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Cowboys & Aliens Creator Scott Mitchell Rosenberg Dishes on Film Adaptation, Sequel Comic & Reboot Hopes
SYFY WIRE sits down with Scott Mitchell Rosenberg to discuss what may very well be the greatest genre mashup of all time.
Platinum Studios co-founder Scott Mitchell Rosenberg is no stranger to alien invasions. As the erstwhile president of Malibu Comics (acquired by Marvel in 1994), he oversaw the publication of Lowell Cunninghman's Men in Black series, which, of course, spawned a wildly successful film franchise executive-produced by Steven Spielberg and co-starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones.
Rosenberg's next big extraterrestrial venture, an inspired genre mashup known as Cowboys & Aliens, officially began to take shape in 1997, the same year Platinum Studios came into existence. From the get-go, the red-hot pitch was envisioned as a feature film, with DreamWorks and Universal Pictures on board as financiers. However, it would take another 14 years for the star-studded movie — now streaming on Peacock — to actually get made under the directorial leadership of a post-Iron Man Jon Favreau, with Spielberg and Ron Howard joining forces to produce.
Instead of twiddling his thumbs while development on the film crawled along at a snail's pace (as is often the case in Hollywood), Rosenberg took matters into his own hands and published Cowboys & Aliens as a graphic novel in 2006. SYFY WIRE recently caught up with the Platinum CEO over email to learn more about the genesis of the IP and what the future holds for aliens in the Old West.
An interview with Cowboys & Aliens creator Scott Mitchell Rosenberg
What are the origins of Cowboys & Aliens?
In general, the origin of Cowboys & Aliens the movie was a Platinum Studios’ graphic novel that was available both in print and online (with millions of views), which would go on to become a New York Times Best Seller for 14 weeks, both before and after the movie came out. But the origins of the graphic novel run even deeper. The concept of Cowboys & Aliens goes all the way back to when I was 13-years-old playing imaginary scenarios with my friends; featuring outside and inside-the-house versions.
With the outside version, my friends and I would be either a cowboy or an alien. For the cowboys we used the typical toy six-shooters of the time, but we would also deploy "snappers" when thrown at the ground would make an explosive sound (now called Bang Snaps or Poppers). The aliens used the old Star Trek guns that fired small plastic discs. For inside-the-house, I used little plastic cowboys and creatures (they came in a bag of a 100) to play out exciting invasion scenarios.
After I founded my second comic book company, Platinum Studios Comics, these childhood scenarios would become the basis for the graphic novel. I developed the story involving several alien races, and I had artists flesh out their designs until we had a suitably imposing villain, Rado Dar of the House of Dar Empire. The Dar Empire had a taste for subjugating other alien races including the Greys, who they forced to maintain and repair their battleships. Of course, we also developed a great cast of human characters from different cultures who come together to save the Greys and fight a common enemy, and to make it more challenging for our heroes we designed various alien beasts, like the vicious Maw Hunters.
How (if at all) did your success with Men in Black influence its development?
Cowboys & Aliens was an idea I had since childhood, so Men in Black did not influence the graphic novel story, per se, but it did on the film. When pitching the film, I decided to go to Steven Spielberg first because of how much he did for Men in Black.
The Sony/DreamWorks production was based on the comic I published at my prior company, Malibu Comics, which I later sold to Marvel (now Disney). Steven and I discussed Cowboys & Aliens story ideas over lunch before I first set it up at DreamWorks. Then Steven brought in Paramount Pictures and Ron Howard’s Imagine Films brought in Universal. Their passion for the idea was amazing. In, fact Ron Howard wrote a foreword for the graphic novel calling it "kick ass."
You had Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard producing this movie. What a combo! What kind of input did they provide?
Producing Cowboys & Aliens with Steven and Ron was awesome. They consistently provided lots of input. From Day One, they were involved in shaping the direction of the story, and casting thoughts. Steven and Ron were also at nearly every meeting and screening, guiding the production along. Their enthusiasm was incredible and inspiring for the rest of us.
Just one example of Steven’s creative input was his suggestion that the main antagonist alien be more anthropomorphic with distinctive translucent patches on its body. This "über-alien" would be distinct, having a translucent skin with a texture more akin to a soft-shell crab. Steven frequently demonstrated that he had his finger on the pulse of what audiences wanted.
Ron was also good — not just with the big details, but also with the little details. I remember at one rough cut screening, Ron and I were discussing young Noah Ringer’s coming-of-age moment, a story payoff , when he defeats an alien attacker with a knife that Harrison Ford’s character gave him earlier in the movie. Noah was cornered and he stabs the alien with his knife, but there was also an arrow in its back, so Ron and I realized that it was not crystal clear that Noah killed the alien by himself. Taking the arrow out made this moment shine for Noah.
What makes the blending of two distinct genres so appealing?
I love going where other stories haven’t gone, and aliens landing in the Wild West just seemed like unexplored territory to me. The appeal of the cowboy is that they survive on the frontier using limited resources and face multiple dangers as a normal part of their existence, so why not hostile aliens from another planet? They face challenges with their trusty horse, six-shooter, lasso, and cowboy hat.
Stripping away all the modern technology that can be used to stave off an alien attack really ups the stakes as the characters have to adapt to a strange new menace, but that’s what they are famous for anyway. When you blend two genres that have always been thought of as separate and distinct from each other, you have a whole new world to play in.
Are there any plans to reboot/revisit the comic?
Yes! We’re in production on a prequel graphic novel called Cowboys & Aliens: Civil War, which will come out Summer 2024. In the story, the aliens are having a civil war of sorts when enslaved worker aliens cause the ship to crash, so they can seek help from Earth’s inhabitants against Rado Dar and his forces.
What would you like to see out of a potential film or television reboot?
I’d like to see a reboot that takes place a few years earlier, so it’s a prequel to the graphic novel. It also specifically uses the aliens we introduced in the first story. The alien General, Rado Dar, has a great deal of personality and interacts much more with the protagonists. The reboot needs to have a little more humor, genuine scares, and a fast- moving story; so, giving the invading alien leader a lot more involvement really helps in that regard. In a perfect world, we tell the story in under 100 minutes, like the 98-minute runtime of the first Men in Black. I’d like it to be an edge-of-the-seat film that’s part of an ongoing franchise, as we have more stories to tell.
Anything to add?
The world of Cowboys & Aliens is part of the Platinum Studios universe (Platinum Studios’ Macroverse) and is linked to many other stories we have in development. Indeed, there are other Cowboys & Aliens storylines that happen in other parts of the world and galaxy! The same alien invaders show up again in the future to challenge humans and their allies. These stories are just the tip of the iceberg in what is to come from the Platinum Studios Macroverse.
Also, the original film has been aging very well. We’re seeing more stories and reviews that recommend readers to see it, and are getting an increasing amount of fan mail — including DMs on the Cowboys & Aliens Facebook page. We’re taking the page over from Universal and will start putting up content and updates soon to the over 400,000 followers.
Cowboys & Aliens is now streaming on Peacock.