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Crash of the 'Titan'

By Desson Howe
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)
You'd think any movie that starts with the annihilation of Earth would be a moderately thrilling experience.

But "Titan A.E.," Don Bluth's and Gary Goldman's feature-length sci-fi cartoon, manages to follow this cataclysmic event with a long-winded story, uninspired characters and lackluster off-screen performances.

In the year 3028, badly drawn creatures known as the Drej have learned that humankind has developed something called the Titan Project. This human invention is so dangerous the aliens destroy the Earth. But not before many earthlings escape in spacecrafts.

Among the evacuees: a young boy named Cale whose heroic father (inventor of the Titan) leaves him in the charge of a friendly alien, promises to reunite with him and puts a powerful ring around the lad's finger.

Fifteen years later, Cale (voiced by Matt Damon) is a lonely human among a contingent of aliens on a salvage space station. Surrounded by hostile coworkers, he's very much alone and angry at his father for never returning.

Along comes Korso (voice of Bill Pullman), a human who tells Cale it's his destiny to save the race. Cale's father, Korso says, has hidden the Titan on a distant planet. And the ring on the young man's finger is the secret to locating it.

Reluctant at first, Cale eventually teams with Korso, an attractive human named Akima (Drew Barrymore) and a rather unexciting collection of aliens, including the turtle-like Gune (John Leguizamo), the beaky Preed (Nathan Lane at his unfunniest) and Stith (Janeane Garofalo), a weapons specialist with a bad attitude and zig-zag-shaped legs that suggest a damaged kangaroo.

The movie's only 95 minutes long, but it feels like light years more as the story free-floats from mediocre episode to episode. Damon and Barrymore give the strongest off-screen performances, but their characters are so lackluster there's only so much the actors can do. As for the de rigeur comic relief among the aliens, it's just not ready for space travel.

Bluth's and Goldman's competitors – Walt Disney, DreamWorks, Aardman Animation and the whole Japanese animation industry, to name some – have taught audiences to expect perfection, believability and wonder in every film frame.

But in "Titan," Bluth and Goldman seem to have spent the eye-candy money on the scenery, not the characters. The best-looking images are the planets and planet-filled heavens that serve mostly as background for the story. Flying meteors (from Earth's initial destruction) and pulsating hydrogen trees (which Cale and company discover on a hostile, distant planet) look great. But the humans and aliens in the foreground look as though they were cut-and-pasted from Saturday morning kiddie cartoons. How can you believe in these two-dimensional beings when, outside their cabin windows, three-dimensional, bus-size crystals float slowly through the air, threatening to crunch the spaceship into smithereens?

This story's relatively lofty ideas about saving the human race, and its endless twists and turns, are going to soar over the heads of many young audiences – and probably bore them, too. The scenario and special effects are too lackluster for slightly older, sensation-hungry kids, presumably the target audience. And the humor is far too lame for the parents in the audience. Which makes "Titan" a must-see for . . . almost no one.

TITAN A.E. (PG, 95 minutes) – Contains partial nudity and major laser-gun zapping.


© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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