Monthly Archives: September 2011

Cowboys & Aliens

A number of years ago now, I was given a graphic novel that a friend had acquired at either the first Free Comics Day, or the first one I heard about[1]. And it was, well, not very good, despite an eye-catching title/concept. Fast forward four years, and I started hearing rumors about a movie based on said graphic novel, and in fact that it really hadn’t ever been a graphic novel per se, so much as an attempt to woo movie studios with their script concept. Which kind of explains the extremely free aspect of the book.

So I started downgrading my expectations hard and fast, since I knew that sooner or later I’d be bound to see it despite my foreknowledge, because who is going to listen to me trying to explain that, no seriously, I’ve read this story and you just aren’t gonna like it, I don’t care what you think, when the title I’m railing against is Cowboys & Aliens? And, as is often the case, that worked out pretty well for me.

The movie (as opposed to the comic) had three really strong things going for it. The first was Harrison Ford playing a morally dark asshole[2], and the second was the exploration of the unfortunately-renamed Jake’s amnesia and how absolution[4] is affected by people’s perspective on your history. But the third and most important thing is that Favreau focused his remaining energy on alien tech and cool explosions, instead of a trite, overused indictment of Manifest Destiny. Not because I disagree with that message, believe me, but because there are so many more interesting messages for science fiction to thematically provide us[5].

[1] Or, having re-read my review to figure out the discrepancy between book and movie reaction, none of the above. Oh, fickle memory. Why you gotta be that way?
[2] I don’t mean morally grey anti-hero a la Han Solo before Lucas started fucking around with the footage, I mean dark. The guy is a prick, and maybe it’s too much[3] of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ excellent blogging of his grapple with the Civil War talking, but I could not stop thinking about how, while a real point was made of Colonel Dolarhyde’s wartime brilliance, which side he fought for was conspicuous for not being mentioned.
[3] by which I mean the right amount
[4] Remind me to come back to this.
[5] So, right. Footnote Four. Absolution. I love that this was the (blink-and-you-missed-it, the reference was so fleeting in the opening scene) name of the town around which the film’s events were set. That’s the kind of “heavy-handed” theme I can get behind. It doesn’t make the entire coming plot an exercise in eye-rolling the way the book’s did, it just gives you the tools to watch each character struggle towards their own individual version of absolution. If the movie had been based on this book, instead of the one it actually was? It would belong in junior high literature classes. (Which is praise, to be perfectly clear. There’s no shame in being a stepping stone.)