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'Titan': From Big Bang to Big Bust

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 16, 2000


    'Titan A.E.' Cale fights the Drej (and poor storytelling) in "Titan A.E." (20th Century Fox)
"Titan A.E." blows up stuff real good, including our own planet.

When Mother E. gets it in the early going, she absorbs a blue bolt of energy from an alien spacecraft. The old gal seems to swell grotesquely, pregnant with death, while a few fortunate Homo sapiens bug out in ships that look like toothpaste tubes.

The big kaboom is pretty cool: It's a percussive orange thing, a fever dream of napalm and the Fourth of July at once, that seems to actually weigh something; it roils outward in a flaming, tumbling wave, fragmentizing all that comes before it as the home planet is ruptured into large random chunks.

And that's the problem with "Titan A.E.": The explosions have more personality than the human beings.

This movie is pretty good as long as it keeps its mouth shut. Once the yapping starts, the movie dies meekly as you focus on the second hand of your watch sweeping your life away.

Set a millennium down the road, it's essentially a reimagining of the original "Star Wars," engineered into a sophisticated cartoon by long-ago Disney animators Don Bluth and Gary Goldman. The movie chronicles the adventures of a callow young Luke Skywalker-type as he finds his lost destiny (turns out he's the son of a great hero) and, with a ragtag band of space scavengers and attitude-rich chicks, tries to find a treasure that will restore Earth to existence and humanity to majesty. (Hey, kid, it ain't very majestic now; you sure it's worth all that trouble?)

Meanwhile, the dreaded, dreadful Drej--they look like chrome insects with a penumbra of Dr. Frankenstein's blue-white electricity fritzing off their metal joints--attempt to stop him and continue with their decontamination program, while wiping out the scattered remnants who live on A(fter) E(arth).

George Lucas, of course, had the gift of synthesis: He could combine teen callowness, high adventure, dogfighting to the death, Nazi symbolism, gunfights, mythic resonance, fencing, togas, funny hair and old British actors into a pop-culture masterpiece.

Bluth and Goldman, who have staked out a reputation as a counter-Disney with films like "The Secret of NIMH" and "The Land Before Time" most notably and the excruciating "Rock-a-Doodle" least notably, aren't nearly so gifted or visionary. They've got a wonderful visual imagination, but threadbare storytelling skills.

The film succeeds, at times, as an extraordinary visual document but as a dramatic one it continually crashes and burns on its own banality. Matt Damon and Drew Barrymore provide the voices for the youthful hero and heroine Cale and Akima, and between their own simplicity of performance and the utter pap of the writing, the movie becomes painful to listen to.

More debilitatingly, the character animation is completely uninvolving, particularly Cale's. While his flesh-and-bone antecedent Mark Hamill was no Laurence Olivier, he was at least capable of suggesting an inner life, a tragic dimension, a bitterness and an emerging gravitas.

Cale is just a lad with the face of a Hitler Youth calendar boy from one of Himmler's homoerotic dreams. He looks like a cartoon figure and that's exactly what "Titan A.E." isn't selling: It doesn't want to be a cartoon, it wants to be a real feature that is only incidentally animated.

But let's be fair: Akima is a fox, and quel disappointment to discover that it's ditsy Drew behind her Asian sleekness, not someone like the fabulous Lucy Liu.

Bill Pullman voices the cynical Han Solo-style role of Korso, the good-bad guy who's always trying to figure what's in it for him, and, even behind the distancing screen of animation, Bill Pullman is no Harrison Ford.

The rest is 'splosions, gunfights, more 'splosions, more gunfights, as driven forward by extremely uninteresting rock Muzak.

Only in its first few minutes, when the Drej arrive at Earth with genocide on their minds, does the movie truly grip and tremble with impending tragedy; but A.E. fast-forwards 15 years, putting Cale in his late-adolescence whine stage, and it becomes lost in the stars.

TITAN A.E. (95 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG for cartoon violence of Earth blowing up and dozens of aliens being zapped back to the subatomic level.


© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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