A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 108 – Titan A.E.

Titan A.E. – June 16th, 2010

When we got this out this evening we realized we bought it way the hell back in Pennsylvania. We must have bought it used from the video store we worked at there since it still has a sticker from the store on the disc. Fun, huh? We’ve only got a handful of those, so it’s fun when we come across them. We originally saw this in the theater and were pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoyed it but I hadn’t seen it since and I’m glad to say it mostly holds up.

One thousand years from now the Earth is under attack by an inimical alien race of pure energy, the Drej. It’s never made clear exactly what the Drej have against the humans. They’re just there, being evil and alien and “scared of what we might become” as one character says. Yeah, cause that’s not vague or anything. Anyhow, the Drej destroy Earth just as any humans who can escape along with a mysterious ship, the Titan, which our main character’s father was working on. And then we pick up sixteen years later when Cale, our hero, is plucked out of his menial space junker job by Captain Korso who claims his father sent him to find Cale so they could recover the Titan and use whatever’s on it to save the human race from extinction.

It’s a rather bleak landscape (or spacescape, as the case may be) for a movie targeted towards kids. There aren’t many humans left and what few there are live on colonies of drifting scrap and in with other aliens who treat them like scum. With no home planet to call their own, they’re looked down on as just a half step above vermin. Some humans, like Cale, have adopted a fairly mercenary, look out for number one type attitude. Others, like one of Korso’s crew, Akima, are more about solidarity as humans and working towards the future. So while the major action plot of the movie is basically a chase, with Korso’s crew using a map Cale’s got embedded in his hand to find the Titan while the Drej track them down to stop them, there’s a secondary plot built into that. Because initially Cale doesn’t really give a damn about the Titan or humanity. As far as he’s concerned, humanity gave up on him when his father took off in the Titan, leaving him on another ship, and died without ever coming back for him. And through the course of the movie he rediscovers his connection with other humans.

Sure, it’s a movie made for kids and it’s cartoony in many places. The crew Korso’s got is made of himself, Akima, and three aliens: Gune, a be-spectacled tinkerer/scientist; Stith, a weapons expert with gigantic multi-jointed legs; and Preed, a somewhat sleezy first mate, I think. And they’re all the sort of bipedal humanoid aliens that are just different enough, with their pointy ears and beaky snouts and three clawed hands, to be alien without being truly outlandish. But it all works. And given the whole set-up, with Earth getting blown up within the first couple of minutes and humanity reduced to a scattered few scrambling for purchase in an unfriendly galaxy, it’s far more mature than might be expected. Of course they find the Titan and beat the Drej and save humanity by the end. And of course Cale and Akima have a budding romance by the end too. But the worldbuilding is really quite nicely done. Thorough enough that you know what’s going on and just gritty and difficult enough that you know what the stakes are without being too tense.

Obviously I like the plot and the story and how it’s told. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s solid and it’s a decent hard science fiction movie for a younger audience. I can’t complain about that. But what makes the movie more than just a decent plot is the cast and the animation, and both are lovely. The animation is a mix of hand drawn and computer generated with some 3D effects thrown in for impact. The Drej are all done by computer and stand out very nicely from everything else, highlighting just how different they are even from the run-of-the-mill aliens. The animators were clearly having fun with some of what they could do, such as in one particular scene in a field of gigantic crystalline structures where Cale and Akima are trying to hide, using their myriad reflections in the crystals as camouflage. And I have to admit, I do love the older style animation used for the humans and the regular aliens. It all mixes well and only feels awkward in one or two places.

Now, the cast, on the other hand, isn’t awkward at all. And it’s quite a cast. Ron Perlman makes an appearance at the beginning as Cale’s father, and then through the rest of the movie we have Matt Damon as Cale, Drew Barrymore as Akima, Nathan Lane as Preed, Jeaneane Garofalo as Stith, John Leguizamo as Gune and Bill Pullman as Korso. That’s an awesome cast. The only one I had moments of meh over was Drew Barrymore, but I’m not sure if it’s that she performed some lines super slow on her own, or if she was directed to sound like she needed a nap, or if they slowed her down in post to match the animation. Whatever it was, sometimes she sounds a little too dreamy for the lines she’s delivering. Otherwise, I’d have to say my standout favorites are Nathan Lane, who does Preed so perfectly, and Bill Pullman, but mostly because I can’t help but thinking about a couple of his lines from Spaceballs near the end.

What works really well for me when it comes to the characters is much of what works for me in the movie overall. It doesn’t pander much to the audience. There’s a rough world being presented here and sure, it’s been padded a little for younger viewers, but that’s shown in the soft lines and in the humorous snark between characters. There’s plenty of sarcasm and Cale starts out quite the smartass. Preed and Akima are introduced with some verbal sparring and that shifts right along to Preed and Stith too. No, they’re not swearing like sailors or making lewd suggestions, but everything about them says what the ship and the colony and everything else says: Things are tough and you’ve got to be tough too.

