Cowboys & Aliens may end up more cowboy than alien

The adaptation of Scott Mitchell Rosenberg's comic book Cowboys & Aliens is taking a turn toward a real western. With Jon Favreau now attached to direct Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman's script, the screenwriters are going back to Hollywood western classics to find the perfect tone for the film.

"We've sent ourselves back to school, and we're watching westerns together and analyzing them," Orci said in a press conference on Oct. 8 in Santa Monica, Calif., where he was promoting Star Trek's DVD release. "We're just getting into it. We just watched The Searchers."

John Wayne never whooped E.T.'s ass like Will Smith, but that's what you'll have to imagine in Cowboys & Aliens. The film is about an alien invasion in the 1800s and, well, cowboys saving the day. Robert Downey Jr. is slated to play cowboy hero Zeke Jackson.

While paired with Orci, writing partner Kurtzman added, "We had a lot of these westerns in our head, but Jon is an incredible fountain of western knowledge."

Perhaps their Trek experience qualifies them as well. Not only does it cover the Aliens part, but it was always based on the frontier exploration mythology. "Star Trek was originally pitched as a space western anyway," Orci said. "So it was a nice lead-up to this for us."

As preproduction gears up, production designer Scott Chambliss is going even grittier. Because the film blends a serious western with a reverent sci-fi twist, Chambliss is aiming to re-create history more than historical movies.

"We're focusing on how it really was," Chambliss said in an exclusive interview on Sept. 27 in Hollywood, where he was discussing Star Trek's production design. "We're trying to be as realistic as we possibly can with that and somehow find a way to be as iconic with the aliens with this, but somehow make them fresh, like they bring something new to the party."

Favreau has shown his chops grounding comic-book lore in the real world. Kurtzman said his notes reflect the same sort of emotional core that Iron Man had. "I think Jon also comes from a very similar emotional place," Kurtzman said. "Because he's an actor, he knows what plays and what doesn't play very quickly. We're having an unbelievably good time working with him."

Cowboys & Aliens is due out in 2011.

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