Question for Big Film: It’s Not a Comedy?
In “Cowboys & Aliens” — which is directed by Jon Favreau, of “Iron Man” fame, and counts Steven Spielberg, Brian Grazer and Ron Howard among its producers — Universal and DreamWorks have one of next summer’s most highly anticipated movies.
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.” . . .
“Cowboys & Aliens” may be caught in a web of false expectation that was partly woven from its own origins.
Thirteen years ago Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, a comic-book entrepreneur, came up with a dual pitch for both a movie and a comics series, set in 19th-century Arizona, about warring cowboys and Apaches who join forces to fight an invasion by space aliens.
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.
Speaking by telephone on Monday, Eddie Egan, president for marketing at Universal Pictures, said he was not concerned that an audience trained on wise-cracking period adventures like “Sherlock Holmes” and the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series now has some catching up to do.
“The trailer is the first very public step in reconciling the tone of the movie with the more immediate effect of the title on its own,” said Mr. Egan, who acknowledged that the notion of cowboys fighting aliens could seem funny. . . .
New York Times
, November 29