A Review by Jason L. King
Starring: voices of Evan Rachel Wood, Brian Cox, James Garner, Chris Evans, Danny Glover, Amanda Peet, David Cross, Justin Long, Dennis Quaid, Luke Wilson
Directed by: Aristomenis Tsirbas
Rated: PG for sci-fi action violence and some thematic elements
Movie Released: 2009
With 2009 closing out its year with one of the most profitable films in history, Avatar, its going to be a very tough sell for me to try and convince anyone that Battle For Terra is a film worth watching. Terra arrived on rental shelves in 2009 before Avatar began raking in the dough, yet few even knew the film existed. The few people who read the plot description will chalk it up to animated Avatar, and frankly it is very much so. However, as I stressed in my Avatar review, a superior original story was something that Avatar lacked, so why wouldn’t you expect the story to have been re-hashed again and again?
Battle For Terra fell victim to the horrible fate of a terrible, almost non-existent marketing campaign, and an even worse release date. Billed as Lionsgate’s first 3-D film, the makers of Terra found themselves nestled into a release date that still had many 3-D screens locked up by Monsters Vs. Aliens, and smack in the middle between X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Star Trek. Needless to say this film had little chance of winning the fight for the digital cinema screens and didn’t have the weight to go against the big summer blockbusters on the horizon. Mix that in with a terrible marketing campaign and you’ve got a movie that is destined to fail in the box office.
Now released on DVD, Battle For Terra is given a second chance, but again how does a film that no one knows about get any credibility? This animated family adventure is about the discovery of a planet called Terra by a fleet of human ships. Knowing that their oxygen supply is running out, they find that Terra could hold the key to their survival. However, the planet is inhabited by Terrians, a peaceful, earth loving clan of alien beings. While making first contact with the alien beings, a human pilot crash lands and is saved by a rebellious alien. After forming an unlikely friendship the two of them must work together to convince their leaders that war between their species is not the answer for the planet.
From start to finish, this film feels like an animated Avatar, even though the film came out first. The plot line of course is that same old plot line we have seen again and again- be it Avatar, Dances with Wolves, Last Samurai…the list goes on. This tried and true tested plot line is one that for Hollywood never grows stale. It simply gets rinsed off and re-used, each time in a slightly different environment. I wish I could say Terra tried something off beat from the formula, but alas it stayed in lock step with almost every previous flick of its kind.
What I did enjoy was the great amount of vocal talents spread throughout the film. If you take a look at the cast list, the voice talent is quite impressive for a smaller, lesser known animated film. Each of the voices work very well in the movie and seem to fit their characters quite well. I really found enjoyment in David Cross, who plays the human robot helper that has his logic tested by the Terrians. Of course few will get the reference, but for a few moments I had flash backs to Dark Star (1974), and the scene with Bomb #21, the philosophical talking bomb. The only voice that stood out as a bit unlike his character was Luke Wilson, who plays a macho, yet alien sympathetic pilot. Perhaps my main issue with Luke Wilson lending his voice, was this feeling that he was subliminally trying to sell me an AT&T cell phone. Which of course makes me wonder, what does the AT&T map look like on Terra? Is the 3G service good there?
Visually I didn’t see much that stood out in the 2-D version as something that really warranted 3-D treatment. While I am sure that the 3-D didn’t hurt the experience, I can’t imagine it immensely helped at all either. I was a bit saddened by the visuals as the film progressed. After these wonderful opening credits of colorful, intergalactic space the animation seems to dip in quality and plays out like Dreamworks animated feature. While I still found much of the animation decent, I just felt as though it could have and should have been better. I’ve seen animation with the quality of things like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001) and felt that if they had stepped up their game a bit and tried realistic CG at that level, Lionsgate may have had a bigger chance at a home run hit.
While it seems that I am doing little more than pointing out the flaws in Terra, I think it should be noted that for the 84 minute run time I did find enjoyment in watching it. As far as a family film night with the young ins, I could see Battle For Terra being a success for a family with young boys. Being a pre-pubescent teenage boy at one time in my life, I feel as though I could say that even the young teens may find enjoyment in Battle For Terra, but they would never admit that they watched and enjoyed a “cartoon” flick with their family no less! I do think the film is a family film that might be worth checking out. As long as you go in expecting a familiar plot line and don’t psych your self up to be blown away by the CG, I think you will find Battle For Terra to be your average family popcorn flick. What I really enjoyed about it, was the film found a way to do what Avatar did, and condense it into an 84 minute kid friendly film. While for the older audience, I highly suggest putting Avatar on your list over Battle For Terra, I still think you could do far worse when planning your movie night. After all one could pick up a copy of say…Cat in the Hat instead of Battle For Terra. And believe me, after watching 5 minutes of Cat in the Hat, you’ll be begging for Battle for Terra.