Monday, August 12, 2013

Everything Old is New Again

I'm not sure what led me to set Trouble in such an old-western-like locale. It just seemed the perfect setting for the two characters. They remind me of drifters, moving from one town to another, using whatever skills fit the situation. I enjoyed the anachronism of a guy traveling across the dessert on a chiitorah (sort of a cross between a horse and a camel) yet using a weapon that shoots laser charges and pretending to be a member of the Inter-Planetary Police.

Of course I'm hardly revolutionary in mixing the two genres. Steampunk, for example, is a popular sub genre of Sci Fi that often mixes futuristic technologies with old west (or often times Victorian) settings and sensibilities. And long before that, writers such as Jules Verne and H.G. Wells were known to dabble in it from time to time, dreaming up fantastic inventions at a time when the technology didn't even come close to existing.

Utilizing a setting like the old west gives you a well known structure for the story while adding the Sci Fi allows the writer's imagination to run wild.

Star Wars, for example, is every bit a western in space. All the elements are there. The grizzled retired lawman, the kid fresh off the farm, the handsome rogue and his faithful, albeit furry, friend, the lady in distress (at least in the first one). And of course the evil and powerful villain trying to take over their land (or worlds as the case may be). The cantina scene has been done in countless westerns (the customers just weren't quite as odd looking.

"Valley of Gwangi" released in 1969 comes to mind when it comes to mixing Sci Fi with westerns, though in this one, it isn't the future visiting the old west but the past. Like a hundred million years past. The Forbidden Valley is home to creatures which didn't get the memo that they'd gone extinct. Visiting this valley, a team of cowboys, headed by James Franciscus, decides that roping themselves a dinosaur to exhibit in the world would bring them fame and fortune. A T-Rex, however, is nobody's prancing pony and relays this in a rampaging climax through the town.

The creature effects are by Ray Harryhausen and features the T-Rex fighting a triceratops and later in the ring, an elephant. There are of course a myriad of other prehistorics for Harryhausen to work his magic on. So many times, when a dinosaur went on a movie rampage, it rammed through modern (well, modern by 50 and 60s standards) settings. It was an interesting change of pace to feature a T-Rex showdown in an old western town.

"The Adventures of Brisco Country Jr. starred everybody's favorite chin, Bruce Campbell as the title character. It's a show that should have had more of a shot than it did. With a nod toward "The Wild Wild West", "Brisco" incorporated a fantastical vibe that helped make it a rousing western. After his father, lawman Brisco County Sr., is killed by the prisoners he was transporting, Jr. makes it his mission to track everyone one of the escaped prisoners down and bring them to justice. He tracks them across the U.S. and toward the 20th Century. Set in 1893, the world is seven years shy of the turn of the century and unlike some of his contemporaries, Brisco is excited about what the future holds. He's also fascinated by the gadgets and contraptions being invented. There's even a touch of the alien in the show as time after he times he runs across a mysterious orb that seems to have a power all its own. The buddy element is present as well in the form of bounty hunter Lord Bowler (Julius Carey). Rivals at first often competing for the same bounties, they eventually grow to be a slightly "Odd Couple" fashion.


Another show dead before its time was the 2002 Joss Whedon show "Firefly". Where "The Adventures of Brisco County Jr." brought a touch of Sci Fi to the old west, Whedon flavors his space opera with a definite taste of old western sensibility. Even the war that Mal (Nathan Fillion) captain of the Firefly-class starship Serenity fought in had a sort of Civil War feel to it. And much like many of the soldiers coming back from that war, Mal and his crew find themselves drifting once the guns have silenced. There is a system recovering from that war and pockets of lawlessness that they must navigate (sometimes by being lawless themselves)just to survive. Even the costumes have the look of the old west to them.


Then of course there's "Back to the Future III". Well, they went back a few decades with I, moved forward several more with II, then decided to really dial up the "wayback" machine and headed straight for the old west with III. Eightteen-Eigthy-five to be exact. Trapped in 1955 due to a malfunctioning DeLorean during "BTF II", Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) discovers the tombstone of Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd), who had been trapped in 1885, and he discovers that Brown was killed by the great-grandfather of Biff Tannen. And if you thought Marty was a fish-out-of-water in 1955, he's a fish in the desert in 1885. As the producers of more and more movie franchises have been doing lately, the sequels to "Back to the Future" were shot concurrently over 11 months. "Back to the Future" was often lauded for its ability to handle the notion of time travel (which is harder than you may think), and was named by the American Film Institute as the 10th best film in the Science Fiction genre. All three movies have remained popular since the first one debuted in 1985.


 You can't go wrong when a steam-powered locomotive pushes you back to the future!

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