Titan A.E.

Titan A.E.
Director: Don Bluth and Gary Goldman
Screenplay: Ben Edlund and John August and Joss Whedon (story by Randall McCormick and Hans Bauer)
Voices: Matt Damon (Cale), Drew Barrymore (Akima), Bill Pullman (Korso), Nathan Lane (Preed), John Leguizamo (Gune), Janeane Garofalo (Stith), Tone Loc (Tek), David L. Lander (The Mayor), Ron Perlman (Sam Tucker), Jim Cummings (Chowquin), Jim Breuer (The Cook)
MPAA Rating: PG
Year of Release: 2000
Country: USA
Titan A.E. Poster

"Titan A.E." is an imaginative, highly ambitious animated science fiction yarn. Aside from the characters, almost everything in the film is computer animated, which puts it in direct competition with Disney's "Dinosaur" for most awe-inspiring visual prowess in an animated film. While "Dinosaur" has a more textured, three-dimensional feel to it, "Titan A.E." is still the more visually inventive of the two films, perhaps because it has the entire universe as its canvas.

Directors Don Bluth and Gary Goldman, who last worked together on "Anastasia" (1997), use this canvas well, imagining distant worlds adrift in infinite space that is not a dull vacuum, but an intensely colorful place of rotating nebulas, fiery suns, and mazes of monstrous, jagged ice formations. Perhaps the greatest visual achievement in "Titan A.E." is its elaborate reworking of outer space, which in most science fiction films is simply a black void that must be traversed in order to get to other planets.

The film takes place at the beginning of the 31st century. The "A.E." part of the title stands for "After Earth" because, in the film's eye-popping opening sequence, the Drej, a race of wicked aliens composed of pure energy, destroy Earth because they fear humankind's latest invention, the Titan Project. Fast forward 15 years, and the film's hero, Cale (voiced by Matt Damon), is one of the few surviving humans still adrift in the cosmos. Most humans live in "drifter colonies," but Cale prefers to keep to himself, working with aliens at an interstellar scrap yard. Cale's father was the chief designer of the Titan Project, and he feels that his father deserted him during the Drej attack on Earth.

One day, Cale is approached by Korso (Bill Pullman), a ship captain who knew Cale's father. Korso believes that the Titan Project is the key to saving the human race from extinction, and he needs Cale because Cale has a ring given to him by his father that contains a map to where the Titan is hidden. So, the film becomes a race to find the spaceship before the Drej find it and destroy it.

On a visual scale, "Titan A.E." is a wonder. It is not only inventive in its animation, but in its camera movements and framing. This is a highly kinetic film, and there is never a dull moment; each frame is filled with a wealth of striking visual detail. Co-director Don Bluth is one of the most visually expressive animation directors around; his 1982 film "The Secret of NIHM" is still one of the best animated films ever made. With "Titan A.E.," Bluth has at his fingertips the technological capability to render almost anything on-screen, and he leaves little to the imagination.

Unfortunately, like so many films of late, all of film's visual extravagance comes at the expense of story and characters. The script for "Titan A.E.," which was penned by three screenwriters--including John August ("Go") and Joss Whedon ("Toy Story," "X-Men")--is functional at best; it seems busy and inspired at first, but it feels less and less original as the story wears on. "Titan A.E." is the obvious descendent of many sci-fi films. Its narrative inspiration from "Star Wars" (1977) is readily apparent, some of its rock'n'roll sensibilities are derived from "Heavy Metal" (1981), and the long sequence in which Cale's ship plays hide-and-seek from an enemy ship in the Ice Rings of Tigrin seems directly inspired by a similar sequence in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" (1982) that took place in a maze of nebulous space clouds.

The main characters are serviceable, with big name marquee stars like Matt Damon and Drew Barrymore (who voices Cale's love-interest, a feisty pilot named Akima) making little impact. They fill the soundtrack with their familiar voices, but they don't make the characters particularly interesting or worth caring about. Some of the secondary characters are more memorable, such as John Leguizamo's Gune, a big-eyed, toad-like creature who is the scientist/navigator of Korso's ship, and Nathan Lane's Preed, Korso's smarmy, reptilian, first mate.

