VOICES OF: Evan Rachel Wood, Brian Cox, Luke Wilson, David Cross, Justin Long, Amanda Peet, Dennis Quaid, Chris Evans, James Garner, Rosanna Arquette, Chad Allen, Danny Glover

2009, 100 Minutes, Directed by:
Aristomenis Tsirbas

Give 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.

Its 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.

- Rob Vaux



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