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Cowboys & Aliens is a good-looking movie that relies heavily on Hollywood western cliches—without making fun of them or beating them to death. Aliens aside. Needless to say, the movie leads up to a climactic confrontation between the cowboys (and Indians and outlaws and a little boy and an alien babe) and the aliens. It’s one of the most poorly-conceived battle scenes in cinematic history . . .

Even before my eight-year-old walked into the building, she pronounced “The aliens should win ’cause they have better technology.” This without her having seen a single episode of the idiotic yet ridiculous watchable Spike TV series Deadliest Warrior.

Ah, but Daniel Craig’s character Jake Lonergan has an alien arm bracelet gun that puts the cowboys and Indians and outlaws and a little boy and an otherworldly love interest at level pegging. Well, it would do if, say, the good guys got them a bunch of them thar arm bracelet laser gun thingies. Which they didn’t.

So here we have cowboys and Indians (etc.) facing off against bigger, faster, better equipped more numerous aliens with total air superiority entrenched inside a metal fortress (i.e. spaceship). Good luck with that.

The good guys are armed with a variety of period firearms, including a converted Colt 1860 Army, a Winchester 1866 “Yellow Boy,” a Spencer 1860 Carbine [above] and a Colt 1870 12-gauge. Their Indian allies also sport long guns—and spears, bow and arrows and a war club. Oh, and let’s not forget the guy with an alien arm cannon. Who promptly pisses off on a rescue mission.

I’m not a battle-hardened “legendary” military strategist like Harrison Ford’s character Woodrow Dolarhyde. But I’m no dope either. Here’s a good rule of thumb: when you’re facing a superior force, don’t. How about we go and get us some more of those bracelet thingies before we take on them sumbitches?

Drama has its own demands. So instead of amassing their forces behind cover, drawing out the enemy and concentrating their fire, the good guys do the skirmishing thing. On a limited visibility battlefield. And get slaughtered, Starship Troopers style. Until . . . you can guess or maybe even remember the rest.

Just before Cowboys & Aliens’ final battle, Olivia Wilde’s character Ella Swenson tells the cowboys, etc. that they have a major tactical advantage: their alien adversaries underestimate humans. “You’re like insects to them.” Takes one to know one. Just sayin’.

Here’s the important oh what the hell the only lesson to learn from that sage advice: never underestimate an enemy by thinking they underestimate you. Only in Hollywood does that turn out well.

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  1. “Even before my eight-year-old walked into the building, she pronounced “The aliens should win ’cause they have better technology.”

    Do not go there. You’re just going to get me started on the whole “the Imperial Stormtroopers would have been stacking dead Ewoks like cordwood” rant and we won’t get anything else done today at all.

    • Yeah, except that either the storm troopers’ weapons had a spread measured in feet at short range, or they were as well trained at marksmanship as Sarah Brady. Those guys couldn’t hit the broad side of the barn… from inside.

      • Trying to shoot an Ewok is like trying to pitch to Eddie Gaedel (obscure baseball reference right there).

      • Short answer: if the Ewoks were able to defeat the Empire’s “finest troops” (Palpatine’s description of them) then how in the hell did they ever grow a galaxy spanning empire in the first place?

        Long answer: considering the technological difference between us and the Empire I think it’s fair to say that an AT-AT or AT-ST would have to be at least as durable as an M1 Abrams. Hit an M1 with a log and see what happens. There is no credible mechanism by which the stone age weapons of the Ewoks should have been able to damage those vehicles. The Empire wouldn’t even have to have fired their weapons, they could just step on them all and squish them. Or, if they were feeling lazy, just close the hatch on that bunker and call in a couple of TIE Bombers to clean out the area. How’d they build an empire without knowing how to use close air support?

