GENRE: CGI sci-fi adventure
THE PITCH: Evan Rachel Wood voices Mala, a spunky, tech-savvy teenager on Terra, a planet of legless, floating tadpole-people. When the remnants of humanity come to colonize her world — with extreme prejudice — can she and shipwrecked soldier Jim Stanton (Luke Wilson) convince their respective races to give peace a chance?
MONEY SHOTS: The 3-D enhances some neat-o shots of gravity-defying alien flora and fauna, as well as the Da Vinci-esque flying machines Mala and her pal Senn (Justin Long) use to go joyriding. After the ecological destruction of Earth, humanity lives on an intricate, gyroscopic space ark falling into catastrophic disrepair. Some creepy, "X-Files"-style images when the humans experiment on the harmless aliens.
BEST LINE: "It's a miracle! They are gods! Take me!" the aliens exclaim when human scoutships invade, as if they're watching the Rapture. The script broaches the notion that the alien government keeps them in a superstitious, pre-industrial state of naiveté, but doesn't run with the idea.
WORST LINE: "It's the Ceremony of Life. We celebrate life," Mala tells Jim, making Terra sound pretty damn boring. But maybe on other days they have the Ceremony of Nachos or the Ceremony of Getting Wasted.
BODY COUNT: Battle for Terra contains no significant bloodshed but surprisingly many total fatalities, given its wholesome message and polished look. Two characters make noble sacrifices and the big battles have casualties comparable to the lesser Star Wars movies.
FASHION STATEMENT: A few humans have hair, but most either wear hats or sport shaved heads, presumably so the computer animators don't have to spend time rendering hair. The aliens have colored tilelike squares on their brows and wear comfy-looking garments that cling to their tails, so they look like skirts.
VOICE CAMEOS: "Mr. Show's" David Cross channels his inner C-3PO as Jim's robot Giddy, who looks like a Happy Meal toy. Brian Cox voices the despicable General Hemmer (with a name like Hemmer, you know he's bad), with Dennis Quaid and James Garner playing alien authority figures.
POP REFERENCES: Jim Stanton's name clearly nods to WALL-E director Andrew Stanton. WALL-E featured an uninhabitable Earth, a space ark and stalk-eyed helper robots. Mark Hamill's presence as Elder Orin (I have no idea who that was) may nod to the Star Wars-style final battle. It's also very, very much like Delgo, another CGI sci-fi epic in which pastel-colored alien teens try to defuse a war with a can't-we-all-get-along message. The two films even feature nearly identical flying whale-creatures. Coincidence?
HEY, WAIT A MINUTE: Mala helps Jim repair his spaceship's engine using a jerry-rigged cog-and-gear gizmo. But honestly, wouldn't 23rd-century technology have developed beyond big cogs and gears?
THE BOTTOM LINE: Had Battle for Terra beat Delgo to theaters, its technically more sophisticated animation might have been more impressive, but instead the project feels too derivative of too many sci-fi sources. The humans look too artificial in a prime example of the Uncanny Valley effect, while Long's and Cross' weak jokes fail to relieve the potentially traumatic scenes. If only the script were as inspired as the details in the alien world.
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