On Sunday, Jon “Fast Draw” Favreau logged on to Twitter to blast his Super Bowl spot for Cowboys & Aliens a few hours before the big game (and more than a dozen other movie promos), rousing the geek-hive fanbase and stirring new speculation about his hybrid of classic Westerns and extra-terrestrial invasion thrillers.
“We wanted to reveal the tone a little bit more,” says the Iron Man director, whose first teaser went up in November. “The first one … people didn’t know if it was meant to be funny, or meant to be dark, but it made an impression. People are getting used to what it is now, they’re aware of the title, and we want to show them it’s an adventure.”
In the first trailer, Daniel Craig is an amnesiac who wakes up in the desert with a futuristic device clamped to his wrist, and the dusty frontier town he finds himself in gets strafed by strange ships in the sky. The movie comes out July 29.
“For me the first [trailer] was like, ‘Holy s—, these things are coming! What are they?'” Favreau says. “Then you reveal the blaster on his wrist. In this one, instead of everyone running for cover, you see one guy is gonna jump on the back of these things… and we’ll see what that leads to.”
Favreau called EW after the game to discuss what he’s showing, what he’s not, and assure sci-fi and western fans alike that this genre mash-up is no joke.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: People will be dissecting these 30-second trailers, so tell us up front — what are we not seeing?
JON FAVREAU: We haven’t shown any of the aliens. We want to hold that back. And all the images we’re showing are from the beginning, up to the first half of the film. We’re not showing a lot of where it goes. The first teaser was showing the opening of the film and a little of the setup. This one is showing more of the sense of adventure as things unfold. We’re just trying to get people’s feet wet.
Is your fear that people might think this is a comedy?
Yeah. I think people’s first response on hearing the title, which is a play on words, is that it’s going to be a comedy. They’ve been disappointed in the past when people have played with the Western genre, and not stuck to what’s bad-ass about it. When they throw that out the window, and play a pastiche of it, they don’t feel like they’re getting what they want. What you want is the grizzled warrior on the parched plains, and you want to see this iconic figure, who almost magical emerges from mirage of the horizon.
Is that why you wanted two actors known more for action-adventure than comedy?
That’s the archetype we’re going for. That’s what Daniel Craig was able to completely capture. People know him from Bond and he brings a certain virtuosity to his action performance. Then you have Harrison Ford, and just like if you would cast John Wayne in a Western, you’re bringing this whole sense of history. We’re bringing these two forces together and putting them at odds.
In other words, this is not Wild Wild West.
There’s a level of fun, but that doesn’t mean we have to wink. The characters aren’t having fun, but the audience is. We wanted to maintain the integrity of both genres, and focus on a specific aspect of the alien genre which mostly revolves around the films of the ’80s that I grew up with, and I’m lucky enough to be working with [Steven] Spielberg [the Cowboys & Aliens exec producer], who was the author of many of the films we’re using as inspiration. And sometimes it’s fun to play things as thriller, sometimes verging on horror, like Alien or Aliens. We wanted to maintain that gravity.
It looks like you’re drawing a lot more on the Western genre. That shot of Craig riding a horse along a ravine and jumping onto the spacecraft mirrors a lot of classic western images of the cowboy riding alongside the tracks and jumping onto a moving train.
And it was something that echoes Indiana Jones chasing the truck in [Raiders of the Lost Ark], and that was echoing stunts that were done in [1939’s] Stagecoach. So we’re constantly referencing back to our roots.
It may seem like a strange fusion, but a lot of early sci-fi updated typical frontier stories and set them in the future, or on alien worlds, like in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter novels, starting with A Princess of Mars.
[Laughing] That was a project I was in. I was developing that for a year before Iron Man. I was captivated by it. And I’m very much looking forward to what [WALL•E filmmaker] Andrew Stanton is doing with it. [Disney’s adaptation John Carter of Mars comes out in March 2012.] But I’m very well aware of what you’re talking about.
Instead of “cowboys and Indians” it was “astronauts and aliens.” So the idea of visiting an indigenous culture, invaders who in the Westerns would be the pioneers and settlers, is it reversed in this story? Are the cowboys essentially the natives and aliens are like the conquering Europeans?
Yeah, in the frustration of not having the technology to allow you to prevail. It’s always the low-tech culture that feels powerless when faced with an enemy that has technology on their side. And of course the culture with technology on their side feels like it’s manifest destiny: They’ve been granted this gift by the divine and intend to use it. So yes, it is a bit of a flip, because the cowboys find themselves as the low-tech culture. And what’s also fun is it allows the cowboys and Native Americans to come together, which would be impossible had there not been a greater common enemy. It sets the Western up in a very classic way and then turns it on its ear.
So quickly, some of the questions your trailer raises: There’s a strange shot of what seems to be Native Americans staring up at a blue light …
[Laughs.] Yeah, what is that?
What is that?
I don’t want to get into too much detail of what it is specifically, but it’s an aspect of showing the nightmarish quality of the film. There are heavy stakes and heavy stuff is going on there.
Are those spears they’re holding?
No, no, they’re not spears. I’ll tell you that.
And Olivia Wilde, nude by a fire — that’s intriguing.
It is, isn’t it? That’s a moment in the film that may seem out of context, but actually makes a lot of sense in the course of the movie.
People are wondering if she’s an alien.
Because she’s not wearing any clothes?
Well, that, and it seems to be some ritual, and all through the trailer she’s shooting Daniel Craig knowing looks, and seems to be the only cool customer while everyone else loses it. Like she knows something they don’t.
Okay, that’s an interesting theory. You’re the first person who’s asked me that. If it’s making you speculate then it’s doing a good job. But I cannot confirm or deny anything.
Is there any criticism of the spots that you take to heart, that make you think about adjusting as you finish up for July?
I think the only thing is sometimes you have people who don’t know what it is yet. They’re like, ‘Is this a spoof?’ It’s the Super Bowl; they don’t know what it is. But the ratio is shifting from the people who don’t know what it is to the people who do. I’m confident by time summer rolls around, people will know what it is. And the best way to learn about it is from each other. We’ve lit the fuse, and now the people who understand it get to talk to the people who don’t.
Like your own band of missionaries?
[Laughs] If people are digging what you’re putting out there, then they’re going to talk to each other. And if they don’t, then they’re going to talk too.
Follow Anthony Breznican on Twitter @Breznican.