So by the end, when the Titan’s secret cargo is activated and Cale and Akima kiss and the bad guys are vanquished and all the rag tag ships the humans have bodged together come flying in, there’s a real feeling of the underdog winning a hard fight. It’s a nice feeling and a nice movie and really, it’s silly that we don’t watch this more often.

June 16, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Titan A.E.

June 16, 2010

Titan A.E.

Tonight we chose to do something space-related as a start to our “Futurama Week,” what with new episodes of Futurama starting to air next Thursday. We went through our movies over lunch trying to think of cool space-themed ones and both decided that we’d really like to re-visit this nifty little animated sci-fi flick. I’ve always been puzzled by the lack of success that this movie supposedly experienced. This is the big budget flop that killed the Fox animation studios back in the nineties (back before Ice Age resurrected it.) But it’s actually a really fun movie and a cool concept. Parts of it haven’t aged particularly well, but I’m still enjoying watching it again tonight and I’m glad we have it in our collection.

The A.E. in the title stands for After Earth, because much like in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy this movie begins with the destruction of the entire planet Earth. The humans have just invented the most advanced spaceship in the entire galaxy – the Titan – but this accomplishment brings the nasty Drej (an all computer generated species of pure energy) and the Drej destroy Earth to get to the Titan. Some humans do escape the destruction, among them young Cale, who’s father invented and pilots the Titan. We re-join the action fifteen years later. Cale is a disaffected and whiny tweenager now and he hates the universe and everything in it. He’s working as a scrap metal salvager on some station at the ass end of nowhere. He’s been raised surrounded by (mostly hostile) aliens and doesn’t know any humans at all it seems. He’s also bitter because his father, after fleeing from Earth in the Titan, never came back to get him.

Then an old associate of his fathers shows up and tells him that the ring his father gave him back at the start of the movie is a map that will lead to the secret hiding place of the Titan. So Cale embarks on a grand space adventure and along the way he learns that perhaps humanity is worth saving and maybe he doesn’t need to be so angry all the time. It’s a pretty standard Sci-Fi premise with the whole “humanity’s unlikely last hope” thing, but it’s unusual fodder for an animated film. Which might have been the problem back when it came out. This was back in the days of Disney’s ascendancy and before Anime really reached our shores in any meaningful way. Before Dragonball Z or Zoids or Yu Gi Oh showed that there was a considerable untapped market for animation aimed at young boys. Maybe it was ahead of its time, or maybe it was just poorly marketed when it came out. The general feeling at the time, though, was that the primary demographic that the movie would appeal to (twelve year old boys) had no real interest in going to the theater to see an animated movie. And this film just kind of disappeared. (Although I’m pretty sure Amanda and I saw it twice in the theaters, so we tried to do our part.)

There are a couple things I really like about the movie. The whole notion of an epic space adventure in an animated movie appeals to me. (Being a huge fan of Anime.) I quite like the animation style, which blends 3D computer animation for the ships and most of the backgrounds with traditional 2D hand drawn animation for all the characters and explosions and stuff. It works well and allows for some things you couldn’t do without an awful lot of work in a wholly hand-drawn movie (like big camera “crane shots” at dramatic moments.) I’m a fan of Don Bluth’s animation style as well (and have been since the Secret of Nimh and the old Dragon’s Lair laserdisc game.) There are several moments in the film (particularly in the diner when Cale is first recruited on his quest) where the way the aliens move just screams “Bluth” to me.

Most of what I like in the movie, though, is the way the humans live in a universe populated by all these cool alien species. The less human looking ones are my favorites. Like the pretzel-legged Stith (whom I believe I might have accidentally created as a race in Spore, because I love putting too many joints in a set of legs.) Sure almost all of the aliens in the movie are bipedal and have a generally human shape, which is something you see often in sci-fi films and games, but I enjoy the notion that this is a crowded universe and there’s so much to discover about it.

The part that hasn’t aged particularly well is the soundtrack. In an attempt to make the movie more hip to kids (I assume) there are several sort of nineties grunge pop type songs at key moments. None of them are songs I’m familiar with, and they might have been composed specifically for the movie, but the sort of Linkin Park sound of them dates the movie and takes me out of the action. Maybe in ten or twenty more years it will have a kind of groovy nostalgic air, but for now it sounds like a movie that’s somewhat stuck in its own time period.

Still. I am glad we threw it in to watch tonight. I look forward to seeing it again sometime as well. Like Iron Giant it’s one of those movies I really enjoyed introducing kids to during my time at Blockbuster. It’s always nice to see something cool and unusual being done in a medium that has been pigeon-holed into one particular type of movie. I like to see barriers broken down. And I like being able to introduce people to movies they might not have heard of otherwise which are, like this one, lost gems in a way.

June 16, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment