PG – 76mins – 2007/2010
Story by: Aristomenis Tsirbas
Screenplay by: Evan Spiliotopoulos
Directed by: Aristomenis Tsirbas
Starring the voice talents of: Evan Rachel Wood, Luke Wilson, David Cross, Brian Cox, Chris Evans, Danny Glover, Amanda Peet, Justin Long, Dennis Quaid
Taking nothing away from the mind-blowing aesthetic splendour of James Cameron’s envi-fi epic, it’s not exactly blasphemous to acknowledge that Avatar’s allegorical plot was hardly original. Dances with Na’vi’s and Ferngully in Space are two predictable but appropriate analogies, but perhaps the closest comparison is to this animated extravaganza of Russian origin from director Aristomenis Tsirbas, which actually first premiered some three years before the long-awaited trip to Pandora launched into cinemas.
Unfairly – but unsurprisingly – eclipsed at the box office by its long-awaited and over-hyped cinematic blood brother, Battle for Terra manages to condense its invaders-versus-natives into a much bum-friendlier runtime. Humanity is once again the bad guy – wishing to occupy a lush alien world after the destruction of Earth in a civil war between terraformed colonies – with a sole dissenting voice (human pilot Jim Stanton, voiced by Luke Wilson) siding with the passive under siege Terrian’s.
Released theatrically in 3D – but only available on a vanilla DVD with less-than-stellar 2.0 soundtrack; a clear sign of an underperforming rush-release – the extraterrestrial landscapes are gorgeously and vividly presented, it’s just a shame that the animation is let down by caricatured human’s and an alien race which look like bug-eyed floating sperms (well someone had to say it).
However, the same cannot be said for the beyond impressive roster of A-list stars lending their voices to the project: Evan Rachel Wood, Luke Wilson, David Cross, Brian Cox, Chris Evans, Danny Glover, Amanda Peet, Justin Long and Dennis Quaid all must have seen something in the script which appealed to their artistic integrity, because I can’t imagine their paycheques were that influentially spectacular.
Being a huge fan of sci-fi ‘toon Titan A.E. (it’s a guilty pleasure, okay?), I was interested to see this recent addition to the rather specific sub-genre, but aside from the futuristic locale, the two films have very little in common. The decade-old Joss Whedon-scripted adventure (also a staggeringly poor performer in cinemas; it actually bankrupted the studio who made it) is an action-packed thrill ride; bright and fun and as easy on the brain as it is on the eyes.
What marks Battle for Terra out as different from the pack of CGI features is also perhaps the reason for its own financial failure: exaggerated character design aside, it isn’t a fun-filled laugh fest, but a very sombre and thoughtful anti-war dissertation on unity and compassion for life regardless of race, colour or creed. Even Arrested Development’s David Cross – as robotic duct between the warring factions, Giddy – isn’t the bumbling R2-D2-alike comic relief you may expect but a more logical diminutive companion.
That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of spaceship chases, explosions and action sequences in Terra, only that they clearly weren’t the driving force behind the enlightening story. Children and adults alike will find many diverse reasons to like this vibrant eco-friendly metaphor, but you may find that when the credits roll you’re more content with its charm than exhilarated by its booms and bangs, while the more sensitive little ‘uns may be quite emotional at the rather adult anti-Disney conclusion to Jim’s personal journey.
In a CR@B Shell: It must be tricky to market an animated science fiction opera which is as passionate about its poignant message as it is its dazzling skirmishes amongst the stars, but this Battle is far from Terra-ble and you’re bound to be won over by the native’s plight, so long as you aren’t all Avatar-ed out already.