I was really excited to see the recent movie “Cowboys & Aliens.” Starring Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, I knew that whatever else it may be, it was going to be entertaining. And in that regard, it totally lived up to my expectations; the movie starts out as a Western and then aliens attack. It is a lot of fun, and Harrison Ford’s performance alone made the movie well worth watching.
When the movie was over I decided to watch a few of the behind the scenes features where I discovered that the movie is only inspired by the graphic novel; the movie is telling a completely new story. So of course I had to go get the graphic novel to see just how different the two are. Even knowing that these are two different stories, I was completely unprepared for just how different they were! Yes there are cowboys, Native people and aliens who all end up fighting. And yes, the cowboys and Native people must work together. And there’s a helpful alien. But that’s where the similarities end.
The biggest difference between the two is the narrative. In the movie, the aliens show up looking for gold. In the graphic novel, the aliens are compared to the Europeans who came to North America. The aliens look at the Europeans as savages, much the same way the Europeans looked at the Native people. The prologue shows the aliens subjugating another planet, enslaving or eliminating those people in much the same way the Europeans interacted with the Natives. It’s disturbing seeing the images together.
The graphic novel also characterizes the aliens in a way the movie did not. In the movie, the aliens were big and scary monsters. The only one who is really characterized is the one who was hurt by Daniel Craig’s character; that alien has a large scar on its face, and clearly wants revenge. In the graphic novel there are several different aliens who land together on the ship. Their leader is a total jerk who thinks he’s superior and is damn well going to show it (ie. kill people) using all his technology. His initial second in command questions his orders, and is swiftly replaced after a “friendly chat” to discuss things. The aliens were also basically slavers, not bizarre and scary prospectors. In this way it was much easier to relate to the graphic novel’s aliens; sure they’re different, but their motivations are human.
So if you’re looking for entertainment pure and simple, definitely check out the movie. The cast and crew did a great job turning the Western on its head with aliens. But if you’re looking for a much more thoughtful story that is easier to relate to, then the graphic novel is for you.