Movie News & Reviews

'Battle for Terra': On shaky ground

Battle for Terra is an animated 3-D oddity that's a war movie grafted onto an anti-war message. Naive but ambitious, it comes across as a Battlestar Galactica vetted by pacifists, Clone Wars neutered for Saturday morning kids' TV.

Earth and its colonies have been destroyed by the polluting, feuding, resource-looting human race, whose survivors are now confined to a vast space ark that is breaking down and running out of supplies. The humans scout a planet that might be suitable for "terra-forming" — having its atmosphere adjusted to let humans breathe. But once they do that, the ancient, peaceful and seemingly primitive civilization of flying mermaids who live there will die.

A "Terran" is seized during a scouting mission by the humans. An Earth Force warrior scout (Luke Wilson) crashes and is left behind. Will Mala (Evan Rachel Wood), the daughter of the kidnapped Terran, save the human and free her dad? Can the "us or them" humans be reasoned with?

General Hemmer (Brian Cox, well cast) is determined to shoot first and maybe build a nice memorial to the people destroyed later. The Terran leader (James Garner) is more an aged hippy — "Love and mercy can triumph over hate and violence."

The grown-up themes in the film suggest Japanese anime, with death, sacrifice and suicide touched on in its 80-plus minutes. On the other side, there's the cutesy "helper" robot who serves as intermediary between the races. There's little that's subtle here. Messages are delivered with a capital "M."

The production team tries to have its peace and blow it up, too. For "gentle" people, the blandly written — a Pooh's Heffalump screenwriter — and blandly animated Terrans have soldiers and weapons aplenty. The third act is one epic dogfight.

The 3-D adds little to this animation, which bears more than a passing resemblance to the computer-animated Delgo of last year. Visually, Terra is only as good as its Star Wars tribute battle.

In making animation that isn't dark enough for older fans and is too message-centric for kids, Team Terra has created a film that will probably satisfy no one.

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