You may have heard a fair bit about “superheroes going the way of the western” recently since Steven Spielberg made comments on the matter, igniting the debate over how long the popularity of these kind of films is set to last. Now, I don’t really have an opinion one way or the other (by which I mean that I wouldn't touch that bee-hive from an alternate dimension) but the coverage of the matter did get me thinking: why aren't there any more westerns?
Ok, so before we quite go there, we need to cover some important points. Westerns had a massive boom back in the 40s into the 60s and then subsequently died out due to audiences collectively getting completely sick of them thanks to the insane amount of films being made. It’s completely understandable, and there were many factors to it, making it a very interesting subject. But who the hell cares about that, ‘cause I’m just here to mope about how no-one has made a decent western since then. See, if there’s one type of film that I’d say I have a soft spot for, it’s the western. Maybe it’s the simplicity, maybe it’s the connection to my childhood or maybe it’s just because they’re awesome. With a western, a duel was intense because the film would build to it; people didn’t just pull guns on each other and start firing. The mano-a-mano thing appeals to me because it necessitates character-building in a film regardless of the circumstance. A western doesn’t have the option of distracting you with flashy CGI or over the top visuals (though neither of those things are bad ideas) so the good ones always had engaging leads and interesting antagonists.
Perhaps it’s just me, but I’d like to see some more westerns made with today’s production standards. Which, for the record Hollywood, definitely doesn’t mean using today’s tropes and trends, because I’d rather not have a shaky-cam, explosion-fest western thank you very much. You know, it just occurred to me that westerns represent something which is almost dead in modern cinema: the slow burn. It’s probably why any attempts to revive the genre haven’t exactly fared well (I’m looking at you Lone Ranger). A film that spends the first act simply getting to know our characters is so rare that when Dawn of the Planet of the Apes did it, the world applauded. However, in a western, all you really have is character, and the action scenes have to pace themselves because if there were too many, we’d realize how unexciting they are, most boiling down to two guys pulling a gun on each other.
Take Once Upon A Time in the West as an example. The opening scene climaxes with Charles Bronson shooting three unnamed thugs. It’s over in the space of a one-liner and three gunshots in a second. Yet it’s an awesome moment, mostly due to the fact that roughly ten minutes is spent doing nothing but watch the three thugs wait for Bronson’s unnamed character to show up. If a director tried to do that in this era then he’d probably be murdered by the studio. I’m not here to say that modern films all suck compared to the “good old days” (I wasn’t around before 1997 anyway) but something was lost when the world moved on from the westerns, and their incredible popularity shows that there really was something intrinsically appealing about those films. The only thing that went wrong was that cinemas were flooded with too many of them, so if someone were to revive the genre with a good film I’d be there to throw money at them. Maybe I’m sentimental… scratch that, I’m sentimental, but that doesn’t necessarily make me wrong. Westerns deserve a place in modern cinema, and if I have to be the guy who gets them there, then so be it.
Thanks for reading guys, are you a fan of westerns? If so, let us know your favourite in the comments and until next time, enjoy your life!