Alibi V.18 No.18 • April 30-May 6, 2009 

Film Review

Battle for Terra

War is bad, m’kay?

“Oh, wow, man. I’m tripping balls.”
“Oh, wow, man. I’m tripping balls.”

Battle for Terra

Directed by Aristomenis Tsirbas

Cast: Evan Rachel Wood, Luke Wilson, David Cross, Brian Cox, Chris Evans, James Garner, Dennis Quaid, Rosanna Arquette

Everybody’s piling onto the CGI cartoon bandwagon. But for every WALL•E, there are 10 Delgos. Sailing firmly into the latter category is the ambitious but underwhelming sci-fi toon Battle for Terra. Directed by Aristomenis Tsirbas (visual effects supervisor on the 1999 remake of My Favorite Martian) and written by Evan Spiliotopoulos (The Lion King 1 1/2, Pooh’s Heffalump Movie, The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning and several other cheap Disney direct-to-DVD sequels), the film is at the very least a step forward for Greek-Canadian filmmakers.

The plot begins with a semi-original concept. On the faraway planet of Terra live the peaceful Terrians, floaty fusions of giant tadpoles and those big-eyed aliens from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Terrians have a taste for green architecture (lots of tree houses) and fundamentalist religious views (all the fun stuff is “forbidden,” of course). One day, the planet gets invaded by high-tech aliens from another world. Most Terrians view these visitors as gods. But when when they start blowing stuff up and abducting the locals, the Terrians start thinking differently. So what’s the twist in our tale? Turns out these violent invaders are ... wait for it ... Earthlings! Bet you didn’t see that coming.

In Battle for Terra’s view, humans are a bunch of racist, militant, land-grabbing dickholes. Their objective is to conquer Terra and convert the atmosphere to oxygen, making it livable for humans but asphyxiating all the Terrians in the process. In the middle of this doom and gloom scenario, there’s one plucky young girl (isn’t there always?) ready, willing and able to save the day. As voiced by Evan Rachel Wood, Mala is your stereotypical brainy teen rebel who questions her elders’ belief in supreme beings and wants to use forbidden technology to communicate with the invaders. Mala’s mission becomes significantly easier when she stumbles across the crashed spaceship of an Earthly military man named Jim Stanton (Luke Wilson). Now firmly entrenched in Romeo and Juliet territory (minus any questionable interspecies snogging), Battle for Terra searches for its preachy, “can’t we all just get along?” ending.

Some of the film’s technical design is passable. (The spaceships are vaguely cool.) But the creature design is lackluster at best. The humans, for example, appear to be crudely constructed from lumps of Silly Putty. Some members of the voice cast are too obvious (David Cross as the wisecracking robot sidekick?), while others are poorly utilized (witty, laid-back Luke Wilson as a deadly serious jarhead?). But the film’s biggest problem is its tone. Depressing and heavily moralistic, Battle for Terra is family entertainment that’s simply no fun at all.

What Hollywood executive thought kids really needed a cartoon about genocide? It’s like going to a screening of Toy Story and getting a 90-minute documentary about the dangers of lead in children’s playthings. With its “crewcut white guys carpet-bombing fundamentalist primitives as a precursor to looting their natural resources” setup, the Iraq War metaphors couldn’t be more ham-handed. By the time the film’s villain, a sneering xenophobic general voxed by Brian Cox, shows up looking exactly like George W. Bush, all semblance of “parable” is gone. Honestly, this kind of preachy Hollywood propaganda just gives left-wing nut-jobs like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly fuel for their fires.

WALL•E had a big message to impart, but it did so with grace, humor and a limitless amount of charm. Battle for Terra is dull and forgettable on top of being insufferably preachy. (Was this thing in 3-D? I honestly can’t recall.) The only excitement arrives in the film’s climactic battle scenes—which, having spent the last hour listening to a lecture about the moral atrocity of war, means even these sci-fi skirmishes qualify as a major downer.