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Titan A.E., written by Ben Edlund, John August, and Joss Whedon from the story by Hans Bauer and Randall McCormick, directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman, 2000, 90 min.

Perhaps Titan A.E. was not meant to be funny. Even though of one of the writers of the film is Ben Edlund, creator of the hilarious comic book The Tick, I think the intended tone of Titan A.E. is one of epic adventure, even high seriousness. Too bad, then, that the movie is mostly amusing, especially in the grand finale where events of galactic significance transpired to my continuing laughter. The animation of Titan A.E. is very slick and impressive, and the voice acting is a nice balance of well-known actors submerging themselves into their roles. But I think that the muddled tone of the movie might have been the reason for its poor box office performance -- Titan A.E. was a bomb on the order of another 2000 release, Battlefield Earth. Titan A.E. is a far better film than Travolta's vanity turn in Battlefield Earth and I don't want to judge Titan A.E. on box office. And despite my complaints, I think it's a shame that Fox decided to ax the entire animation studio that produced Titan. It might be hard to match Disney's deep pockets, but one bomb shouldn't be reason to pack up and concede the field.

The evil aliens the Drej have it in for humans, and destroy our planet at the beginning of the film -- thus, the acronym of the title, A.E., After Earth. The other part of the title refers to a top secret project to create a Titan, a mysterious spaceship which is the reason the Drej destroy the Earth -- they are attempting to destroy the Titan. The inventor of the Titan, Professor Sam Tucker, who should have done a bit of research on belligerent alien races before starting the project, takes off in the Titan, leaving his son to escape with other humans. The main plot of the film begins two decades or so later when the son, Cale, is grown up. He's a disaffected youth who ends up saving the galaxy, or at least the human race. Rather tedious and clichéd. He joins a crew of strange people and races, with one angry character, one eccentric genius character, and so forth. They search for Titan, fight the Drej, and have a climactic shootout on the Titan itself.

This is where I started laughing. As it turns out, the Titan is a giant terraforming device, capable of transforming any planet into an Earthlike one. What rubbish! Apart from the sheer impossibility of the concept, it's also a silly, planet-bound notion (Banks' Culture series is a perfect counterpoint to this kind of constricted idea of the future). Worse, the Drej attack the Titan with their mighty planet-busting energy weapon at the end. How do Cale and his friends defend against this attack? They reverse the polarity! Of what? Well, something in the Titan, which makes quite a travesty of the whole destruction of Earth at the beginning of the film. Also, it reminds me a little too much of a classic moment in the aforementioned Tick's fight against evil. In one of the Saturday morning cartoon episodes, the Tick was fighting against the Fin, a malevolent, intelligent dolphin who had built a fish magnet. Make that, Fish Magnet; not much more ridiculous than the Titan as instantaneous terraformer. How does the Tick defeat the Fin? Why, he reverses the polarity, which repels the fish cascading out of the sky. Reversing the polarity of the Fish Magnet is a science fiction version of the deus ex machina; in Titan A.E., it's just as dramatically suspect as ever despite the futuristic dress.

I must admit that there was one intentionally amusing moment in the film. Cale and friends are escaping from a space station, and a goofy alien working in the kitchen gets herded along with them. This particular alien is crustacean in appearance, and voluble and silly in voice acting -- in other words, highly reminiscent of Disney comic relief sidekicks. Just as this alien is about to jump down a hatch with Cale, and thus become a major character in the film (like Disney sidekicks, as noted, or perhaps just as pertinently, Jar Jar Binks), Drej energy weapon beams plaster the alien all over the wall. I suspect I might have been the only one in the theatre laughing.

Unfortunately, this might have been the high point of the film. Titan A.E. muddles through without doing any one thing really well and most things rather poorly.

DVD Note: Titan A.E. on DVD features an audio commentary by the two directors, a selection of deleted scenes, a 20-minute making-of featurette, and various promotional items such as trailers and a music video.


First posted: October 27, 2000; Last modified: March 30, 2004

Copyright © 2000-2004 by James Schellenberg (james@jschellenberg.com)


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