Bad story, poor casting leave 'Terra' flat

April 30, 2009 

There is so much wrong with "Battle for Terra" that it's hard to decide where to start.

Let's begin with the story. The 3-D animated film takes place in the future. Humans have destroyed Earth. The survivors have traveled across the universe for generations to find a planet to call home.

They find Terra. There is just one obstacle: The planet is already occupied. The galactic travelers, pushed by a zealous military, decide the only solution is to wipe out all life.

Writer Evan Spiliotopoulos and director Aristomenis Tsirbas have created a story in which it is impossible to take sides. Normally, we would cheer for the humans. Here it is hard to support them when genocide is their final option. The script solution was to turn to the ploy of making the military the heartless villains.

"Terra" also suffers from design problems. The process of 3-D animation has come a long way. But attempts to create realistic looking humans always end up making the characters look plastic and robotic. Films like "Monsters vs. Aliens" got around that problem by giving the human characters exaggerated features. The humans in "Terra" all look like rejects from bad video games.

Then there are the inhabitants of Terra. It is like watching a bowl of sea monkeys as they happily go along with life. The design is too rudimentary, which slams against the efforts for realism taken with the humans. Neither really works.

Most animated films are now being presented in 3-D, which is great when the effect works. In this film, the 3-D effects actually look flat.

Voice casting is another problem. Except for Brian Cox -- and occasionally James Garner -- these characters could have been voiced by anyone. Evan Rachel Wood is a good actress, but her voice is not distinct enough to give any importance to the voice of the central character of Mala.

The same goes for Danny Glover, Luke Wilson, Amanda Peet, Laraine Newman, Beverly D'Angelo or David Cross. None are distinct enough to make their participation valuable.

Finally, there's the mundane story. The really good guys who love peace have to deal with a deadly threat. That's about enough for 10 minutes of plot. Tsirbas fills the rest of the short movie with so much talk about peace and love it is like a bad '60s flashback.

"Battle for Terra" is a perfect miss on every level.

TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at rbentley@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6355. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com/author/rick_ bentley.

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