron Man for the upcoming Cowboys & Aliens movie, which is based on a graphic novel of the same name. With a title like that, how can it not be made into a movie?

Well, quite easily actually. Apparently the concept behind Cowboys & Aliens has been batted around Hollywood for the past decade or so. However none of the major studios seemed to bite, even though some of them were apparently quite intrigued by the project. That is, until Iron Man director Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. signed on for the project.

Later Daniel Craig signed on after Downey Jr. left the project because of scheduling conflicts. According to The Hollywood Reporter the existing script by Iron Man writers Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby will be rewritten by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, who are also executive producers on the film with Lost executive producer Damon Lindelof.

The movie is envisaged as a summer 2011 release.

The idea behind Cowboys & Aliens may have been in existence for over ten years, but the graphic novel itself was only finally published in 2006 (it is now out-of-print). The comic is written by Fred Van Lente and Andrew Foley with art work by Luciano Lima, but the idea was dreamt up by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg. Rosenberg, who is the CEO of Platinum Studios Comics today, ran Malibu Comics when their Men in Black comic was made into a successful movie starring Will Smith in 1997. Cowboys & Aliens (obviously) has some ideas in common with that hit movie, but it actually reminds one more of Will Smith’s more unfortunate 1999 effort, Wild Wild West. Remember that one? Better if you didn’t . . .

Cowboys & Aliens (the graphic novel) however doesn’t quite live up to its cool title and one can only hope that the movie itself will do better. The story takes place in the “Old West” in 1873 as the book informs us as it kicks off with a scene straight of any Western, namely a group of settlers being attacked by some Apache “injuns”. Zeke, our blonde-haired hero, loveable rogue and all that, makes a dash to get help from the local cavalry stationed at a nearby fort. (The character actually reminds one more of Matthew McConaughey than Robert Downey Jr., but then again McConaughey hasn’t recently scored any big summer superhero blockbuster hits.)

Zeke doesn’t make it though, but before the Apaches get to kill him they are distracted by the sight of an enormous flying saucer crash-landing nearby. Needless to say, Zeke manages to escape in the confusion and watches in horror as alien creatures from the flying saucer cold-bloodedly incinerate the Native Americans who have gone to greet them. One would have thought that the Apaches should have known better than to greet any newcomers with open arms by now!

"A fun popcorn summer flick – Back to the Future Part III meets Men In Black!"

Speaking of which, there is a heavy-handed prologue in which the authors hammer away at the “message” behind Cowboys & Aliens. In these scenes we see alien races being subjugated by alien invaders cross cut with scenes in which Native Americans are being invaded by Westerners. The message is the old “We Are All The Same and Why Can’t We Just Get Along?” standby. Or as one (white) character tells the Apaches, it is a case of “strange-lookin’ people from far away thinkin’ they can push us off our world, just ‘cause their guns are better!” before realizing the irony of hat he has just said.

Yup, the alien newcomers treat us humans with the same disdain that European conquerors have treated their new Native American subjects back then . . .

“Filthy savages,” the commander of the cavalry refers to the local Apaches in one scene. Later, after the alien invaders have wiped out the entire cavalry, what does the leader of the aliens have to say of the local earthlings? “Filthy savages,” of course. Since Cowboys & Aliens is going to be a big budget blockbuster expect this sort of heavy-handed commentary on Manifest Destiny and the genocide of the Native Americans to be the first thing to go!

Clocking in at a mere 100 pages Cowboys & Aliens is a brisk read and provides just what will be the backbone for any movie adaptation. It is somewhat disappointing and underwritten, but it should provide Iron Man and Children of Men scribes Hawk Ostby and Mark Fergus the germ of an idea to make a fun popcorn summer flick – Back to the Future Part III meets Independence Day!

The settlers and their Apache foes realize that in order to survive they must work together and thus use the aliens’ own technology against them. In one scene the “injuns” use the aliens’ anti-grav pads to make their horses fly while letting go at the alien invaders with green goo explosive-tipped arrows. Along the way the earthlings are helped by a traitor in the aliens’ midst – those subjugated alien races we saw earlier on.

The aliens in the graphic novel most resemble He-Man action figurines from the 1980s and for a comedy action movie version we’d rather go with your typical “grey” aliens and make them comical CG characters in the same way that Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! did. In fact, borrowing a more retro 1950s vision of aliens and their flying saucers would probably serve the material better than the current alien designs. The graphic novel is also low on characters with any personality and is also in need of some crisp one-liners. But as we said, any scriptwriters worth their salt should be able to turn the material into something worthwhile. Or at least something that you won’t mind seeing for free on TV late one night . . .

One thing they should however keep from the graphic novel is the cover of a cowboy on horseback with a six-shooter taking aim at an Independent Day-sized UFO. It’d make for a great movie poster!
 


 



 

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