With that enigmatic preamble, please indulge me in another trailer:
If the letters “W,” “T,” and “F” did not occur to you at some point over the past 150 seconds, you’ve probably seen the trailer already.
The term “space western” has been around at least since the original Star Trek series began. The question is: Can turning the tongue-in-cheek title for a subgenre into the high concept foundation for a summer blockbuster film actually work?
Having Harrison Ford can’t hurt.
In fact, Cowboys & Aliens is particularly heavy on the bonafides with Daniel Craig, Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano, Raul Trujillo — who I’m still scared to watch; thank you, Apocalypto — among others, rounding out the cast. Jon Favreau is a capable director who continues to distinguish himself, but the name of Steven Spielberg (executive producer) added to the trailer is meant, I suppose, to inject that extra jolt of gravitas.
There are big traps inherent in a high concept, big budget movie like this and it may take all Spielberg’s name cred to reassure the audience. I think the concept is fresh and the trailer is excellent, a promise of more good things to come. The biggest challenge may be in managing the audience’s expectations beforehand.
Cowboys & Aliens is rather a good title but the implications aren’t as clear-cut as those for, say, Snakes on a Plane, for example. No movie called Snakes on a Plane would ever dream of being mistaken for a romantic comedy. Or a heart-tugging drama. A musical? Nah. The title, as pointed out by an actual screenwriter (as opposed to the mostly-in-my-head screenwriting method I’m pioneering), is the movie.
But the title Cowboys & Aliens — besides having a host of similar film titles to overcome — doesn’t spell out, in neon letters, the genre to which it belongs. It could be horror, thriller, action/adventure, comedy, even a family film.
The trailer does a good job of clarifying this question, but woe betide the filmmakers if they fail to manage those expectations before audiences begin to queue outside the theater doors. The consequences of such confusion may be dire.
Not that I’m opposed to mixing genres. In fact, I spent a little time working on my own “western-plus” before realizing I just don’t care enough about vampires to carry it off convincingly. (So there, Twilighters.)
There’s enough horror in the human species to keep me writing for a very long time. No need to delve into supernatural species.
Cowboys & Aliens opens July 29, 2011.
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