Mark Twain is quoted as writing, “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn, and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely, but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.” This is as true when he wrote it as it is today. While many genres of film have been done and overdone, the truly “original” stories come from combining and mixing genres together in interesting and unique ways. Sometimes, bringing two genres together helps both genres to fill in the weaknesses of the other. While not incredibly common or successful, these movies are certainly unique. This week’s two films highlight some notable “genre mixers.”
Cowboys & Aliens
Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours
Something about the wide-open spaces of the western genre makes it wide open for genre-mixing possibilities. Of course, other genres, like science fiction, have drawn inspiration from the classic westerns for their characters and plots. After all, we wouldn’t have Star Wars (1977) and its many sequels/spinoffs if it weren’t for westerns and samurai films. Few movies have actually gone so far as to combine the two genres of western and science fiction outright, though. Not that this is a new mixing of genres, as films as far back as Westworld (1973) have combined these two genres to moderate success. Perhaps it’s the emptiness of the open plains and the emptiness of space that draws these two genres together. More recently, movies like Cowboys & Aliens (2011) have been less subtle about combining these genres.
Soon after Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) stumbles into the nearby town of Absolution, aliens attack the old-west city and abduct some of its citizens. While Jake doesn’t remember much, the mysterious bracelet on his wrist activates and allows him to shoot down one of the alien crafts. Joining together with other townsfolk, Jake sets out with a posse to pursue the injured alien from the downed ship. With his memories returning, he remembers that the aliens are abducting people to learn their weaknesses. These aliens are also interested in obtaining gold, which was how Jake came to be an enemy of Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford). Jake stole gold from Dolarhyde in an attempt to bargain with the aliens to get his wife back. Now recalling where the aliens were based, Jake leads the group of westerners to ambush the aliens while also learning that one of the posse members is actually a friendly alien in disguise.
The Warrior’s Way
Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours
While Star Wars set samurai films and westerns in space, rarely have these two genres been combined together directly. Both have similar elements in the characters and settings, even to the point where a movie based in one genre (like Seven Samurai (1954) or Yojiimbo (1961)) can be easily transferred over to the other (like The Magnificent Seven (1960) or A Fistful of Dollars (1964), respectively). An additional genre of the supernatural could easily be combined to samurai films or western films—the latter of which was seen with Jonah Hex (2010)—since there’s a lot of unknowns that can be introduced in both genres. Now, going so far as to combine the samurai, western, and supernatural genres together in a single film is a feat only The Warrior’s Way (2010) has been able to accomplish.
After becoming the best swordsman in the world, Yang (Dong-gun Jang) is tasked with killing the remaining member of his enemy’s family. He refuses to complete the task because this individual is only a baby girl. Running away from his homeland with the baby girl in tow, Yang finds himself in the old west town of Lode. To help the citizens protect their city from a corrupt Colonel, he unseals his sword, which immediately gives away his location to his pursuers. Partnering with the sharpshooting town drunk and a woman who scarred the Colonel years ago, Yang is able to repel the enemy of the city shortly before the samurai arrive to destroy him. He must defeat their leader so he can live a life of peace. Can the greatest swordsman in the world overcome these overwhelming odds, or will his bloody past finally catch up to him?
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 combined classifications