By Michael Cieply
But some people may be anticipating the wrong film.
Deceived by a title and a premise that many find inherently comic, potential viewers must now cope with a realization that Mr. Favreau wasn’t kidding when he told fans at the Comic-Con International convention last July that he planned to mix a “by-the-book, right-down-the-middle western” of the kind once made by Sergio Leone and John Ford, with really scary science fiction, like “Alien” or “Predator.”
“The concept of the movie sounds hilarious. Cowboys vs. Aliens,” a poster, Hitman21, wrote recently on Mmajunkie.com. But this viewer was one of many who went on to voice enthusiasm for the unexpectedly serious movie that appeared in the trailer.
It was billed at the time as a follow-up to “Men in Black,” the hugely successful action-comedy—with which Mr. Rosenberg was also involved—about a couple of secret agents, played by Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, who are tasked with keeping tabs on all the unruly aliens who find their way to Earth.
Originally, Steve Oedekerk, the filmmaker behind “Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls,” was to have been the writer and director of “Cowboys & Aliens”—a clear sign that it was conceived more in fun than as a homage to John Ford.
As it happened, a hard-edged “Cowboys & Aliens” graphic novel was published while the film project faded. That occurred partly because “Wild Wild West,” a frontier fantasy laced with improbable devices, including a giant mechanical spider, underperformed at the box office in 1999, reminding Hollywood of the risk in cross-genre adventures.
Revived much later under the supervision of the writer-producers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, “Cowboys & Aliens” became a deadly serious film. Its hero, Jake Lonergan, played by Mr. Craig, is a loner who stumbles into the troubled town of Absolution, which is under the thumb of Harrison Ford’s Col. Woodrow Dolarhyde. That is, until invading aliens change the game for everyone.
I think it would be difficult to make a lighthearted movie about white men and Apaches killing each other before they come together to fight aliens. F Troop and Shanghai Noon showed that comedies about 19th-century Indians aren't easy.
I'd expect this movie to be like Independence Day or War of the Worlds, not Alien or Predator. In other words, serious but fun, not serious and frightening.
Where are the Indians?
Alas, the Indians may have a minor role in this movie. They're mentioned only once in this article, and no one's talking about them. It doesn't seem as though they'll be equal partners with the cowboys.
My take is that a significant portion of the movie should be about the cowboys and Indians overcoming their differences and learning to work together. I'm talking about a third to a half of the movie. But I'm guessing that won't be the case. That the Indians will be relegated to Tonto status.
For more on the subject, see Noah Ringer = American Indian?! and Beach's Role in Cowboys and Aliens.