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Review: Battle for Terra (2009)

Battle for Terra (2009)

Directed by: Aristomenis Tsirbas   

Premise: An animated science fiction film presented in theaters in 3-D and 2-D. Terra, the home planet of a peaceful race of tadpole-like creatures, is invaded by humans who intend to convert the atmosphere of the planet, thereby killing the Terrians, so that humans can colonize it.

What Works: Battle for Terra is a smart and subversive little picture. While not all of Battle for Terra is entirely original it is original in the places that matter. The civilization of the Terrians is much different from the kinds of high technology worlds of many science fiction films. But what is most important and impressive about Battle for Terra is its story. So many animated films, even those by Pixar and DreamWorks, tend to rely on clichés and canned plots but audiences and critics have often overlooked this because the animation was so incredible. Battle for Terra takes the traditional alien invasion plotline and spins it on its head; here the humans are the invaders and the aliens must rise to protect themselves, their families, and their planet. Jim, a human pilot (voice of Luke Wilson), crashes and is mended to health by Mala, a bright but rebellious Terrian (voice of Evan Rachel Wood). The two develop a relationship, overcoming fear and prejudice, and Jim is forced to choose between his duty to the military establishment and what he knows to be ethically right, and in that Battle for Terra undercuts one of the long and fast held conventions of science fiction (and specifically the alien invasion subgenre): that the alien and unfamiliar is a monstrous, evil entity to be eradicated. And although Battle for Terra is not the first film to do this, it does do it a lot better than some other, more high profile science fiction films, and in the end it is a much more mature and dramatically satisfying film.

What Doesn’t: The story of Battle for Terra is a bit slow to start and could use more texture in its characterization of both the human and Terrian civilizations. There is a disconnect between the look of the film and the tone of the story. The animation is passable although it is not as detailed or as refined as some other high end animated films. The style of the animation of Battle for Terra is rather clean and polished and the film may have been better served with a look that breaks with convention as much as the story does. Battle for Terra is quite clearly influenced by Star Wars and it shows in the climactic dogfight between Terrian and human spaceships.

Bottom Line: Battle for Terra is an above average film in the science fiction and animation genres. It’s not quite WALL-E or Planet of the Apes but it is far better than a lot of recent films like Monsters vs. Aliens or Bolt.

Episode: #238 (May 10, 2009)