So my vision after finishing my review of Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas was to be ultra-productive. I was going to start a book, game and film review all within a week to be put up over three weeks, Then my body went “Hey, this is the perfect time to have the mother of all colds.” So for the past week I’ve been surrounded by tissues, Lemsip, lots of drinks and more tissues. But now I’m coming out of the constant sneezing and coughing so I can get around to writing my reviews!
To start with I decided to do a review of Don Bluth’s last film Titan A.E. Bluth’s films have been classics in their own right that have helped shape many childhoods, including mine. What with The Secret of NIMH, The Land Before Time, American Tail and All Dogs Go to Heaven, Bluth films are much darker films mixing realism and mysticism together in an interesting way. It is quite safe to say that during the 1980s, Bluth films ruled the animation world while Disney still lingered in their Dark Age.
But times changed and Disney began their ascendency in their Renaissance and Bluth films bombed, leading to the closure of Sullivan Bluth Productions and Bluth creating an animation division at 20th Century Fox. While Anastasia was a success, the division died in 2000, with Titan A.E. being the last film produced by the animation division. Yet it has produced a cult following since then so let’s have a look at it. Is it a forgotten treasure or just people having nostalgia for a once great film company’s final film. So let’s go to the obligatory overview before getting onto the review.
In 3028 AD, humanity has mastered deep space travel and has met alien races but is then attacked by the Drej, aliens who are just pure energy, meaning that humanity has to escape from earth to keep the human race from going extinct while the Drej go about blowing Earth up.
Fifteen years later, Cale Tucker (Matt Damon) works in a salvage yard when he meets Captain Joseph Korso (Bill Pullman) who knew his father Professor Sam Tucker (Ron Perlman). Korso tells Cale that the ring Cale’s father left him will guide them to Titan, a project his father had been working on to create a new Earth.
With this knowledge Cale and Korso, along with fellow human pilot Akima (Drew Barrymore) and some other alien side characters, they venture to find Titan to create a new Earth, all the while trying to avoid the Drej who are out to stop them.
After watching this two thoughts sprung to mind quite provocatively. First was, “God, hasn’t CGI Animation moved on so much from the year 2000?” The other was “How in all the Film God’s names did this make it to our screens?”. But why would I be thinking this, well let’s get into this film properly then.
Well let’s look at the characters and right off the bat they are boring, generic and, to be blunt, just badly written. Take Cale for instance. He’s your generic young guy (not helped by the fact he’s voiced by generic Matt Damon) who’s looking out for himself but is central to the future of the human race and it is only through growing up as an individual, and through the romance with Akami and father-son relationship with Korso that he learns to fight the good fight. And to that I say: SEEN IT!
I’ve seen it. Hundreds of times and done so much better than Titan A.E.. Cale’s turn around from indifferent young person to valiant hero is so quick that it is barely noticeable. You can tell that it was done so quickly to get to the “action” of the film, but it’s done so halfheartedly that Cale’s character seems to have no linear development to him. Instead he just jumps from one extreme to the next in only one or two scenes where relatively little happens.
Now to Akami. I hate to say it but, apart from her aspirations to create a new Earth for humanity, she is there for one reason and one reason alone. To serve as Cale’s arm candy. I now despise myself for using such a poor description of Akami, but in essence it is true. Akami is thrown in to pad the run time of the film and to give some flimsy reason for Cale to have a love interest in the film which really didn’t need it. In fact it weighs the film down, making it awkward and stilted in a lot of places, making Akami a really boring character.
I genuinely believe this film could have been a lot better if the film was about Akami and not Cale. We could have seen Akami’s back story about her leaving Earth and how she wishes for this world she only remembers through faint memories and stories from her elders to become a reality. We could have then followed her journey to becoming a pilot, as well as an independent and capable person, meeting up with the members of what would become her crew, going out to find Titan whilst avoiding and fighting the Drej, then finally finding the remnants of the Titan mission which would culminate in many reveals and fight scenes which, although happen in the real Titan A.E., would have been much more effective. That would have been good right? It would have at least made Akami more interesting than she actually was.
But no. We got an Akami who is solely there to serve as Cale’s love-interest, a bit of exposition and to add to that whole Adam and Eve metaphor that is sort of thrown in at the last minute. That, in my respected opinion, is complete hogwash.
