Most books and movies that have aliens visit earth and cause trouble are staged in modern times. In this movie, the aliens visit the American West in the 1975 timeframe. This throws us off a bit, of course, since the imagery of Apaches, cowboys and stage-coach robbers just clashes with alien spaceships. By the way, one excellent example of aliens landing on earth, crash landing that is, is depicted in the science fiction novel Eifelheim by Flynn.
A better title for this book would have been “Raiders of the Lost Aliens,” complete with Harrison Ford as the hero.
The aliens in this movie look like twelve-foot high crosses between the “alien” in the Sigourney Weaver movies, large terrestrial apes with small heads and the apparent intelligence of the spider-like aliens in Starship Troopers. They look stupid and act like brutes. Why would aliens that have conquered interstellar travel in massive spaceships and fly fighter aircraft around the country defend themselves against human attackers on horseback by running into the horses and riders and tackling the horses with their arms? The aliens just don’t come across as credible extraterrestrials. Why are the aliens always much bigger than humans (so they can throw around horses with their bare hands)? Why do they always have mouths with fangs like some carnivore velociraptor? Why do aliens always roar at their human opponents like a Tyrannosaurus would, particularly if they think of humans as insects that aren’t worth consideration or respect? When I kill a spider or a mosquito, I don’t yell at it or show my teeth. And finally, why are the aliens always disgustingly slimy? I assume because we humans find stiff, molasses-like slime in large quantities disgusting.
The aliens are on earth to mine gold and they do it in the wild west. They are also capturing humans to study them, the story goes, but it’s not clear what they are studying. This, I assume, is done to remain consistent with the lore of abductions of humans by aliens. The abductions are something we see a lot of in this movie. The alien fighter planes throw down lassoes of steel that wrap themselves around the human bodies and pull them up. Of course, if this were to happen at the speed of a fighter plane, the human would be torn to shreds by the acceleration.
I could go on and on. There is nothing wrong with applying concepts in a science fiction movie that can’t happen in the real world, of course. But when it’s done, it must be credible, and it can’t keep throwing the viewer out of the experience and making him go “Oh, Yeah?”
Cowboys and Aliens is an entertaining movie, a fun summer movie to kill a couple of hours with, but I would not call it a “good movie.”