Titan A.E. (2000) — A Star Wars knockoff that actually tries

“You can’t call a planet Bob.”

DnaError’s rating: Attack of the Superfluous Colons!

DnaError’s review: Ahhh, another summer, another Disney feature. What young, strapping lad hasn’t dreamed of spending his time bursting out into a song atop hilltops surrounded by singing animals and cutlery? In recent years, the once respectable and now crippled Disney Animation Dept. has been trying to shed it’s formula-driven, family friendly image with more ambitious projects.

So comes along Atlantis: The Lost Empire, an adult-directed, anime-influened action movie. But, another adventure-sci-fi animated flick was recently released, Don Bluth’s Titan A.E. (the “A.E.” stands for “Antsy Enemas”).

Titan A.E. is a movie that could be called Just Close Your Eyes And Pretend It’s Star Wars. The plot is fairly simple: A freaky race of lava-lamp aliens decide that the Vorgons had the right idea and blow Earth up, leaving only good looking humans spread across the galaxy. And wouldn’t you know it, it’s up to plucky young Cale (Matt Damon) to somehow save them all. Included in the mix is Drew Barrymore as the very anime pilot Akima (I could listen to Drew Barrymore read the phone book and be in rapt attention), a group of funky aliens, and Bill Pullman.

What drew me to Titan A.E. was not it’s plot or characters or animation or action or imagination, it was that it was TRYING. It wants to be revolutionary movie, opening the door for more adult animation. It throws a lot at you, such as alien vistas, chase scenes, and nudity — and doggone it, some of it works.

And because it’s trying so hard, the movie has a genuine sense of wonder, something sorely missing in Disney’s recent movies (more on this later). It’s not a great movie by any standard; the CGI/cel shading mix is awkward and fakey-looking, the characters are plot devices, the plot elements are as old as Yoda’s ear wrinkles, and the villains have a major lack of a motive. But there is a genuine awe and imagination in here, hard working “heart” that odd quality that’s hard to pin down or define, but you know it when you see it around the tense chase inside an ice field and hydrogen trees… a pumping sense of action that makes a popcorn flick a popcorn flick.

Titan A.E. is a B-movie by the book, a guilty pleasure that entertains and then is quickly purged from your memory banks. Kudos to Bluth and his animators for creating a worthy late night diversion.

PoolMan’s rating: How about that? Neither Trek nor Wars, but something new and appreciably different.

PoolMan’s review: Damn, damn, damn the people who assembled the trailer for Titan A.E.! I can remember very, very clearly seeing the trailer, where all you get is an overly dramatic voiceover by Matt Damon (who voices Cale) followed by a somewhat over-the-top view of the Earth blowing up. It made no sense, and it didn’t drag you in. I remember seeing that clip and saying out loud in a crowded theater: “Pass!” Oh, had I known I would have enjoyed it so much.

What really made Titan different and enjoyable for me was that to me, in spite of some deliberate homages, it was its own space opera, fettered by neither the Force nor the Federation. The aliens looked alien, the ships were uniquely designed, and the story, despite touches of Skywalker Syndrome, carried some originality to it that I really had to acknowledge. Fine, fine, it’s still a space opera, and the plot twists that come at you are either predictable or completely absurd, but at least it tries to be different from its classic brethren.

Three hundred or so years from now, man is emerging as part of the intergalactic community. An opening edict informs us that not only are we finally truly spacefaring, we’re on the verge of actually becoming so much more, to the point that we’ve become the target of an energy-based race of aliens bent on wiping us out before this next phase of our evolution has a chance to begin.

The earth gets blown up, mankind is scattered on the solar winds, and the one ship that supposedly holds the keys to our greatness has disappeared into the ether. Not a bad setup, actually.

So much of this movie was eye candy, but it was extremely effective, and not just for show. The beautiful ice crystals in space, the hydrogen trees on the ocean planet, the bat/hawk aliens (who don’t even speak ENGLISH! How original is THAT?)… the list goes on. Add in some great comic relief (Janeane Garofolo as the PMS-ing Stith and an absolutely hysterical John Leguizamo as the fantastic mad mapper Gune, who’s worth the price of admission alone), some double crossing, and some genuinely interesting possibilities for the human race, and you have a winner.

I might be making too much of this. This IS the movie whose lack of box office closed Fox Animation, although I blame that on a lack of appropriate hype, not quality. Titan A.E. could have been so much bigger. Still, I’ll take it as an extremely enjoyable failure.

Justin’s rating: Ahh! A giant snowflake! waitaminute… things have gotten MORE lame since The Phantom Menace

Justin’s review: Evacuate your comfort zone right now, because Titan A.E. isn’t that great of a film. It’s barely passable as candy entertainment, mostly because it takes a few good ideas and runs them through the Clichénator to become that kid in school who always sat in the back row, and you just KNEW he was going to drop out and not live up to his full potential. Probably, he’d be the one making Taco Supremes until one day, in a fit of mad rage, he’d substitute the meat with Purina dog food and get fired and end up drinking gutter water while mumbling to anyone passing by that Titan A.E. was a pretty dumb flick.

The opening scene has the filmmakers blowing up earth. To me, that’s a pretty gutsy thing to do… I mean, how many other films have actually gone through with their threat of Terran explosion? Yet, Earth’s destruction is about the most ho-hum event when they portray it, plus it happens kinda quickly. There are some big blue aliens who for some reason don’t like us, although they seem to leave everyone else in the galaxy alone. Big ship comes, zaps earth, and leftover humans are the loathed refugee scum of the universe. Lackluster CGI graphics leave the impression that if Earth was to explode, it would look a lot like a Lego planet shattering.

