Film Review - 'Battle for Terra'

Friday, May 1, 2009

The creators of the 3-D animated movie "Battle for Terra" would be glad, no doubt, to hear that their film is thought-provoking. Indeed, they might thrilled to learn that the very act of watching "Battle for Terra" made me ponder a great, unanswerable question.

Unfortunately, I spent much of this antiwar sci-fi fable mulling not the deathless enigmas with which "Battle for Terra" uneasily grapples (What is the future of humankind? Why must men wage war?) but a mystery much more puzzling: Why are the heroes of this movie a bunch of talking spermatozoa?

For serious! The Terrians, a peace-loving bunch whose planet is invaded by humans, have big round heads atop skinny white tadpole bodies. They swim through the air, their long tails wriggling behind them. Really, it's very distracting.

Look past the movie's procreative protagonists and you'll find a thoughtful but muddled tale of clashing cultures, studded with battle scenes so explosion-filled that parents should think twice about bringing small children. When a spacecraft full of humans, forced to flee Earth after it's destroyed by war, attacks peaceful Terra, Mala (voice of Evan Rachel Wood) captures a human pilot, Jim Stanton (Luke Wilson), and his robot (David Cross). Together they uncover the secret history of Terrian civilization and attempt to stop the genocidal plans of General Hemmer (an over-the-top Brian Cox).

It's a real shame that the character design is so terrible -- besides the Terrians, the human characters are interchangeable waxworks -- because the rest of "Battle for Terra" is quite beautiful to look at. From cloud-covered Terra, inhabited by lovely flying whales, to the rattletrap clockwork of the humans' disintegrating spaceship, "Battle for Terra" is a primer on the effective use of 3-D in an animated film.

It doesn't do much for the film's pacifist message that, as spacecraft zip across the screen and fire lasers into your popcorn, you may find yourself wishing that Tsirbas had replaced the movie's poorly written dialogue and implausible plot with more battle scenes. War! What is it good for? Awesome animation!

-- Dan Kois

Battle for Terra PG, 83 minutes Contains sequences of sci-fi action violence and thematic elements. Area theaters.

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