Why couldn’t we have a woman be the lead? It would have made the plot most palatable and, if you wanted a love-interest, you could have had Akami with a younger Korso, which would have definitely made for more interesting viewing. But no, we get generic white guy with generic girl with a very awkward romantic ark that feels like some bits were misplaced in putting the film together so that point C happens before point A.
Since we’re talking about Korso, let’s move onto him quickly. I’ll try not to spoil this but if you are going to make a character whose allegiances are not what they seem, don’t just drop out of nowhere like an atom bomb in twelfth-century Italy and then almost pretend that it never happened. It plays havoc with the films direction and then tries to make it better by the end. It really doesn’t work and happens all too often to make the character palatable.
If you want to do that, do it like Long John Silver from Treasure Planet. He was unquestionably the bad guy, but his changes were not hated by the audiences but mourned for a loss of a character they had grown to liking. Even when the character changes allegiances again, it is believable, whereas Korso feels more like a schizophrenic than a redeeming character.
Now I’m just going to talk about the side characters briefly as their characters are so paper thin they only deserve the briefest of mentions. The side characters are so one-dimensional that they are comparable to the love and affection you give to the goombas in Mario games. Stith is a weapon specialist with a bad attitude, Gune is the freaky genius navigator and Cree is a villain (not much of a spoiler here) who could have been the main villain of this alongside the Drej but is left underdeveloped and is then tossed away in the same, but perhaps more violent, way that General Zod was in Man of Steel.
All these characters seem to have the potential, but really don’t make the cut. Perhaps it’s a lack of screen time or the fact that they seem to be weird personalities in alien form and nothing else, but in the end they are just left by the wayside in favour of quirky, yet ultimately forgettable characters. This decision may have been done to give the film a more distinctive edge, something which only really makes the film more bland and forgettable.
The story is done in a ham-fisted manner. Some of it is interesting with wonderful locations and intriging aliens. The rest feels awkward and not thought through. One instance that comes to mind is when Cale and Akami are stranded on the human drifter colony New Bangkok (something I must at least give the film credit for recognising that not only white Americans were affected by the destruction of Earth), they just let Cale and Akami make a rocket from their colony. There’s no interaction with the colony’s leaders about whether Cale and Akami can use parts of the drifter colony to make the rocket, they just do it.
What’s more, the entire colony helps without so much as asking what are they doing this for.It’s also really weird that Cale has an interaction we only see on screen twice, and the second is only very briefly, and it helps Cale try to find the Titan with new vigour. But the conversation isn’t very inspiring. It doesn’t bring anything new that already has been said. Yet Cale reacts like its the news that the Holy Grail has been found. This part of the film is so poorly executed that it just leaves you bitter at this half finished scene which just sums up the rest of the film.
Now let’s move onto the animation. In fairness to Titan A.E., it’s traditional animation is really good. It’s distinctive, if a bit Disney-ish, that gives the film visual appeal. However the computer animation is, well there is no other word for it, abominable. It really is. The Drej look superimposed on every background they are in that you really feel that the process to blend the computer and traditional animation styles together was left to Steve the Cleaner after all the animators went home and left the keys with him (see above for visual example).
The music is also…there. That’s the only way to put it. It doesn’t contribute to the feeling of the film and add some other dimension. It’s just there. There are all songs and not one of them is memorable. If you think you recognise the song or even the band who sings the song, you have better music knowledge than I. It’s all sounds similar and, looking at the titles, it seems they are meant to have some relevance but it hardly resonates with the viewer.
I feel sorry for this film. I get the feeling there could have been a good film with this concept and anyone who wants to rework this film into something new should definitely do so. The potential is there. What with all the reboots going on in the film industry, you would have thought some not successful films with a good concept behind them might get another try. At the very least they could try giving a film with After Earth (A.E.) in their title to
But with the film being what it is, it doesn’t seem like it should attract the cult following it purportedly has. There’s some humour, some good fight scenes but beyond that not much. The plot’s too choppy, the characters are stiff and shift from one extreme to another, the animation is a blend of decent traditional animation and awful computer animation which makes the entire film a weird experience. If you want a weird experience, then by all means watch this film, but if you actually want something watchable, then steer clear. It will leave you wishing you had watched Treasure Planet instead, an actually decent traditional/computer animated film.
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