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"BATTLE FOR TERRA"
(2009) (voices of Evan Rachel Wood, Luke Wilson) (PG)

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QUICK TAKE:
Sci-fi: Peaceful inhabitants of a planet must contend with desperate and militaristic humans who've arrived to claim the world as theirs.
PLOT:
On the planet Terra, a civilization of floating tadpole type creatures live a peaceful existence, pretty much blindly following the teachings and rules laid out by the Elders, including Doron (voice of JAMES GARNER). That is, except for teenager Mala (voice of EVAN RACHEL WOOD) who lives with her dad, Roven (voice of DENNIS QUAID), but prefers zipping around on high adventures with her friend Senn (voice of JUSTIN LONG) when not questioning authority.

She and the others have bigger concerns, however, when a giant spaceship arrives and blocks out the sun. The others are initially entranced by the sight, wondering if it's some sort of god, but the notion is quickly squashed when fighter ships quickly descend into the Terran village, blasting away at the inhabitants when not abducting others, such as Roven.

Seeing that happen, Mala engages one such ship, trying to get it to take her, but her actions result in it crashing. When she goes to investigate, she discovers human Jim Stanton (voice of LUKE WILSON) and his trusty robotic assistant, Giddy (voice of DAVID CROSS). Informed that the Earthling will die if he isn't given breathable air, the resourceful teen invent an oxygen tent of sorts and saves his life.

It turns out he's a military pilot, like his brother Stewart (voice of CHRIS EVANS), who's arrived on Terra under the orders of General Hemmer (voice of BRIAN COX) to make it their new home. It turns out Earth as well as colonies on Mars and Venus where destroyed in the past, and the small assembly of survivors on a spaceship-based ark of sorts are all that's left of humanity.

While the Council wants to see if the two groups can peacefully coexist, Hemmer -- based on his militaristic leanings and knowledge that their ship's air is running out -- would rather just wipe out the Terrans and claim their planet. And he intends to use an oxygen generating machine -- that will create a breathable atmosphere for the humans but consequently kill all of the Terrans -- to do the deed.

With Jim -- through his interaction with Mala -- realizing that's the wrong decision, he decides he must do what he can to stop the deadly invasion, all as the peaceful Terrans reveal that they have a secret past they intend to use to defend their planet.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
While pretty much any storytelling genre can work on multiple levels, it's sci-fi that's usually the headiest of the bunch. That's not to say there isn't fluff or just nonsensical stuff thrown into the mix -- which still occurs nowadays but not nearly as much as post "Star Wars" when everyone was trying to jump on the blockbuster bandwagon -- but the genre pretty much dominates the others in terms of compelling the viewer to think about the universe and various aspects of our place in the great cosmos.

Some of the best come in the form of parables where the storytellers get their point across about some subject that's of concern to them, but hide it -- to varying degrees -- within their fictional characters, locales and/or plots. The masters of the genre excel at that and can often do it so subtly that readers or viewers don't always or at least immediately realize the deeper meaning behind the tale.

Subtlety isn't exactly "Battle For Terra's" strong suit, and some may view the story -- about Earthlings invading another planet to conquer and inhabit it as theirs after destroying their own -- as being preachy in terms of its various messages, most specifically about going too far in either extreme of military totalitarianism or infantile pacifism.

It also clearly isn't state of the art -- especially in comparison with the deep-pocketed big boy studios and their similarly rendered releases -- in terms of computer animation and use of 3-D effects (the latest rage, available in select, but growing numbers of theaters), and the underlying story and characters aren't anything particularly extraordinary or novel (even with the switcheroo of having the "invading aliens" being Earthlings this time rather than the usual other way around).

Yet, notwithstanding all of that and some fairly violent (if blood-free) content for a PG-rated film as well as the standard but still troubling notion that violence must be used to settle big matters, I have to admit that the film pretty much effortlessly managed to transport me away into its imaginative world for a fairly engaging 90-some minutes of sci-fi storytelling.

Working from a screenplay by Evan Spiliotopoulos, director Aristomenis Tsirbas -- along with his creative team -- creates a compelling world, filled with imaginative touches, big and small. Vocal work -- from the likes of Evan Rachel Wood, Luke Wilson and Brian Cox -- among others is all top-notch, and while the human characters look fairly blocky, the rest of the computer-rendered visuals are nicely done, albeit not in the "blow your mind" style that many have become accustomed to.

While those who've been weaned on state of the art visuals may dismiss the offering just for those shortcomings, the film works simply because it's a decent example of good old storytelling. There's nothing terribly complex or hard to follow (a blessing for younger viewers), but the "good" characters are engaging and we end up caring about their plight (yea for the adults).

Throw in some action sequences that are actually fairly gripping, and the result is a fairly entertaining pic that should appeals to a wide age range of viewers, even if older teens and adults might be loath to admit to it, what with the title characters appearing like some sort of floating tadpole creatures. Nothing especially novel on any front and perhaps a bit too obvious, but surprisingly effective and containing some thought-provoking elements about human nature thrown in for good measure, "Battle for Terra" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.




Reviewed April 14, 2009 / Posted May 1, 2009


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