Reading the Screen: Cowboys & Aliens (Book to Screen)
Posted by: David Pitt
Before there was Cowboys & Aliens the movie — a splendid movie, why didn’t more of you go and see it? — there was Cowboys & Aliens the graphic novel, published in 2006 by Platinum Studios and created by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg.
With words by Andrew Foley and Fred Van Lente, and terrific artwork by Dennis Calero and Luciano Lima (plus others), the book is a thrilling adventure, set in 1873 Arizona, about some aliens who want to conquer the planet Earth and the heroes who want to stop them.
There are significant differences between book and movie. The heroes are different: not Daniel Craig’s Jake Lonergan and Harrison Ford’s Woodrow Dolarhyde, but a couple of gunslingers, Zeke Jackson and Verity Jones. The aliens are different: they ride skyborne motorcycle-like craft, and they have large, curved horns jutting out of their foreheads. (One of the aliens, too, turns traitor and helps the humans.)
The story itself is pretty much completely different; the filmmakers, director Jon Favreau and his excellent team of writers, seem to have liked the idea of a cowboys and aliens story, but not necessarily the story that had been told. I won’t go into detail here because I don’t want to spoil anything for those of you who haven’t read the book or seen the movie — and again: why haven’t you seen the movie? — but I will say this: if you’re familiar with one, but not the other, you’re in for some serious surprises. (Although some things that seem different really aren’t so much: Olivia Wilde’s character doesn’t appear in the graphic novel, but there is something in the book that has the same function as her character.)
Here’s an image from the graphic novel, which I found online. It gives you a nice sense of the book’s approach: except for the aliens, the bottom panel could be a frame from a John Ford Western.
Tonally, the film and the graphic novel are very similar: traditional Western elements overlaid with some (likewise traditional) science fiction elements. Even though the stories they tell are vastly different, their themes are nearly identical: they’re telling a good, old-fashioned story about heroes and villains, with one sort of villain swapped out for another.
In part two, we’ll reverse angle and talk about the Joan D. Vinge novel that was written from the movie’s screenplay — a sort of film-into-book thing.