Monday, August 22, 2011

Cowboys And Aliens

Putting Cowboys and Aliens together as the title of a film is an unlikely combination and from all the information gathered from the previews, there was a moderate chance that the film starring Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford would be cheesy, but the end product was not. In the early production days of Season 3 of Ancient Aliens, it became clear that the season’s start would coincide with the release of the movie, and hence, that same combination, of ancient aliens and cowboys, was explored in the first episode of the new season. The era of the cowboys is not necessarily ancient, but the era does define a rawness of mankind, an era of survival in a harsh often hostile quite often alien environment.

The Aurora Crash of 1897 is somewhat within the bailiwick of cowboys, but during the interviews for the show, what became apparent to me, was how the New World and its inhabitants was literally an alien landscape for the Western explorers. Here were people speaking a language no-one could understand, in a landscape that often looked otherworldly – imagine the first explorers walking into the Grand Canyon or Monument Valley. If we ever need to imagine how we would feel if we were to discover an extra-terrestrial civilization somewhere in the universe, the mindset of these explorers as they pushed west across America is one of the most touchable historic examples.

When it comes to areas of New Mexico (where the movie is set) or Arizona (or so many other states), you are confronted with Native American lore about thunderbirds and other gods that were once said to have lived amongst the local population, before they disappeared from interacting with these people. And it are such stories that make Cowboys & Aliens come to life. Here is a story of otherworldly beings, including magical other-dimensional beings that can rise from the dead. But let us turn the perspective around and it becomes apparent that the arrival of the Europeans in the New World caused tremendous devastation. We were the alien invaders. Here were people with magical weapons that fired, which killed at an instant. They spoke an alien language which no-one could understand. Everywhere they went, they left disaster – often totally undesired, because of the various diseases to which Europeans were immune, but which wreaked havoc amongst the native population. If we weren’t the people conquering America, what would we have made of the fantastical accounts left behind by these Native Americans? Would it not have sounded utterly fantastical? The very stuff of myths and legends? I think the answer is a likely yes.

Director Jon Favreau was aware of the classic ancient alien discussion point, which is that the party with the highest technology has a distinct advantage. At no point in Cowboys and Aliens, however, are they mistaken for gods. But this stand-off between a low and high technology culture also means that the cowboys and the Native
Americans come together in the hope of defeating the technologically superior culture. It is also often reported, in UFOlogical circles, that if Mankind was faced with a common, extraterrestrial enemy, the nations of the world would quickly unite. And this is on display in the movie.

Though the movie is largely there for entertainment purposes only and does not have any profound message for its viewers, below the surface, the big themes of the alien debate are present, worked into the framework of the movie, rather than in most visible layer of it.

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