Cowboys are making a welcome return to theaters - and not all of them will be doing battle against extraterrestrial invaders. Next Wednesday, moviegoers will get to see the Coen Brothers' take on True Grit and now two more western novels are looking to make the jump to the big screen as well.
Oscar-winning Brokeback Mountain writing duo Larry McMurtry and Dianna Ossana will pen the film adaptation of Paulette Jiles' novel The Color of Lightning for 20th Century Fox and are in talks with Warner Bros. to do the same with author S. C. Gwynne's Empire of the Summer Moon.
Deadline says that The Color of Lightning is being set up as a future directing vehicle for Ridley Scott, whose Alien prequel has not been delayed and will begin production in the near future. Jiles' source material is loosely based on the same true-life tale that inspired The Searchers and tells the tale of Britt Johnson, a freed slave who seeks vengeance against a party of Comanche and Kiowa raiders after they murder his son and take the rest of his family captive.
Gwynne's Empire of the Summer Moon - which Warner Bros. plans for Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart) to direct - takes a different approach than Color of Lightning and features Comanche tribal chief Quanah as its protagonist. Quanah is credited as having obstructed the westward expansion of settlers for over four decades and is in part responsible for the creation of the Texas Rangers - though presumably the American Indian warrior was not responsible for those officers' tendency to wear clanky spurs (see the Coens' True Grit next week to find out what we mean ;-)).
While a handful of westerns have been released over the past decade, few have proven to be especially memorable - with the exception of the 3:10 to Yuma remake, arguably. Jon Favreau's Cowboys & Aliens is expected to pay homage to old-fashioned wild west flicks by the likes of Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone, but it's good to see that there are also more traditional western pics on the way - besides True Grit, that is.
Scott's Thelma and Louise could be classified as a modern-day western flick, but Color of Lightning will mark the filmmaker's first attempt to tell an old-fashioned tale of life on the lawless frontier in the 19th century. There are shades of Gladiator in the plot of Jiles' novel and it will be interesting to see how Scott's adaptation resembles and/or differs from John Ford's classic cinematic version of The Searchers.
Cooper made his directorial debut with last year's Crazy Heart, which snagged a Best Actor Oscar for "The Dude" himself, Jeff Bridges - who, as coincidence would have it, will star in next week's True Grit as well. The lesser-populated regions of the Midwestern U.S. served as the setting for Cooper's first film, which subtly captured the nature of life in that region in the 21st century - so a historical western drama like Empire of the Summer Moon doesn't seem like it would be too much of a stretch for the filmmaker.
We'll keep you posted on the development of The Color of Lightning and Empire of the Summer Moon as more information comes our way. In the meantime - of all the upcoming western pics, which one sounds the most interesting to you?