We caught up with Cowboys & Aliens director Jon Favreau and writer Roberto Orci at WonderCon in San Francisco, where the audience in the Esplanade ballroom saw their first glimpse of the alien. Though the crowd went wild, Favreau told us that we hadn't seen anything yet.
He explained that this was the little guy and we wouldn't see the main baddie in the trailers.
"We showed a little alien today. These people wait in line so long, you know. But we're going to try to keep a lot of the secret. If you buy a ticket to this movie, we want you to see something you haven't seen in the trailers. I think that's rare. But it's very hard to convince people from a marketing background that that's that best thing to do, because inevitably if you show more, the test groups say 'I like it better,' but I think it interferes with the experience of seeing it in the theater.
"So we're going to try to preserve a sense of mystery in this film. But suffice it to say that there is a whole aspect to this film that even the people here didn't see. The third act, where all hell breaks loose. You see see cowboys and aliens and horses and Apaches all just in a big cement mixer of action at the end. So the film just gets bigger and bigger as it goes on. That's part of the fun."
Cowboys & Aliens is a genre milkshake, so we asked Favreau which western and alien tropes he just had to include. "Well, you have to have the badass gunfighter, right? That's a big western trope. And the gunfighter has gone beyond just westerns. That's gone to cop movies and sci-fi movies. The gunfighter seems to have survived longer than the western has. So you have that. And then you have the buddy film trope. Starting with Butch Cassidy. So you've got that. You've got those two things happening.
"And then, of course, we went for the sci-fi tropes. More of the Spielberg alien tropes. Lights in the sky, things blowing up, real people with real emotions dealing with an overwhelming experience that they don't know how to process. And the fact that they're from 1875 makes it even harder to deal with it. So the combination is really fertile."
Orci said dealing with the alien side was easy, but they had to do a little research for the westerns. They got help from a master in the biz. "I remember with Searchers, Steven Spielberg got a new print of it and showed it to us in a theater, just me, Damon [Lindelof], Alex [Kurtzman] and Jon. And then he sat behind us and did commentary for the whole movie. It was live Spielberg commentary. Like, I would have paid for that. It was like a master graduate class. He was asking us, "Where's the horizon? Why did John Ford do this?" We were like, is there going to be a test? He was like, "Yeah. The movie. The movie is the test." We asked if someone had a secret flip-cam in the room so the rest of us could watch. Orci laughed and said no. "You don't want to get excommunicated or anything like that." We're really, really hoping someone was willing to risk it.
Farvreau gave us a final thought. "If any humans are going to get you out of it ... Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig ... it's good to have them on your side, based on what we've come to expect from them on the big screen."
We quite agree.