Battle for Terra
Wow, Michael Jackson’s looking weirder and weirder every day.

Theatrical Release Date: 05/01/2009
Director: Aristomenis Tsirbas
Featuring the Voices of: Evan Rachel Wood, Luke Wilson, Justin Long, Brian Cox, James Garner, Danny Glover, Mark Hamill, Amanda Peet, Ron Perlman, Dennis Quaid, Danny Trejo, Chris Evans

Presenting a film in 3D is all the rage these days. Disney/Pixar and pretty much every other major studio have decided that anything involving animation should only be brought to audiences with that extra polish/price tag. Even live-action films are headed that direction, most notably in the long-overdue and anticipated James Cameron film, “Avatar”, due in theaters at the end of the year (supposedly).

I will readily admit that given the choice of 3D over 2D, I’ll rather check something out in the third dimension … however, that’s only if the filmmakers employ the technology judiciously and well.

With “Battle for Terra”, director Aristomenis Tsirbas attempted to craft a film with a message and sci-fi roots crafter for adults that also could satisfy the kinetic desires of kids via the promise of 3D wonders. This is clearly a case where he needed to choose his demographic and stick with it.

The film’s premise is that war-mongering, cold-hearted, planet-polluting humans have destroyed not only the Earth but Mars and Venus as well. Forced to wander space like some cheap “Battlestar Galactica”/”Bablyon 5″ rip-off, our future-fathers discover a planet suitable for colonization and designate it “Terra”. Of course, there are already sentient beings on the planet and instead of trying to broker some peaceful deal, the leader of the human military forces decides to take the planet by force.

In the middle of all of this, one human soldier (Luke Wilson? Why?) finds himself nursed back to life by one of the “Terrians” (Evan Rachel Wood). What begins as an agreement to help each other out turns into a heartfelt friendship that, of course, holds to key to securing both species’ survival.

I’d like to start by saying that should you have any interest in seeing the film, don’t feel the need to plop down an extra $86 to see it in 3D. I can’t recall one 3D shot that matched up to anything presented in “Coraline” (the current benchmark) or even “Monsters vs. Aliens“.

I even flipped my glasses on and off from time to time to see if it was even worth the extra ounce of weight on my head. Doing so revealed that many scenes only had an element or two that were in 3D, leaving most of the background and secondary elements in the traditional second dimension. By doing so, the urge to reach out and grab objects every eight year-old and myself feel while watching 3D films was negated.

Also not in the film’s favor is the character design. All of the aliens have the expressiveness of a botox addict and there didn’t seem to be more than three or four different templates for humans either. (If that was a stab at the inbreeding that could result from a lengthy voyage through space, it was very, very lightly implied.) The environments are handled well enough by the animators, especially that of Terra’s sub-cloud layer level. However, one good element doesn’t erase any of the bad ones.

Technology and art direction aside, there is a decent story that Tsirbas is trying to tell. While the cynic in me kept cycling images of Al Gore in my head, the relationship and societal dynamics on display are up to quality science fiction standards. However, in keeping the running time down to a minuscule 85 minutes in order to save money and keep the younger set happy, the ability to develop the interesting premises is lost.

Even when judging this as a kids film, with adult sensibilities for parents dragged into the theaters, the entertainment factor is on the low side. There’s little humor to be found and the animation team seemed to rely on the 3D aspect to make the action scenes pop – but as I already mentioned, the 3D didn’t work well here and so the action never reached any great heights.

Now, I never really found myself metaphorically checking the clock on this one but that probably due more to its particularly short running time than the film’s presented merits. I think the film’s best audience lies with tweens and young adults with a sci-fi bent looking to explore the genre. The younger set won’t find too much to latch onto and anyone much past that stage of their lives has seen much better science fiction by now.

I really wanted to give “Battle for Terra” another point because I appreciate what Tsirbas was trying to say within the framework of the film but unfortunately the lackluster and schizophrenic result can only garner a 2 out of 5. Despite all of its goofiness and over-the-top antics, I’d tell people looking for animated sci-fi of this nature to hit the video shelves and watch/re-watch “Titan A.E.” – yeah, it’s super cheesy at times but the animation style was fresher (especially considering it’s 2000 release) and it was far more entertaining; I will also take voice-over work by Matt Damon over Luke Wilson any day of the week and fourteen times on Sunday.