Battle for Terra all the credit in the world for good intentions. It
boasts a heartfelt anti-war message couched in comparatively gentle terms and
augmented by an admittedly unique gimmick: human beings are the bad guys this
time. Another film might have turned that equation into something special.
Unfortunately, Battle for Terra is not another film, and beyond its
central thesis, it brings nothing worthwhile to the table.
CGI imagery betrays a sense of undeveloped potential, notably in the aliens who
occupy the titular planet. They float gracefully in the aether of their world,
dwelling midway up giant stalks of vegetative matter and soaring through the
skies in grand floating barges. Pretty neat… until the remainder of the culture
turns out to be a pacifistic bore. They live naïve and happy lives, protected by
their elders from a violent past they've learned to forget. Then we show up to
ruin it all. Humanity has botched its own habitat through pollution and wars,
surviving only by building a giant ark to transport the survivors to a new
world. Now they've arrived, and their spacecraft is falling apart: the perfect
excuse to wipe the peace-loving Terrans from the face of their home.
All well and good, but
director Aritsomenis Tsirbas can't settle on a consistent means of getting his
message across. As it turns out, the humans aren't really bad. It fact, it's
just one militaristic general (voiced by Brian Cox) causing all the trouble.
Most of them want peaceful coexistence - except when they're referring to the
Terrans as "monsters," which stalwart pilot Jim (voiced by Luke Wilson) does
when he crash lands on their planet. Nevertheless, he's nursed back to health by
Mala (voiced by Evan Rachel Wood) - the same Terran who brought his ship down -
and together the two of them struggle to pound a "can't we all just get along"
message into stubborn elders and audience members alike.
"Noble failures are still failures . . ."
The spotty way with which
the film presents their dilemma is compounded by a lengthy combat-laden finale
that seems to glorify the very violence the rest of Battle for Terra
decries. It also cleaves uncomfortably close to George Lucas territory, an
impression shared by much of the rest of the film. The Terrans, with their giant
eyes, fin-like bodies and eco-friendly culture, could easily make pit-stop
buddies for Luke and the gang, while a cute little robot (voiced by David Cross)
feels uncomfortably like the secret love-child of R2 and 3PO. Beyond that,
Battle for Terra, undoes its message by ultimately focusing on one or two
culprits as the primary obstacle. It wants us to know that we're all capable of
noble behavior, and that's great. But it also infers that getting rid of the bad
apples will solve the problem for good. Such simplicity can't support the wodgy
approach taken by Tsirbas and his collaborators , further muddling the implicit
message which they hope to convey.
The animation itself is
passable, but nothing more. The streamlined figures echo shades of Lucas's
Clone Wars TV series, but while they
maintain a certain elegance, the visual palate loses its luster after the first
twenty minutes or so. A brisker pacing might have held that off, provided it had
a more substantive storyline or better development to back it up. As it stands,
the animation can't hope to compete with better-funded alternatives, and without
a more unified theme, there's no reason to cut it any additional slack.
Battle for Terra
attracted an A-list cast - many in comparatively minor roles - which suggests
that they saw something here worth participating in. Certainly, you don't see
such moral turnabout in sci-fi epics often and the film's heart is most
definitely in the right place. For families with very young children, that may
be enough to warrant a look. For the rest of us, however, Battle for Terra
holds too much that we've seen too often before, and it can't bring its unique
elements online with sufficient skill to off-set its flaws. Noble failures are
still failures, not matter how hard they may try.