        And that’s just the military angle, I haven’t even started on the politics of it yet. Did you notice that before the Rebels showed up the Empire had taken no notice at all of the Ewoks? The Imperial forces completely left them alone to live in their trees and do whatever the hell it is they do. Then these left-wing militants show up, impersonate deities and pour propoganda in the Ewok’s ears to get them to join in a war that had nothing to do with them. They completely took advantage of a primitive culture and used them as cannon fodder against a technologically superior force that, 24 hours prior, they’d had no quarrel with. Any Ewok blood spilled as a result is entirely on the rebels’ hands.

        Ok, just possibly I’ve given this matter a little more thought than it deserves. That doesn’t make me wrong! 🙂

          • Avatar? I have two words for you:

            Orbital. Bombardment.

            It turns unobtanium into didobtanium.

            • Also why were all of the giant battle walkers manned? I feel like once we reach a certain point we won’t need a person inside of a mech to subjugate the indigenous people of a planet to get their sweet resources. We already have UAVs are you saying they mastered FTL travel and advanced cloning technology but they can’t figure out how to radio control something?

              • Good point… why not merge someone’s consciousness into a sturdy cyborg body instead of a human – n’avi hybrid?

  2. It’s Hollywood what do you expect? My wife and I saw the movie yesterday and we both enjoyed and would recommended it. The weakest part was the final battle. I expected Ford’s character to step up with a real attack plan. Instead when the Indian (Native American for PC crowd) Chief told him we fight from the high ground(military 101), Ford’s character thought that was a crazy ideal. Even Jake’s outlaw friend wanted to get the military envolved. In the end Ford’s character found enlightment, the town was saved, gold was found, and Jake road off in the distance. Plus how cool was Olivia Wilde as an alien.

  3. This movie is utterly ridiculous. But it doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is: Cowboys & Aliens. If we are dumb enough to get suckered into going to a movie called Cowboys & Aliens then we should be willing to mindlessly accept whatever melodramatic silliness they serve up in the tongue-in-cheek fashion it was intended. And whatever you say about this movie, it is a damn sight better than Harrison Ford’s disastrous last attempt at a big-budget action flick, Indian Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

    I really enjoyed Cowboys & Aliens. But then again, in some sick way I also liked The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984).

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  5. It is a movie involving ALIENS, and the tactics are the unbelievable part? It is Sci-Fi movie, they are very rarely believable, but they are very entertaining none the less.

    • You’re missing the point, I think, that the only thing more fun than watching sci-fi is nitpicking sci-fi.

  6. I think the reason the united Cowboy/Indian force didn’t try to use captured “bracelets” is that the woman and Daniel Craig for some reason didn’t bother to tell the humans how to remove them and utilize them.
    Also surprised that the alien bracelets didn’t have an interlock that prevented fractricidal usage. And the lighting up and beeping thing when other alien craft and beings were around didn’t make sense either. Why bother with that sort of alert?
    Alien need for gold didn’t make much sense, and the woman didn’t explain it either. Granted, if she said anything about electricity or conductivity or just about any other explanation, there’d be no 19th century technological context for the humans to grasp, but she could have offered *some* sort of dumbed down reasoning.
    Lack of alien close air support was due to the hangar explosion.
    I thought a cool alternative ending would have been for the woman to commandeer the spaceship and steal the bad aliens’ gold for her own homeworld.
    The film reminded me of a short story from the fiction section of the now-defunct Omni magazine, in which aliens utilize a tower-like structure to attack a Western town whose inhabitants fight back with small arms and canon fire that successfully defeats them…

  7. When it comes to aliens, you have to take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.

  8. Don’t forget one of the biggest sci-fi cliches of all time:

    Sneak one person all the way to the fabled “core” of the ship that somehow detonates catastrophically when a weapon is set to “overload” inside of it.

    You would think that a technologically advanced race of beings would come up with something as basic as an emergency shutdown procedure for their vital “core”. Or maybe just cut off all the access points into it.

  9. Three words required for watching this movie: suspension of disbelief.

    That said, I wanna see the movie! It looks like a hoot!

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