WonderCon 2011: Jon Favreau wows the crowd with nine minutes of ‘Cowboys & Aliens’

SAN FRANCISCO – One thing you’ve got to acknowledge:  Jon Favreau knows how to work a crowd.

I love that he’s the only director I know who has his own entrance music.  No matter what the event, AC/DC’s “Back In Black” trumpets his arrival, and Favreau always seems to genuinely love the energy of the crowds in these rooms.  This weekend, he brought Bob Orci, the co-writer of “Cowboys and Aliens,” and the two of them premiered some new clips from the film to a packed Esplanade Ballroom.

I was a little concerned before the presentation that we’d just see the same chunk of film I’ve seen a few times now and which I recently wrote about.  Instead, Favreau cut a whole new preview reel, including the first shot I’ve seen of one of the actual aliens.  According to Favreau, that’s also the only shot of an alien I’ll see until I’m sitting in the theater and I see the actual movie.  His plan right now is to keep the aliens entirely out of the marketing materials, which I like a lot.  The way the first forty minutes of the film play, there is a sense of mystery, and the aliens are kept entirely off-screen, so ruining that in the advertising would make no sense at all.  It sounds like, based on what Favreau and Orci said, the mystery of the film is very much going to influence the way the movie is marketed.

They showed nine minutes of footage to us, and the beginning of what they showed was all cut from that same 40 minutes I’ve described before, showing Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) wander into a western town, unsure what’s happened to him or how he ended up with a futuristic metal device clamped around one wrist, or when he got shot.  He breaks into a house and starts to wash the wound out, only to be interrupted by Meacham (Clancy Brown), who points out that “only two types of people get shot: victims and criminals.  Which one are you?”

Craig’s response, “I don’t know,” sort of defines who he is in the film.  He really doesn’t know.  He doesn’t remember anything.  He doesn’t remember why Col. Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) is determined to get his hands on him, but as soon as the Colonel hears that Lonergan’s in town, he gathers his men and rides into town, demanding that Sheriff Taggart (Keith Carradine) turn Lonergan over to him.

That’s when the aliens attack, grabbing people off the street, blowing up buildings.  And the thing on Jake’s wrist comes to life, allowing him to blast one of the ships out of the sky.  Whatever’s inside manages to get away, killing another local and then making its way out into the desert in the same direction that the rest of the ships flew away.  Col. Dolarhyde organizes a party to go out after the aliens and get the townspeople back, and we see some of the people in the group like Doc (Sam Rockwel) and Meacham and Nat Colorado (Adam Beach), and Lonergan has been pressed into service because of his weapon.  In addition, Ella (Olivia Wilde) comes along, and she has her own agenda involving Lonergan and the aliens which is one of the movie’s biggest mysteries.

From that point forward, the rest of what we saw was new.  There was a striking image of an upside-down riverboat in the middle of the desert, and what looks like a tense and thrilling search through the riverboat.  We see the townspeople challenging more of the spaceships, horseback-mounted gunslingers versus small laser-firing dragonfly-looking craft.  I love the iconography they’re playing with in the film, and the last moment in the reel they showed us featured Noah Ringer, a young boy, in a shallow cave trying to hide for something.  For a moment, we look outside from his POV, and that’s when the alien comes roaring into frame and the reel ended.

The things that I love the most from the reel were the little details.  Harrison Ford really does seem to have tapped into that part of himself that has been missing from so many of his recent roles, and it’s exciting to see that dry sense of humor in a tense situation, particularly when it’s opposite Daniel Craig’s stoic nature.  They look like a great team in the movie, and the entire supporting cast looks like they’re having a blast. Sam Rockwell’s character Doc feels emasculated in the early stretch of the film I saw prior to this, so seeing him out on the frontier, gun slung across his shoulders, ready to kick some alien ass, is very promising.  And you’ve gotta love a film that finds big roles for Keith Carradine and Walton Goggins and Clancy Brown.

Overall, it looks like one of the most promising blends of genre this summer, and it all comes down to how well the script by Orci and Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof manages to blend these two very different styles into one cohesive story.  So far, so good, and the more I see, the more confident I am.

Oh… and according to Jon Favreau, reading a message from Olivia Wilde, who could not be there, she sleeps in the nude and wants you all to know.

Have I mentioned he knows his audience?

“Cowboys and Aliens” opens in theaters everywhere July 29, 2011.