Thursday, February 28, 2013

Firefly: a Western in... Space!

Firefly, a show created by Joss Whedon, is a space Western that follows the adventures of rebellious Captain "Mal" Reynolds and the rest of his crew. In the pilot episode Serenity we are introduced to all of the key crew members plus Simon and River (a mysterious doctor who is on the run with his sister.) Throughout the episode, although set in space, it is evident that Firefly utilizes the conventions of both western and sci-fi in order to amp up the action and tension of the plot.

When responding to Simon's question of how he can trust that Mal will not kill him, Mal responds with something along the lines of "I won't shoot anybody unless they have a gun in their hand and are facing me." This response is a clear example of the Western hero archetype. In Westerns, the intense fights generally occur as a two person shoot-out, where the fairness is clear, for both opponents are facing one another and have no advantages. The fact that Mal holds this sort of standard can only be traced back to the Western.

In Serenity, they elude to is a mysterious antagonist force called the reavers. At first glance, their mystifying descriptions of the reavers cause us to draw connections from them to the sci-fi element of unknown entities or aliens.  But with further speculation it is seen that these "reavers" are also like the Western's view and usage of Indians. The crew members speak of how the reavers will capture a ship and in their savage state of being, kill everyone. In many Westerns the Indians serve as an uncontrollable antagonist force with no mercy.

At the start of the episode we are given backstory as to who these crew members are. They all fought during the War of Unification, on the rebel side. Continuing off of that, at the present time of the film they are now like outsiders or outlaws. This is just like the usage of the Civil War in Westerns. Often times the protagonist is an outlaw on the run due to some sort of contribution they made during the war. 

An obvious example of Sci-fi is the setting of Serenity. It is in space... how much more sci-fi can you get? BUT, space is also similar to the feelings conveyed in the settings of Westerns. Space is far from civilization which is just like the distinction in Westerns between being in the wild versus being in a town/civilization. 

All in all Serenity does a beautiful job of molding together the two distinct genres of Sci-fi and Western. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Outland - Western in disguise?

Outland follows a space police marshall, Marshall O'Niel, as he tries to figure out the mystery behind the sketchy mining space station that he has been assigned to. Known to be an action space thriller, many people believe the film to bear many similarities to the Western film High Noon- the main difference being that Outland is set in space. 

In many Westerns the protagonist finds himself in a situation that calls for a decision to either stay home or fight. In Outland, Marshall O'niel's wife leaves him to travel to Earth. She is not leaving him because her love for him is gone, but rather because she can not deal with anymore wasted time spent in Space. Thus she prompts Marshall to travel to Earth with her and their son. Marshall decides to stay on the space station because he is filled with a sense of duty to follow through with him personal mission to fight for justice. This is similar to Martin in The Searchers when he consistently denies Laurie due to his need to complete the quest of finding and returning Debbie to where she belongs.  

In The Outlaw Josey Wales, Josey Wales utilizes the "wild west" environment to his advantage. For instance, when the antagonists are crossing the river by boat (which is on a rope levy, Josey Wales shoots the rope, causing the antagonists to be stuck. Similar to this, Marshall utilizes his environment to his advantage. Some examples include: he strategically plants his guns into hidden areas of the station for later usage, and he lures the bad guys into certain locations of the station where he can use the forces of space to kill them. 

In addition to fully utilizing one's environment, an important aspect of Westerns is the feeling of isolation from town to town. In Outland the space station serves a similar purpose. It is isolated and later on becomes a trap for Marshall. He is unable to leave. On top of everything a time countdown for when the on coming ship is arriving helps to build tension. Everyone on the ship knows that they people arriving are coming to kill Marshall. But even with this information Marshall can not leave.

When Marshall presents the doctor with the blood samples, at first she is skeptical that they will discover anything. But because this is a sci-fi, the technology is smart enough to detect the drugs in the blood. The whole concept of hiding the drugs in this massive corrupted scheme is similar to the corruption of bad guys in a Western.

Adding to the tension, Marshall is not only on an isolated ship, but when the people assigned to assassinate him arrive, everyone congregates in the bar, leaving Marshall all alone (except for his one trusted friend, the Doctor) with the assassins. 

Outland definitely effectively utilizes both stylistic aspects of sci-fi and western to create an intense, action-packed film. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Ethan and Josey as Western Heroes

John Ford's The Searchers and Clint Eastwood's The Outlaw Josey Wales are both Western films which when you take a quick gander at, seem to have quite similar story lines. In an article by Robert Sickles, it is suggested that these two films both have similarities but for the most part, they differ dramatically due to their differing moral, social, and political views. Additionally, Sickles shows how the time difference greatly affects the perspectives and biases. I agree with Robert Sickles in thinking that these two characters and films reflect the cultural values of the time periods they were made in.

Josey Wales is like an updated version of The Searches. In his article, Robert Sickles says: "Josey Wales is not so much a rehash of The Searches as it is a response, a detailed reworking of a twenty-year-old film in the context of 1970s liberalism." In The Outlaw Josey Wales, when Jamie dies due to his wounds, Josey finds a new friend to replace him: the chief comanche. Josey Wales, obviously angered about the death of his whole family, agrees with the chief that no one can trust the white man. In this interaction we see a clear reversal (siding with the Indians, versus being completely against them) of what takes place in The Searchers- and this reversal is definitely fueled by the change in social views of the 1970s.

Sickles presents how both films have similar revenge motifs, but the biggest difference is thematic perspective: Ethan is the pursuer whereas Josey is the one pursued. I feel as though Josey is a much more relatable character because we have access to his emotions and having him play the character who is danger (rather than being in a position like Ethan) makes us worry for him. I feel as though Clint Eastwood must of been aware of this major difference in his film rather than the Searchers because this having access to Josey's emotions seems almost like a fix to Ethan's character.

In many instances Josey Wales is able to trust and believe in  the situations around him whereas Ethan rejects everything. Some clear examples that Robert Sickes present include: Josey willingly allows Jamie to join him in his adventure, whereas Ethan tries hard to get rid of Martin. Another example is that in both films we see the characters have dangerous interactions with hillbillies. Josey and Jamie work together to escape, while Ethan utilizes Martin as a bait. Having Josey be a softer, more accepting character seems to be fueled by the changing view of how a heroic man should appear.