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Going beyond 'hybrid' western films

Cowboys & Aliens director Jon Favreau gives last-minute instructions to lead star Daniel Craig (right) on the set

MANILA, Philippines - Cowboys & Aliens boasts what might be the summer’s quirkiest movie premise. Set in 1873 Arizona, it tells the story of Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig), who wakes up with no memory to find that he is a notorious criminal wanted by the law — and by the blustery alpha male Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford). However, the townsfolk of Absolution have to put aside their daily grievances after aliens attack the town, inspiring Dolarhyde and Lonergan to fight together.

Below, director Jon Favreau talks about the movie:

You didn’t want the film to be shot or shown in 3-D. Why?

“I don’t think 3-D is for everything. The film is a mash-up of two different genres. If you didn’t feel invested in the western, and it didn’t feel classic, then the alien film that interrupts the western wouldn’t feel like as much of a surprise. And we really wanted to make the western elements feel classic. For the alien aspect, we were aspiring to the sub-genre of the pre-CG Steven Spielberg/Close Encounters-type alien film. Or even Predator or Alien. That was our toolbox.”

How would you describe Harrison’s character?

“He’s a Union cavalryman and a veteran of the battle of Antietam. He lost a lot of men way back when. We were drawn to that John Wayne archetype, but applying it to our collective understanding of the career of Harrison and how we could find a character that suited his body of work well. I think (Wayne in) The Searchers is our (character) paradigm: A rough exterior and a wounded inner nature to the character, with an integrity behind it.”

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What’s the main gist of the narrative?

“We have a group of characters all at odds with one another who are introduced to a superior enemy. That forces them all to work together for a common goal of saving their families. It’s a summer popcorn movie, so you want it to be fun. You don’t want it to be a darkly wrought study of the western genre. You want to take peanut butter and chocolate and mash ’em together and make something new.”

What’s the interaction like between the characters played by Harrison and Daniel?

“They both bring a very human side to very rough exteriors. They’re constantly contending with one another. They square off very well, and they bring their whole careers to the screen. When Harrison steps into a genre film, he’s bringing with him a tidal wave of affection and expectation from the audience. That’s an overwhelming force. And then in steps the younger contender Daniel, who really knows how to work the frame, and all the action that he’s really well-versed in. He’s got a strong physicality and athletic ability and just a burning focus.”

Some people have heard the title and wondered if this is a spoof. It’s not — but there’s some whimsy going on, yes?

“I wanted to avoid the type of comedy that winks through the stakes of the film. I think that’s where a lot of hybrid westerns have failed in the past. Sometimes they wink too much. In this one, we wanted to take the genre very seriously, but we wanted the humor to arise out of situation and circumstance, as opposed to characters somehow skating along the surface of the danger. Both (of our lead) actors have made a career of keeping the stakes very real for the characters they play.”

What’s unique about this movie in a very busy summer lineup?

“Most of the other films are sequels or superhero films. Everybody’s rushing to the tried and true, and there’s a level of originality in the movie. We’re combining elements you’ve never seen combined before.”

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