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Dustin Putman

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Battle for Terra  (2009)
1 Star
Directed by Aristomenis Tsirbas.
Voice Cast: Evan Rachel Wood, Luke Wilson, Justin Long, Brian Cox, James Garner, Chris Evans, Dennis Quaid, David Cross, Amanda Peet, Danny Glover, Ron Perlman, Danny Trejo, Mark Hamill, Beverly D'Angelo, David Krumholtz, Chad Allen, Laraine Newman.
2009 – 85 minutes
Rated: Rated PG (for action violence and some thematic elements).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, April 26, 2009.
The first monumental failure since the creation of Real-D technology in cinemas, "Battle for Terra" doesn't work as a purely aesthetic 3-D presentation, and it certainly doesn't work as a film. Like 2008's "Star Wars: The Clone Wars," this is a junky excuse for a family release that amounts to little more than chaotic onscreen battles with lots of aerial chases and mind-numbing explosions. The story attempts to also share messages about the importance of peace and environmental care, but these are disingenuous afterthoughts that hypocritically go against the fighting and thread of right-wing militarism one must suffer through during the 85-minute running time.

In the future, Venus, Earth and Mars have been totally destroyed. In an attempt to find another livable planet, a group of surviving earthlings—most of them gun-toting military men with shaved heads and deep voices—have traveled far and wide, finally discovering Terra. If changes can be made to the atmosphere, the planet will be habitable for human life. The one problem is that Terra is also populated with its own people, all of whom will meet certain death if Earth's people take over and rob them of their own breathable brand of oxygen. Terrian teenager Mala (voiced by Evan Rachel Wood), with friend Senn (Justin Long) tagging along, is not about to give up her planet without a fight, and the stakes are raised when her own father is kidnapped by the invaders. Mala's only hope is to convince the empathetic Lt. Jim Stanton (Luke Wilson) of some sort of truce before irreversible disaster occurs.

Children of a certain age are fairly indiscriminating when it comes to films aimed at their demographic, but that doesn't mean they don't deserve quality. "Battle for Terra" is an awful mess—a shame, since there are a couple quick, passing glimmers that suggest the picture began as a visionary sci-fi epic. Whether due to incompetence, a script that was not ready, ill-equipped animators, a budget not large enough to withstand the material, or all of the above, what has made its way to the screen is crushingly boring, instantly forgettable, and either too slow or too frenetic at any given moment. The computer-generated animation is thoroughly unappealing, with a color scheme that favors variations on brown and gray. The theatrical 3-D version is useless, serving no purpose other than to further darken and fuzz up the images to the point where it feels as if the viewer is watching them through a screen door.

The planet of Terra is haphazardly set up and depicted as little more than a featureless landscape with pods used as living quarters rising into the air on slender beams. The Terrian race, looking like spermy tadpoles, are virtually identical to one another—so, too, are all the invading uniformed humans—and the only way to tell anyone apart is by their voices. Not helping matters is the lack of personality the characters possess. Mala is the would-be spunky heroine, but she, like everyone else, has no depth or outward charm. A robot by the name of Giddy (David Cross) is a poor man's rip-off of R2-D2 with C3PO's gift for gab. Meanwhile, shots of intergalactic battles are taken wholesale from the live-action "Star Wars" films, minus all understanding of action-oriented momentum, cohesion and excitement.

"Battle for Terra" ends on a positive note, but not the happy-go-lucky one children are usually accustomed to. Director Aristomenis Tsirbis gets this one thing right, cooking up a poetic visual of a statue in the midst of construction to signal the rebirth of a race of people and the harmony between them and the Terrians residing just outside their dome enclosure. It's a striking singular moment that comes too little, too late to a project that is sanctimonious claptrap—a "can't-we-all-just-get-along" plea wrapped in futuristic warfare, dirty dishwater animation, and dreary plotting.
© 2009 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman