January 08, 2007


Shoot 'Em Up: Scott Rosenberg Talks "Cowboys and Aliens"The determined cowboy marches into the Town Square at high noon for a showdown with an outlaw. It's a classic scene in many Westerns. However, this outlaw is an intergalactic marauder with a ray gun strapped to his side instead of a six shooter. This scene might appear in "Cowboys and Aliens" an upcoming graphic novel and feature film from Platinum Studios. CBR News recently spoke to Platinum Studios head Scott Rosenberg about "Cowboys and Aliens."

The idea for "Cowboys and Aliens" came to Rosenberg when he was reflecting on the classic childhood game "Cowboys and Indians." "I was thinking how it wasn't cool and fun anymore," Rosenberg told CBR News. "Some of the things that propelled it was that anyone could play it without having to run to the store any buy stuff. It's really something where you let the imagination go and it just dawned on me, hmm . . . 'Cowboys and Aliens' that would be pretty fun."
This article came out in mid-2004 and the graphic novel is just now appearing. That tells you something. The movie version seems to be having more trouble than you'd expect from such a "high concept":There will not be many differences between the "Cowboys and Aliens" graphic novel and the film version. Some of the characters will be different but, according to Rosenberg, the big difference is that the story in the graphic novel will be bigger. The graphic novel format allows for more layers and history to be added to the story.

"Cowboys and Aliens" is a sci-fi western, a film genre that hasn't seen much play in Hollywood. This will lead to inevitable comparisons to the only high profile sci-fi western film of previous years, the critically panned "Wild Wild West." The resulting failures of that film actually shut down development on "Cowboys and Aliens" for a few years. "We had read the script to 'Wild Wild West' way before it came out and honestly we thought we must just be wrong and everyone else must be right. Because, we thought the script was like the movie where you can't get into the characters. You just don't care and it's just, I don't know, horrible would be a good word to describe it," he said. Even though "Cowboys and Aliens" will be filled with alien technology and western action, Rosenberg wants the film to feel real. "When it goes to camp and things happen against character and against realism and people just can't get hurt is doesn't seem real to me. And even if it's something fun I like to keep it real."

Rob's review:  You can read this new graphic novel (at least part of it) online. But if you don't have the time, I've done it for you. <g>

It's not often that a publisher gives away the story in advance. But that's just what Platinum Studios has done. For which we critics can be thankful.

COWBOYS & ALIENS begins with a nice prologue comparing the European invasion to an alien invasion. For Indians, that's just about what the European invasion was. Between guns, germs, and steel, they had no idea what hit them. They learned fast, but that wasn't enough to stave off eventual defeat.

But the comic immediately subverts this message with the main story, which opens with...I kid you not...an Indian attack on a wagon train. Most of your basic Native stereotypes quickly appear. The Indians are Apaches...riding horses...with a Plains-style chief...half-naked braves...and a "shaman." The Indians have no culture or religion other than dancing around a fire before a big fight. The text refers to them ironically as "savages," but the story portrays them as actual savages.

Apaches on horseback attacking a wagon train at the behest of a chief in a warbonnet? Taking place "in and around Dodge City, Kansas, just after the Civil War"? Um, I don't think so.

So the movie will "keep it real," and the graphic novel has more "layers and history" than the movie will? Scary. Judging by the graphic novel, the movie will be completely divorced from the Native American reality.

In other words, a hundred times zero is still zero. You do the math.

There are only a few saving graces. One, the Indians live in wickiups rather than tipis, which is the only accurate cultural note I saw for a supposed band of Apaches. Two, a few of their names aren't stereotypical. Three, the Indians learn the alien technology as quickly as the whites do. And they're just as quick to cease hostilities and join with their fellow humans against the bad guys.

Both the story and art are unsubtle and (to me) not especially interesting. I'd say COWBOYS & ALIENS is more for younger, action-oriented readers than adults. Save your money and read it online instead.

1 comment:

Rob said...

"Keep it real" has several meanings, one of which is the literal one. I suspect what he meant was, "We'll pretend to show the real West while falsifying history whenever it's convenient." In other words, "We'll make a typical Western that stereotypes Indians."

Judging by what I read, the graphic novel and movie show no more understanding of Indians than white-supremacist fantasies created half a century ago. You may be entertained by horse-riding Apaches attacking wagon trains outside of Dodge, but I'm not. I outgrew such simple-Simon depictions of Indians decades ago.