Summer Movie Guide 2011

WonderCon: Jon Favreau Explains Old Tricks That Make ‘Cowboys And Aliens’ Seem New

Sunday, April 3 by

Jon Favreau made a big deal about the reveal at the end of his Cowboys and Aliens WonderCon footage. He showed an alien, which he’s been keeping out of the trailers and plans to keep out of the marketing until the film is released. He’s actually got a whole plan for the aliens that can play out in sequels, but you’ll see it just in the way they invade the western frontier.

“Let’s assume that all travel is sublight and let’s assume that there’s no transmutation,” Favreau said in the WonderCon pressroom. “You can’t develop whatever elements you want, so essentially the people coming here are what we were like coming to the new world. It’s not people just hitting a war drive and ending up wherever they want to in the universe. I guess I grew up with Planet of the Apes where you’re traveling a great distance and it takes a great amount of town to go to the other Goldilocks planets. There’s a methodology because you don’t want to just be steampunk and you don’t want it to just be plug in your standard sci-fi look into this movie. We wanted to feel part of the landscape but justify it.”

The footage showed Daniel Craig patching himself up in a dust town home and Harrison Ford punishing farmhands he blamed for killing his cattle. The aliens invade, snatching up locals and firing at the galloping cowboys.

“You’ve seen that there is fun to it but the fun is not at the expense of the stakes. That it’s badass but it’s still human. There’s some confusion and emotion. These people are vying to get their families back. The odds are really long and how are we going to do this in a believable way? Because we set up a conundrum that seemingly can’t be solved. That’s the fun. That’s the fun of making movies.”

The western parts really feel like a western, and that’s partly because of the musical score with that wind chime-y cadence. Favreau chose Harry Gregson Williams for his combination of classical and technological skills. “The tone is so much determined by the music that if you have something that feels a little too playful, it’s going to feel like a wink. And if you have something that doesn’t embrace the western enough, it feels like we’re being dismissive of it. For a guy that you could actually phase in and out of, and as the movie changes, you want sweeping emotion sometimes, themes, but you also want to have that tension building and getting into that more tech-y, synth-y sound and being able to marry the two to give it a unique soundscape.”

If the film looks like an old school western, it’s because they shot with anamorphic lenses (REAL widescreen) and didn’t try to make it 3D. “In anamorphic, the lenses feel twice as long as they really are as far as the framing goes. So you get great flares and you get great blurry backgrounds and that’s why you get away with so much in Close Encounters where you don’t know if that light’s a mile away or 100 feet away. It’s that ambiguity that feeds into your imagination. We shot two days of test footage, because if I was going to shoot it I was going to shoot it digital stereo. I didn’t want to convert. It is something I think is good for certain movies. I look forward to working in 3-D but for this particular film I felt it held us back and now it’s part of what I think makes us original and unique and that seems to be our strongest asset right now. In a summer where a lot of things seem familiar, this one seems very different.”

Cowboys and Aliens are coming this July.