Lionsgate jumps into the animated film market with Battle for Terra, a cartoon about a peaceful race of aliens who find themselves under siege from a much more technologically advanced species called humans. All I can say is: didn't you learn anything from Fox's Titan A.E.?
Released in May, generally a month reserved for major blockbusters, Battle for Terra felt like a crapshoot for Lionsgate. Few people had heard of it by the time it was released, suggesting that the studio was simply hoping to make some money - any money - from it with minimal investment on their part. As expected, the movie is a second-rate animated film, offering little excitement, enthusiasm or originality.
Battle for Terra focuses on a race of floating aliens that live above a snowy planet called Terra in a state of virtual peace. Scientific advancement is limited and the species is a God-fearing one, though there are rebels, like the main character, Mala (voiced by Evan Rachel Wood). When the last remnants of humanity arrive - Earth, Mars and Venus were wiped away in a brutal civil war generations earlier - led by a general (Brian Cox) determined to make Terra their home at the price of genocide, Mala reluctantly teams up with a human fighter pilot named Stanton (Chris Evans) who shows some much deserved compassion given the fact that she saved his life.
The concept is an interesting one, and in fact sounds a lot like the upcoming James Cameron film Avatar. The problem is that Battle for Terra is a PG-rated, 3D-animated cartoon, and military "drama" generally doesn't play in that format all too well. Based on a short film, it's a little befuddling to think that someone thought it'd be a good idea to expand this story into a full-length feature while at the same time keeping it "kid friendly." The result just doesn't work. It takes itself way too seriously; there's hardly a joke in the entire picture, and the ones that are delivered fall entirely flat. The characters are incredibly bland and uninteresting, and the plot is restrained from doing anything truly interesting, such as diving into the politics of both species.
At one point, it is revealed that the alien species isn't as technologically disadvantaged as first thought, which is an interesting premise: were the elders hiding technology from their people as a way to encourage peace, or did most of them know about it? The movie never stops to ponder this question or even tell us, probably for the sake of pacing, but I found this nugget to be the most engaging piece of the film - and the most underdeveloped.
More troublesome is the fact that the entire story just doesn't lend itself to a good movie. You know that the humans aren't just going to lose or get wiped out, but you also know the protagonists aren't going to lose, either. It's hard to have a war action movie where neither side is the villain - actually, it's damned near impossible. Battle for Terra does not buck the odds.
The graphics too are underwhelming. For a budget of under $20 million, according to Wikipedia, they are perfectly good and a far leap ahead of other low-budget CGI films, but the environment the movie takes place in feels flat - which is sort of sad, considering the movie was the first 3D release of the summer. In reality, the problems lies not in the graphical detail, which is fine, but in the direction and camerawork; the picture lacks fluidity and excitement, even when it tries its hardest to be Star Wars-esque. There are a few cool shots here and there, but not nearly enough to make up for everything else.
Battle of Terra is a lackluster, uninteresting CGI film that just fails to deliver. It's a kid's film, and yet it's a serious war drama, and it's a serious war drama, yet also a cartoon. Confused? So am I.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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