Roberto Orci, one of the writers of Cowboys & Aliens, a combination Western/Alien-invasion movie, spoke about the difficulty of combining the Western and the Sci-Fi genres.
Several familiar Star Trek XI alumni wrote Cowboys & Aliens; Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof.
Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford star in the movie which is set in the Arizona Territory of 1873. In Cowboys & Aliens, “A stranger (Craig) with no memory of his past stumbles into the hard desert town of Absolution.” In Absolution, controlled by the “iron-fisted Colonel Dolarhyde (Ford),” no one “makes a move on its streets” unless Dolarhyde gives permission. But something will happen in Absolution that will be even more frightening than control by a local despot; the desert town will be attacked by invaders from the sky.
Other movies have tried to blend the Western and Sci-Fi genres, but have not done well. According to Orci, they have learned lessons from those movies. “…We’re playing it very straight,” he said. “That’s why the twist is that there’s aliens. There’s not another twist on top of that. Being funny about it or making sort of ironic casting choices or something would have been what they call a hat on a hat. And seeing what those movies did, without condemning them in any way, we knew we wanted to do something a little bit different and make sure that it really is – we bring you this – ‘We interrupt this movie to bring you this movie.’ Literally, this movie could keep going as a Western, and it would be a compelling story and everyone would be happy. Harrison, I think, sometimes would prefer that there were no aliens in the movie.”
Why a Western? “Filmmakers love the Western because they can’t hide behind anything, unless you have aliens, of course,” said Orci. “It’s just very elemental. It’s truly like one of the most basic stories – you against an untamed environment, and attempting to get to the civilization that we all love and enjoy now.”
Will filmgoers see the classic features of a Western? “So in this, you know, the classic trope of a Western is a guy with no name comes into town, he says few words,” said Orci. “Normally it’s because he’s tough and he doesn’t want to give you the time of day. In this case, it’s because he doesn’t remember who he is, because he was abducted by aliens.
“So any time you could find something like that, that actually you could twist in to the genre of sci-fi, that’s when we stuck to it. But we didn’t make a list and go, ‘Well, we have to have this or that or this or that.’ It’s only when it served the whole.”
Cowboys & Aliens will release July 29, 2011.