With all the comic book adaptations coming out in the summer of 2011, the most unique might be “Cowboys & Aliens,” starring Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford. The author of the original comic book series attended Comicpalooza 2011 and took the time to talk about the upcoming adaptation of his original work.
What went into the creation of the comic book’s central idea, cowboys and Native Americans fighting aliens?
Fred Van Lente: What I tried to do was write more of a fun tent-pole, summer movie-type book that would have a wider appeal than a straight up horror book. It seemed like a no-brainer prospect in 2001 when I wrote the book. There were lots of other things to explore when coming up with the idea. The obvious comparison was the whole idea that the technology advanced alien invaders shows up on Earth and thinks, “’‘¹…”hey, free planet!’ It goes back to the European colonization in the West and the conflict with Native Americans. That was a lot of fun to draw all those parallels out.
Was it important to give the aliens a humanity as well in your book?
Fred Van Lente: Yes. I had a list of locations and characters I had weaved together for the story. A lot of that was fleshing out the Native Americans and the complex social structure with the alien race, like an alien Roman Empire, which is why they want to attack the Earth. That was a lot of fun.
It took some time for the comic book to get released, but finally broke out big.
Fred Van Lente: It took five years for the comic book to come out. It flooded the market and was everywhere. It had a nice low price and was quite the brouhaha. It reached the top of the distributor lists for that. Who would have thought that James Bond would end up starring in the movie based on it, although Pierce Brosnan was Bond when I wrote it? Or, maybe it was Timothy Dalton when I started on it.
Hollywood changes a lot when adapting books. Was much changed from your book to the final movie?
Fred Van Lente: Yes, there have been a lot of changes. They went in a more serious direction with it. They added a bunch of characters but when you have Olivia Wilde and Sam Rockwell wanting to be in your movie, you’re like ‘awesome, add more characters!’ It is a different take on the story than the comic but that is fine.
The property faced a lot of problems making it to the big screen. What problems were holding it back?
Fred Van Lente: It was a long process. One of the banes of ” Cowboys and Aliens“ existence is ”Wild Wild West,“ the Will Smith movie that came out in the ”“¹…”90s that did not do very well. There were many rewrites to the comic to make it less like that. I wanted it to be more like ” Raiders of the Lost Ark,“ which was serious when it needs to be, exciting when it needs to be and funny when it needs to be. The movie has tried to take a lot of the humor out of it, which is a shame, but it is their money. I think part of the reason it took so long to get this project off the ground was this stigma that westerns don’t do well at the box office. You have ”Wild Wild West“ and, even last year, you have ” Jonah Hex,“ which did not do well critically or commercially. That was very problematic.
Robert Downey Jr. became attached in 2007, not long after the book was published, and he brought Jon Favreau on board. Downey had to drop out for “Sherlock Holmes 2” and we picked up Daniel Craig and things steamrolled from there. This is something they have been shopping around since 1998, to let you know how long it takes these projects to get off the ground.
Since you mentioned you are a big fan of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” how cool was it to get Harrison Ford as a character in the movie?
Fred Van Lente: I know! That was completely wonderful and totally bad ass. What is cool, is he’s playing a bad guy, a not very nice guy, and I like seeing him playing these characters. One of his first films was “ The Frisco Kid” with Gene Wilder, which was a western so it’s like he’s going back to his roots, which is awesome.