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Friday, June 26, 2015

Ed Harris Makes A Sci-fi Western

Ed Harris may be known to Sci-Fi fans for his roles in "Snowpiercer," "National Treasure:  Book of Secrets," and "Apollo 13."
Tolkien fans will forever remember Viggo Mortensen's portrayal of
Aragorn in Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" movies.

In "Appaloosa," the movie version of Robert Parker's novel, Ed Harris plays Virgil Cole, a gunman who earns his living by serving as the city marshall in small, frontier towns. He's ably served by his stalwart sidekick Everett Hitch, played by Viggo Mortensen. When he and his friend Everett Hitch reach Appaloosa, the aldermen explain how Randall Bragg (played by Jeremy Irons), a local rancher, has shown contempt for the laws and people of their small town. 

Sci-fi fans may remember Jeremy Irons from "Eregon",
"Dungeons And Dragons," and "The Time Machine."

Bragg and his hired hands have stolen, raped, and killed. They murdered the town's previous marshall, and will continue their nefarious ways until someone stops them. The aldermen may be scared, but they don't understand the mentality of the man they want to hire. Cole's has one condition for accepting the job: if he serves as marshall, the Law in Appaloosa will be any law he feels is appropriate. 

Timothy Spall, who plays one of the aldermen, is known for
his roles in "Enchanted," 

"Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events,"
and as Peter Pettigrew in the Harry Potter films.

When the aldermen point out that they'd be effectively turning control of their town over to him, Cole's sidekick Everett Hitch points out that they've already ceded control of their town to Bragg. Or, as Cole puts it, in his colorful way, "Everything that eats meat likes a dead buffalo." But they quickly learn that he means business. Within a few minutes of their signing his agreement, two of Bragg's men lay dead at their feet.

"Appaloosa" defies our expectations of a western. There are no big shootouts with gunmen falling off rooftops, no great explosions that destroy half the town, no sweeping tales of revenge, and no maddened horses pulling a carriage packed with travelers toward the edge of a cliff. Nor do aliens swoop in at night, and carry off people and cattle in their spaceships. No one even paints all the buildings in the town red. But for me that's part of its charm, and why I feel the film has a Sci-Fi element. For much of Science Fiction literature involves settling other planets. Consider Ray Bradbury's book The Martian Chronicles, or Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy, many of Robert Heinlein's novels, or Allan Steele's excellent Coyote series. When people decide to plant themselves on a new planet, they leave civilization behind, and start anew. "Appaloosa" reminds us of that.

"Appaloosa" may be a small movie, but it deserves to be seen. Hopefully the actors in it, many notable for their other Sci-Fi and Fantasy roles, will help make the movie palatable for them. After all, we're all drawn to actors, and I'd never heard of "Appaloosa" or Robert Parker before I saw the movie in the DVD aisle. I had simply seen Harris and Mortensen in another movie together, and wanted to see them together again, so I bought the DVD. I'm glad I did.

Dragon Dave

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