birth of a genre? cowboys and aliens

graphic novel cover
graphic novel cover

Cowboys and Aliens” to mix the sci-fi and western genres

Cowboys and Aliens is a film concept that’s been booted around the industry for a decade or more (since 1997 to be precise), and finally looks to be on the way to production with Robert Downey Jr. in front of the camera, and Ironman director John Favreau behind.

Why so long for what seems like a no-brainer idea that sells itself based on its title alone? For one thing, just a general inability to find a good story in the concept. Variety has a great chart illustrating the time line of this project.

Meanwhile, over at The Hollywood Reporter, we learned last month that Fox greenlit a scifi western from Scott Rosenbaum (Chuck). The untitled project, from Warner Brothers Television and McG’s Wonderland Sound and Vision, tells the tale of a gunfighter stuck between two worlds and will feature a nod to Planet of the Apes.

“What I’m really interested in is the revamping of the Western genre where you still have all of the iconic Western themes and iconic Western tropes but the idea is that it will feel incredibly contemporary and will introduce the Western to a whole new generation,” Rosenbaum said.

The idea’s not really new, of course. The Science Fiction Western is a known sub-genre of scifi, which transposes science fiction themes onto an American Western setting. It’s the counterpart to the Space Western, which transposes themes of American Western books and film to a futuristic space frontier setting (Wikipedia). That’s where your Firefly and Star Trek live (Roddenberry first pitched Star Trek to the Western-fixated TV network executives of the 1960s as “Wagon Train to the Stars”).

So the Science Fiction Western, while not new, may be welling toward a resurgence as a genre. God knows it deserves a reboot in the theaters after the horrific Wild Wild West (one of only one or two truly unwatchable Will Smith joints), and TV could use another crack at it too post the failure of The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. (an underrated show that never got its due, which also dipped a toe into SteamPunk, and got Bruce Campbell in front of an audience that wasn’t simply a gaggle of B-horror movie fanboys much like Burn Notice has done).

I see the (potential) development of Cowboys and Aliens and the Rosenbaum project as a possible new growth area for screenwriters, and if I were a screenwriter or show runner with a love of either scifi or western (or both) I’d be thinking about developing something to have in my back pocket in the coming 18 months.

Er, in fact, I am. I do.

Maybe I will. Hummm…

For some discussion on the “newness” (or not) of the idea of mixing the scifi and western genres, check out the comments section at this Ocri and Kurtzman interview over at SciFiWire.

One thought on “birth of a genre? cowboys and aliens

  1. I would argue that the cowboys and aliens idea has been around since at least 1917 when Burroughs published “A Princess of Mars” where a cowboy, escaping an indian war party, hides in a cave and then ends up on Mars fighting aliens to save the princess.

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