WonderCon 2011: COWBOYS & ALIENS Presentation

     April 2, 2011

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There are two major summer blockbusters making the rounds at this year’s WonderCon.  There was yesterday’s Green Lantern, which has name recognition, decades of history, and the easy classification of “Superhero Movie”.  The other is Jon Favreau’s Cowboys & Aliens, which has a goofy name, comes from a 2006 cult comic, and is a sci-fi western hybrid and both of those genres are being played completely straight.  Green Lantern has aspects that make it a tough sell, but it’s a cakewalk compared to how Cowboys & Aliens will need to connect with audiences.

But if anyone knows how to work a room at a comic convention, it’s Favreau.  Funny, insightful, and incredibly gracious, Favreau explained why they wanted to show the movie at WonderCon and then proceeded to blow the audience away with some footage from the film, including a first look at the aliens.  Hit the jump for my recap of the Cowboys & Aliens presentation.

Favreau came on stage along with executive producer and co-writer Roberto Orci as AC/DC’s “Back in Black” rocked the house speakers.  They then took their seats and as the cheering died down, Favreau explained why they brought the film to WonderCon.  He said WonderCon was like what Comic-Con used to be and while he loves the festival atmosphere that Comic-Con provides, WonderCon is a more intimate experience and this was his last chance to connect directly to fans before the marketing machine took over.

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Favreau also talked about the genesis of the project and how it had passed from Ron Howard and Steven Spielberg (both of whom are executive producers on the film) and that he felt that he could do something special with the material.  He also said that he wouldn’t be appearing in Cowboys & Aliens because Family Guy poked fun at Favreau’s constant cameos.  I agree with the fan who later said to Favreau during the Q&A, “Screw Seth MacFarlane!  You should be in all your movies!”

And then Favreau finished up his introduction and brought us some tasty and mostly-new footage from Cowboys & Aliens.  He rhetorically asked how much of Green Lantern was shown yesterday.  “Nine minutes?” Favreau said grinning.  “Then I guess we oughta do nine minutes!”  The crowd cheered, the lights went down, and we got us some Cowboys & Aliens footage.

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The first scene we saw I had already seen at Comic-Con.  It showed Craig wounded, breaking into a house, and cleaning up his wounds.  He then has a gun pointed at his head.  The man holding the gun (Clancy Brown) says only two kind of men get shot: criminals and victims.  Which one was the stranger?  Craig responds that he doesn’t know.  Well what’s his name?  The Stranger answers, “Don’t know that either.”

We then cut to a new scene of Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) torturing a man in a field that’s filled with Dolarhyde’s exploded cattle.  The hapless man is tied between two horses going in opposite directions.  Dolarhyde angrily asks what kind of guy gets his jollies from exploding cows, and the man explains that it wasn’t him.  The man says there was a while light, a huge boom, he was knocked back into a lake, and when he came to, all of the cows were blown up.  Dolarhyde is incredulous about the man’s story, but cuts one of the ropes holding him to a horse.  The man thinks Dolarhyde is showing mercy, but then Dolarhyde slaps the other horse and the man is dragged away into the distance.  Then one of Dolarhyde’s men says that something’s going down back in town and Dolarhyde rounds up his posse and goes to see the ruckus.

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The next scene you’ve seen in the trailer.  It’s the spaceship attacking the town and Craig shooting it down with his space-bracelet.  We then got new footage of Dolarhyde and the Stranger drawing their guns and going to investigate the downed spacecraft.  The rest of the town gathers around and the doctor (Sam Rockwell) asks if his missing wife is inside.  Someone then asks the preacher (Brown) if it’s a demon, and the doctor and the preacher argue over whether it’s a demon or not.  A sound then emanates from the downed spacecraft and a jumpy Dolarhyde shoots it.  He realizes he’s let his tough-guy physique slip ever so slightly and quickly resumes his scowling grimace.

Then there’s a sound from a nearby shop.  We hear objects breaking and human screams, and then blood splatters across a window.  One of Dolarhyde’s men (Adam Beach) notices a huge alien print on the ground and deduces that the creature is big.  The aliens have taken Dolarhyde’s son (Paul Dano) and Dolarhyde intends to set out and rescue him and the other abducted townspeople at first light.  He also says that the Stranger is coming with them because he needs the weapon attached to the Stranger’s wrist.  The two argue and Dolarhyde punches the Stranger in the stomach.  The Stranger quickly responds by punching Dolarhyde in the face.

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We then got a lot of quick action scenes and I couldn’t write down everything that was happening so here are the big takeaways:

–         The way the ship abducts people is that it sends down a giant mechanical whip that attaches around a person’s waist and then they are hauled into the spaceship.  We see Dano and some other characters abducted in this way.

–         We also got the first look at one of the aliens.  He was a bulky sumbitch with big spiky teeth.  He kind of reminded me of the troll from Fellowship of the Ring but more muscular and rough-hewn.  Think of an angry grey gorilla with sharp teeth and no fur and you’re kind of getting there.  Unfortunately, that’s the best description I can provide (we only saw it for about a second) and Favreau says they will not be showing the aliens in any of the marketing materials and that the WonderCon audience today will be the only members of the public to see the aliens until opening day.  Also, unlike yesterday’s Green Lantern footage, the footage we saw today will not be going online.

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But here’s what really sold me on Cowboys & Aliens:  Among the quick action shots, we see the a posse riding out into a field to face the aliens.  There are explosions all around them.  This is the kind of scene that could look really, really silly, but Favreau is selling it with such complete and utter conviction that seeing these tiny humans ride out on horses to face spaceships comes off as just plain cool.

One of the things Favreau explained to the audience is that he wants to make this movie fun by showing how the characters honestly react to a hostile extraterrestrial encounter, not by winking to the audience and having the characters know that they’re in a western.  That quick shot of seeing the characters riding out into battle against the spaceships is the best example of how this movie will be fun without being ironic.  I hope that the rest of the film delivers in the same way.

Cowboys & Aliens opens July 29th.

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