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'Titan A.E.'

Galaxy quest Humans flee obliterated Earth in 'Titan A.E.'

Friday, June 16, 2000

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

The animated movie "Titan A.E." blends the newfangled and the conventional almost to the point of distraction.


Rating: PG for action violence, mild sensuality and brief language

Players: Voices of Matt Damon, Drew Barrymore, Bill Pullman

Directors: Don Bluth, Gary Goldman

Web site:

Critic's call: 2 1/2 stars.


While directors Don Bluth and Gary Goldman venture into the realm of science fiction with this effort, they also revisit the prevalent theme of almost all their animated features: an individual or an entire society that is forced from its home and must adapt to life in new surroundings.

Dinosaurs do it in "The Land Before Time." A family of Russian mice named Mousekwitz flee pogroms in "An American Tail." A young woman claims to be the daughter of the late Russian czar in "Anastasia."

In "Titan A.E.," no less than the entire human species wanders the galaxies after an alien race called the Drej, fearing "what we might become" in the year 3028, blows Earth to bits and attempts to eradicate those who managed to scramble aboard a spacecraft in time.

The remnants of our civilization drift through space, forming refugee colonies or taking menial jobs to scrape by. Among the latter are Cale (voice of Matt Damon), a sullen teen-ager (some things never change) who is still mad at his father for abandoning him at Earth's demise.

Dad was trying to protect his invention, the Titan, a new kind of spaceship that heralded the next step in humanity's development. This was what the Drej feared enough to destroy our planet (although, as it turns out, Titan seems necessary only in precisely this kind of catastrophe. Can you spell paradox?).

So the race is on -- find where the Titan is hidden before the Drej do. Unbeknownst to Cale, he holds the key to that discovery. The captain of the spaceship Valkyrie, a man named Korso (Bill Pullman), brings Cale aboard his ship. It is piloted by the beautiful but rugged Akima (Drew Barrymore) and crewed by an assortment of alien creatures, including contemptuous first mate Preed (Nathan Lane), eccentric navigator Gune (John Leguizamo) and the extremely irritable weapons specialist Stith (Janeane Garofalo).

They all look like anthropomorphic variations of Earth animals, and provide enough comic relief at first that I started to wonder if they might be refugees from a Disney movie -- say, rejected sidekicks for "Tarzan."

Bluth and Goldman broke away from the Mouse House more than 20 years ago to make animated films with a darker edge -- sometimes to the point of being downright depressing. That's not the case here, thanks in large part to the computer animation, which provides stunning starscapes and ships that look so real you want to reach out for the joystick.

But Bluth and company have not cracked the problem of getting the computer to render flesh-and-blood creatures with the kind of complexity of appearance and motion necessary for any kind of acceptable verisimilitude. So the characters are drawn with traditional two-dimensional animation techniques, which offer a jarring contrast with the three-dimensional high-tech backgrounds. The most visually intriguing of the characters turns out to be Korso, whose facial expressions and body language seem almost lifelike.

I kept wondering whether the movie was aimed at younger kids, who would enjoy the comedy antics and the space-opera stuff, or at older teens, who could identify with Cale's disaffection. The studio, Fox, is hoping it will get both groups.

For all the computer razzmatazz, the movie (written by Ben Edlund, John August and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" creator Joss Whedon) concocted their story elements by borrowing shamelessly from the twin towers of contemporary space fantasy, "Star Wars" and "Star Trek."

From the former, you'll find everything from the betrayal of the father and the destruction of a planetary home to a last-minute rescue by a supposed cynic and characters that look suspiciously like Jawas selling their wares at a slave auction.

From the latter (specifically, two of the "Trek" movies) comes the ending -- the promise of Titan, the fulfillment of humanity's future.

"Titan A.E." probably works better as a harbinger of animation's future, although it also demonstrates that, alas, we're not there yet.

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