Kristin and I saw Cowboys & Aliens last night. I had something of a professional interest, as one of my stories had turned into a weird western while I wasn't looking. Once I knew where it was going, I watched a lot of westerns as research, including a few weird westerns. This let me incorporate a number of western tropes in the telling of the story, enough to give it the right flavor, while still having what I thought was a unique twist. I'm proud of that story. I sent it off to Fantasy & Science Fiction, the premiere speculative fiction magazine, just yesterday.
Watching the movie last night, I was struck by the horrible realization that I'm going to have to change my story. When we went to see Cowboys & Aliens, I was interested in seeing which tropes they would use. As it turns out, all of them. Including one of the driving tropes of my story--the antihero getting into a fight with the spoiled son of the rich landowner, and this leading indirectly to his arrest by the sheriff. I mean, it was uncanny how similar it was. I can just picture the editor reading it and saying "Oh, he stole this from Cowboys & Aliens," and then tossing it aside with a chuckle. And he'd say that even if it were a good movie.
Cowboys & Aliens somehow missed the first rule of western
story telling--you need to be selective of your tropes. If you just
throw them all in, it becomes campy and corny. Which is what the movie
achieved, intentionally or not. Of course, I might have enjoyed it more if not for the folks sitting behind us snickering at most of it. Granted, a lot of it was snicker worthy, but I think I could have had an easier time turning off the critical part of my mind if not for the constant reminders.
I'm hoping that the next time a movie borrows from the same cliche as one of my stories, the movie will at least be a good one.