Why the Western Will Never go out of Style

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Since the release of The Great Train Robbery way back in 1903, Westerns have played a formative role in the history of Hollywood. Defined by the American Film Institute as a film that is “set in the American West that embodies the spirit, the struggle and the demise of the new frontier,” Westerns have reinvented the genre many times over the years.

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Now a long way removed from dust-stained, drawling cowboys, Westerns continue to thrill audiences around the world. The traditional image of the Western (are you picturing Gary Cooper right now?) shaped and defined the genre. Clear lines were drawn between those characters who could be classed as “good” and those who were “bad.” The good characters were usually hard working folk with a simple yet strong moral code and the courage to take on the unknown. Life was hard but never so much that it crushed the good guys’ underlying spirit or stopped them from defeating those who sought to keep them from their mission.

Though the Western genre has grown and adapted itself to contemporary audiences, we can still see these threads woven into plotlines of Western-inspired movies. The Western itself has blended with a variety of other genres over the years but those core components remain. Star Wars took the genre to a new level back in 1977 by creating what was essentially a  ttp:// space Western. Good versus bad was given a new lease of life by the film. Despite the outstanding special effects (for the time) and the presence of spaceships and shiny robots, the film was at its heart a Western – and one that continues to inspire fans of the series to this day.

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Other films have also been influential in developing the Western genre. Cowboys & Aliens in 2011 played around with the crossover between the space Western and the original by sending a spaceship to the frontier of Arizona back in 1873. The lines between good and bad may be somewhat more blurred (as one would expect from a contemporary movie) but, when the town of Absolution comes under threat from alien invaders, the old battle lines between protagonist and enemy are quickly redrawn.

In 2015, Bone Tomahawk celebrated many classic Western elements by blending them with the horror genre. Ten years previously, Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain gave us a neo-Western romantic drama that achieved both commercial success and critical acclaim. The film, which tells the complex emotional tale of two cowboys in the American West, took home a whole trophy cabinet’s worth of awards, including three Academy Awards.

The Western continues to fascinate filmmakers. Stephen King’s Dark Tower series has inspired a movie of the same name, due to be released in August 2017, which continues on from the ending of King’s last Dark Tower novel. The focal character is gunslinger Roland Deschain (the good guy), who is pitted against Walter o’Dim (the requisite baddy). The film will blend elements of the traditional Western with action, science fantasy, and horror, and is intended to be the springboard for a vast movie and television franchise. Once again, we’re seeing the traditional Western crossing genres while at the same time staying true to the simplicity of its roots.

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Westerns have even strayed beyond the borders of Hollywood to be absorbed by the public in other forms. Online gaming companies have embraced all things Western with a range of Western-inspired games. Sky Bingo features the Big Bounty game while Zinger Bingo has a slot machine by the name of Wild Wild West. The popular and award-winning Red Dead Redemption turned the Western into an action-adventure video game, selling more than 15 million copies. There’s even a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game coming up called Wild West Online. The open world nature of the game will allow players to roam the frontier, putting the power to live and die like a cowboy directly into gamers’ hands.

More than a century since the first Western was released, it seems that the genre continues to inspire creative types in new ways. Each new generation has a new take on the Western and, while the classic themes remain, it is fascinating to see how the genre will be interpreted in future.

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Why the Western Will By no means cross out of Taste | Global News Blog

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