In genre fiction we’re seeing a lot more mixing of genres these days. Romance routinely mixes genres—romantic suspense, paranormal romance, inspirational romance—where both genres need to be essential to the story to make it work. But even a genre writer knows some genres were never meant to co-mingle—inspirational erotica comes to mind—so what about Jon Favreau’s latest film?
Last weekend I saw COWBOYS AND ALIENS. Even the title prepares the movie-goer for the unlikely mix of the western and sci-fi genres. In the very first scene Daniel Craig’s character wakes up in a desert with no idea who his is or how he got there and discovers a strangely high-tech wrist contraption he can’t rip off. This is where the audience gets its first glimpse of sc-fi. The action proceeds to set up the classic Western scenario—the hero’s been shot, he stands up to the town bully, the ruthless rancher terrorizes the locals—and just when we get all the elements we expect, the aliens show up to change the game and, more important, change the alliances.
For me, what made the film work in spite of its ridiculous premise—besides Daniel Craig—was that the “cowboys” faced the aliens with the familiar code-of-the-west determination we all love in classic Westerns. Faced with outlandish enemies and impossible odds, the townspeople take up the quest to save what they love and so we cheer them on and suspend our disbelief, sort of.
I won’t say this is the best movie I’ve ever seen, but I pretty much loved it beginning to end. The humans are so very flawed and yet when the going gets ugly, the best comes out in them all. The cheeky optimism might be a little corny, but Favreau and his outstanding cast never wink at the camera or infer the situation is a joke. And since it’s a Western, we always know the good guys are going to win. But the ride is what every Western is about…aliens films, too, come to think of it.