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Saturday
May022009

Battle for Terra

Usually when you sit down to watch an animated film and the company credits include animation studios that you've never heard of, that's usually a bad sign. With companies like Snoot Toons and MeniThings (the former of which I can't even find a website for) at the helm of Battle for Terra, I was afraid a catastrophe could be brewing. Unless you're film is plastered with logos for Pixar or DreamWorks, chances are that your animated movie isn't worth jack squat. For the first 45 minutes of this hour and a half movie, that philosophy holds true, but the back half of the picture picks up steam and makes Battle for Terra one of the biggest surprises of the year thus far.

The people of the planet Terra live a peaceful life. There are no wars, no predators, no evil of any kind. Their planet is a utopia of tranquility where everyone is happy. One day, a spaceship covers the sky and they begin to worship it, believing it to be a god. But soon, this "god" starts to kidnap the Terran people, including the father of Mala (Evan Rachel Wood). Mala eventually captures one of the invaders, Jim (Luke Wilson) who turns out to be a human from Earth. The people of Earth used up all of their resources and were forced to move onto other planets in their solar system only to breed war and subsequently, destroy them. Now they have traveled to a different solar system and found Terra. They hope to spread oxygen over the planet, killing all of the Terran inhabitants and capturing it, thus making it their own. But thanks to a newly enlightened Jim and a determined Mala, things won't go so easy for the Earth people.

I apologize for the lengthy plot synopsis. Keeping it short and sweet has always been my philosophy. Besides, this is a movie review, not a novel. But the strength of Battle for Terra lies in its intelligent allegory of modern times and the story is a big part of that.

In the film, the Earth people are attacking another people who have done nothing to them. Considering that every person on the Earth ship is a Caucasian American, it's not difficult to spot similarities to certain real life encounters involving the US and Iraq. At one point in the movie, General Hemmer (Brian Cox) describes how the oxygen machines would cover the planet with air in 7 days, adding, "Very biblical, don't you think?" He uses religion to justify the unwarranted attack against this planet, which makes a comparison to President Bush claiming to be on a mission from God when invading Iraq. What started as a meandering, dull, and downright bad movie actually turned into a thought provoking film on war and peace.

The only big problem with this is that the film ends on a happy note and it doesn't quite work, although the message is still admirable. It shows that peace between two different peoples is possible, but the problem in the real world is that we don't acknowledge that. We always find a way to get around peace and bring war. It would have been better to somehow deliver this message while simultaneously showing the reality of it.

And that's about as far as my compliments go because the reality of it is that the movie is mostly garbage.

For starters, the animation was terrible. As my buddy pointed out, video games can render better character animations in real time than this movie did. I understand that not every movie can be from DreamWorks or Pixar, but the fact of the matter is that they've set the bar for computer animated visuals and this failed to even scratch the surface of what those aforementioned companies have achieved.

For an animated science fiction movie dealing with an epic battle for control of an alien planet, Battle for Terra is strangely bland and unimaginative. When you can't even tell the sex of the characters until they've spoken, you know there's a problem. The characters (which, coincidentally, look like sperm) all look very similar. It's nearly impossible to distinguish one from the other, which denies them a sense of individuality and a chance to grow.

The voice acting was also way off by certain people, most notably Luke Wilson, whose voice was obtrusive and didn't fit his character. Nearly every line was dryly delivered, reducing the dialogue to the equivalent of a monotonous elementary school teacher reading you a book that is supposed to be exciting.

Still, the battle at the climax of the film while the oxygen machines are beginning to cover the planet actually provides some rather striking imagery, showing the Terrans floating away, trying to flee from their impending doom, but failing and falling from the sky, dead from the unbreathable air.

Some people may not see the political allegory that I did in this picture, and without it, Battle for Terra is worthless; a dreadful, unwatchable waste of time. The negative traits of the movie are the most prominent, but the thoughtful insight to real life circumstances overpower those traits, even if only slightly so. This is no award winner, but it deserves accolades for its brave message, even if it's a little preachy in the end.

Battle for Terra receives 2.5/5

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