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BATTLE FOR TERRA 3-D (2009) ***1/2 movie review by COOP

Posted on May 5th, 2009
Posted on May 5th, 2009

Formerly titled “Terra,” this 3-D animated film hasn’t gotten a lot of press or as big of a release as I would have expected. It’s independent and lower-budgeted than those movies produced by Pixar and Dreamworks, but don’t let that fool you. “Battle for Terra” packs an emotional punch with a solid, sci-fi morality tale usually reserved for a more mature vehicle. Alas, the cheapness shows and the film suffers a bit, but that should in no way discourage any interested parties from seeing and enjoying this epic fantasy.

The peaceful aliens known as “Terrians” live in harmony on their quiet planet. The curious Mala (Evan Rachel Wood) has an inquisitive and inventive mind that clashes with the strict cultural and religious beliefs of her people. When a sparkling object appears in their sky, many Terrians worship it as a new god. Mala learns sooner than the others that the lights are not gods, but a human invasion force. Humans have ruined the Earth and they wander desperately through the stars looking for a place to settle before their mothership disintegrates from old age. After the humans abduct her father for study, Mala finds a good-hearted human warrior named Jim (Luke Wilson) who has crash-landed on Terra. The two form an unlikely bond as both try to influence their respective sides in order to prevent the extinction of their species.

The story of “Terra” feels familiar – like something I’ve seen either in an “Outer Limits” or “Star Trek” franchise episode – but here the filmmakers have animated the visuals to make it palatable for younger viewers. Even though it shares the same MPAA rating as 5 out of the 6 “Star Wars” movies (PG), it somehow seems more alarming since genocide is a prevalent plot point in the story. For a movie aimed at kids, it’s a bold move making humans the genocidal villains, even though it appears they have no other choice. There’s an element of tragedy in “Terra” which separates it from light romps like “Monsters Vs. Aliens” or “Kung Fu Panda.” It never gets as heavy as say, “Silent Running” but older kids will probably grasp the seriousness of the conflict, especially during the climax.

With an all-star vocal cast, I couldn’t help but yawn at the uninspired voiceover acting. Performed by established actors (Dennis Quaid, Justin Long, Rosanna Arquette, Luke Wilson, etc…), the producers should’ve been more mindful about whether the voices fit rather than the pedigree of the talent. As a result, most lines sounded like the actors read them during an informal run-through in a Beverly Hills coffee shop. Where’s Mel Blanc when you need him?

I wasn’t impressed by the animated character design of the aliens or humans in “Terra.” The Terrians resembled floating E.T. tadpoles and the humans looked like disproportionate action figures with scant facial details. When we meet Jim’s brother, Stewart, I often confused him for Jim during some key scenes which distracted me from the story. The Terrians were also largely interchangeable and difficult to differentiate. Despite the character design, the rest of the visuals were spectacular. The Terrian city, the flying machines, the human mothership… all stunning, especially in 3-D.

Whomever choreographed the battles and aerial dogfights did their homework. They reached a level on par with the “Star Wars” films and provide enough cinematic eye candy to engage viewers primarily interested in action. On that note, I can recommend “Battle for Terra” to all the sci-fi completists and fans of “Star Wars.” The youngest of viewers won’t get the serious moral center of the story, but the visuals and exciting scenes will keep them firmly entertained. It’s an animated sci-fi film with a well-developed conscience which is more than I can say for nearly every other animated film out there (with the exception of “Iron Giant”). Whatever its flaws, I wouldn’t mind giving “Terra” a second look.

Rating: 3 and ½ out of 5 stars

Trailer below…

-Coop

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