You should know the rule of thumb by now: if someone ever describes a film by comparing it to another film, saying “It’s like that, just not as good,” you should probably avoid it. Titan A.E. is like Star Wars, just not as good. You should probably avoid it.

There are laser blasts and fist-fights and mandatory chase scenes, but I couldn’t work myself up to caring, because Matt Damon’s voice was the target of much of the violence. Matt Damon’s voice joins up with a starship of wacky mercs, and they go on a quest to find a big ol’ ship that has the ability to make a new planet. Excuse me? Star Trek II’s Genesis Device anyone? And while we’re questioning flimsy film logic, why can’t humans just, y’know, find a planet nobody’s using and colonize that?

The worst in a string of unfortunate plot points in Titan A.E. involves a betrayal (spoilers ahead!). Betrayal is a tricky thing to do in movies, mostly because we don’t have much time invested in the characters for the event to make much of an impact. But when it does happen, there should be some foreshadowing and logical reasoning behind it. Anyway, the captain of the searching ship spends the first part of the movie risking his neck to save Matt Damon’s voice and proving, without a shadow of the doubt, that he’s a good guy. Then, suddenly the scriptwriters take a day off and the interns step in, and the plot takes a sharp left and the captain betrays everyone, including his crew. Now, out of any of the characters in this film, I liked the ship’s crew. They were funny and interesting and unfortunately killed off for no good reason. So the captain turns evil for profit, and then is somewhat surprised when the bad guys go back on their deal. Gee. See that coming, I did not. So whatever, if filmmakers feel that they can just yank a movie in any direction without giving good reason for doing so, it becomes a dumb flick.

Much has been said about the combination of CGI and cel animation, and I couldn’t care less about the mix. They did the same thing in Heavy Metal 2000, and it was okay there as well. This was the movie that bombed the Fox animation department. Too bad. Yet again, Hollywood forgets that we need plot and development ahead of Bright Shiny Objects.

Lissa’s review: Titan A.E. is a total fantasy flick for me. I know that you must think my ultimate fantasy is to be a princess, given the number of princess-related or girly flicks I’m totally into. Believe it or not, it’s not. The idea of being royalty doesn’t appeal to me at all (except for the occasional wish that I didn’t have to do housework).

Sure, the dresses are pretty and the princes tend to be pretty hot, but that’s movieland. Have you seen how princesses really dress in this world? I know everyone goes on and on about how Diana was a fashion trendsetter, but I never did see it myself. And Charles kind of speaks for himself on the hot prince thing. (And oh yeah, that whole I’m-already-married bit.)

No. Being a princess is not my ultimate fantasy. Going into space is.

If there’s one concept I love in fiction, it’s the “settling a new planet” concept. One of the greatest tragedies of my life is that I was born way too soon. We’re just getting into privatized space travel, and there’s no way people are leaving the solar system in my life time. (And if they do, it’s not happening in the time when I can go. Not unless we’re contacted by aliens via Contact or anything.) I know it sounds strange. I mean, my idea of a perfect vacation is a nice hotel and good restaurants — I’m not that much into camping. But that’s because when you go camping you don’t change anything — you just go and admire. Just doesn’t do it for me.

So Titan A.E. was the epitome of everything I love in a good non-princess/musical story. It starts out with a good angsty background — the Earth’s been blown up and Cale, our hero, has been abandoned by his father. Nice. Just the right amount of anguish without going overboard. (Although in typical Disney fashion there is NO mention of Cale’s mother. And yes I know this was Fox not Disney.)

Cale’s drifting on a space colony, doing what amounts to construction work. Well, deconstruction work. But anyway, healthy humble start for our young hero, and plenty of opportunities for him to develop those very nice muscles he flaunts about. Cale gets picked up by a hot babe (I loved Drew Barrymore’s voice performance in this) and an angry ranger/Han Solo/Lando Calrissian type, and taken off on a quest to save his people. AND he gets to settle a new planet. Cale had me from the beginning.

Sure, it’s totally ripped off from Star Wars — right down to when Akima asks if she should get out and push. It does get a little slow, especially during the chase scenes in the ice crystals. But you know what? I really don’t care.

I love that this movie was an adult’s adventure in animation. I loved the longing for Earth, the way Akima clung to the relics she could find, and the actual acknowledgement of other ethnicities and their cultures. I loved Nathan Lane’s performance as bad boy Preed, and Gune the scientist is priceless. I loved the enemy — they were different from anything I’d seen before. (Bear in mind I’m not a Trekkie at all.) The Earth blowing up was amazingly executed, and darn it, I LOVED the soundtrack.

My only beef with it was that “We Are” by Vertical Horizon which played in the extended trailer was not included at all. The animation was stunning, there was a guard that actually knew what he was doing, and I totally agree with Poolman that it was fantastic that not all of the aliens actually spoke English!

This should have done so much better than it did. It baffles me why it didn’t, aside from deciding that the idiots in marketing tried to push this towards kids instead of the adult geek audience it was meant for. I wouldn’t say it was pure genius or anything, but this is one of those movies where I say heck with the intellectual aspect — I’m having fun. Even if there isn’t a princess in sight.


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