Still, "Titan A.E." has enough moments of pure spectacle to keep the viewer's interest, even if the characters don't. The movie's strength is its visual inventiveness and its daring; the medium of animation allows the filmmakers free reign in a way that even the best live-action filmmaking cannot replicate (although George Lucas tried his best with "The Phantom Menace").

The film does stumble from time to time; when the soundtrack starts blaring forgettable alternative rock songs that comment clumsily on the action (the worst example being when Cale gets to fly Korso's ship for the first time, with the soundtrack blaring "It's My Turn to Fly"), the film takes on a distinct tone of pandering to its audience. Moments like these suggest that the filmmakers are just trying to fill time until the next action sequence. Luckily for the audience, those action sequences are worth waiting for.

Titan A.E.THX-Approved Special Edition DVD

AudioDolby Digital 5.1 Surround
DTS 5.1 Surround
Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround
LanguagesEnglish(5.1), French (2.0)
Supplements Audiocommentary with co-directors Don Bluth and Gary Goldman
"The Quest for Titan" making-of featurette
Four deleted scenes
Stills gallery
Two theatrical trailers
Two TV spots
Lit music video: "Over My Head"
DVD-ROM Game Link
THX OptiMode test signals
Distributor20thCentury Fox

The THX-certified widescreen transfer of "Titan A.E." isabsolutely stunning. The image is razor sharp with incredibly minute detail and a ravishingcolor palette. The extraordinary visual nature of the movie is given its due, and there aremany scenes that will tempt you to put the player on pause and soak in all of the details.The print used to make the transfer was perfectly clean, and there isn't a single instance ofartifacting or edge enhancement to be found. This is as good as a digital transfer can get.

Likewise, the soundtrack, which has been given both theDolby Digital 5.1 and the DTS 5.1 treatment, is among the best I have heard. Creativelyaggressive, it makes ample use of imaging and directionality as it puts the surroundspeakers and the subwoofer constantly to work. The soundtrack sounds incredible,especially in the cat-and-mouse scene that takes place in the ice maze. The intricate use ofthe surrounds to create an environment of massive ice formations cracking and groaning asthey crash into each other envelopes you. The soundtrack is also heavily reliant on rockmusic, all of which is well-mixed.

Sporting a "Special Edition" banner, the "Titan A.E."DVD offers a nice array of supplements that shows the intended audience is more than justkids.

This is not the case, however, with the 22-minute making-of featurette "The Quest forTitan," which was originally made and broadcast as a Fox Kids' TV special. It is definitelyaimed at kids who don't already know much about animation and computer effects; but,even so, it offers a tantalizing glimpse into the immense amount of work that went intocreating the movie, as well as some brief interviews with co-directors Don Bluth and GaryGoldman and a number of the voice talents, including Matt Damon, Drew Barrymore, JohnLeguizamo, Bill Pullman, and Nathan Lane.

The running audio commentary with co-directors Bluth and Goldman is more informativeand technical in nature. They discuss just about every aspect of the film, with a great dealof concentration on the conceptual aspects, especially the process by which characters andenvironments were designed. Bluth makes the interesting comment that it is difficult todesign aliens without someone incorporating elements from earth creatures like lizards, fish,or birds. The commentary is complemented nicely by an extensive stills gallery that offersa vast array of conceptual sketches and character designs.

The disc contains four deleted scenes (which seems odd, considering how pre-plannedanimated movies). "Deleted scenes" is not the right phrase since they are really variationson scenes that already appear in the movie (including alternate edits of the ice mazesequence and the final battle). These sequences are not completed, which means some ofthe shots are in various stages of animation (some are nothing more than rough pencilsketches set against already-painted backgrounds). These are presented in anamorphicwidescreen and stereo sound.

The disc also contains two TV spots, two theatrical trailers, the music video for Lit's "OverMy Head," and an exclusive DVD-ROM Game Link. And, since it's THX-certified, it alsocomes with the THX OptiMode test signals for calibrating your home theater.

©2000 James Kendrick

Overall Rating: (3)

James Kendrick

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