Quantcast
subscriber help

artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Battle for Terra (review)

Alien Worlds

A beautiful jewel of a planet. Alien invaders swooping down to steal precious resources and wipe out the natives. Oh, but look at that: it’s humans as the bad guys, as the alien invaders, in the CG-animated Battle for Terra, and that makes for a nice switcheroo, if one some human beings will howl at. How dare humans be the villains! After all, it’s not like humanity has a long legacy of genocide and invasion and cultural imperialism toward our own species! Why on Earth — or beyond — would we be so mean to nonhuman creatures?

Hmmm.
I’m not at all surprised to discover the Terra director Aristomenis Tsirbas is Canadian, because if there’s one term that best characterizes Canadian science fiction, it’s “humanist.” As in “rational” and “equanimous” and “liberal,” and in this case, we have to extend the definition to “non-specieist”: or, not being bigoted against other species. Shockingly — or, you know, not, if you’re any kind of genuine fan of science fiction, which, at its best, is about seeing the world from a not-typical perspective — we see most of the events of Terra through the eyes of Mala (the voice of Evan Rachel Wood: Running with Scissors, The Upside of Anger), a native of the planet dubbed Terra by the ark-shipload of homo sapiens just arrived in orbit. In a sort of twist on Enemy Mine, Mala — a floaty kind of being who lives in a city in the sky belonging to a culture that worships life and eschews war and appears to love music and art and aesthetics — rescues a human fighter pilot, Jim Stanton (the voice of Luke Wilson: Henry Poole Is Here, 3:10 to Yuma), who crashes during an attack on Mala’s city. An uneasy form of friendship ensues, which can only lead to understanding, and sympathy, and all sorts of further suspicious feeling certain to doom any attempt to dominate by force.

I won’t overplay this: Terra is a tad overearnest and just a wee bit preachy in its insistence on playing up how the humans have destroyed their homeworld by gobbling up its resources, and in how the (to us) alien Terrans are so sweet and kind and nice and lovely in their rejection of violence, and in how they live in harmony with nature. I mean, I’m wholly approving of such sentiments, and still I have to say: Was the sledgehammer necessary?

But the heartfelt authenticity of Tsirbas and his screenwriter, Evan Spiliotopoulos, cannot be denied, and it more than overcomes whatever storytelling faults their approach has. They’ve created an alien race, in the Terrans, that is more alien — both biologically and culturally — than The Movies usually bothers with. (And, again, if you’re any kind of science fiction fan, this should be very important to you indeed, even if the Terrans still aren’t as alien as real aliens out there in the real universe are likely to be. The planet Terra, too, is really alien — it reminds me of the work of SF artist Wayne Barlowe, not in its specifics, but in how it imagines another world and another evolution could be.) And they’ve given us a movie that is gentle in a way that we hardly ever see, a movie that asks us to consider that the world (or, ahem, the universe) and human needs, as imperative as they are, should not be seen in black-and-white, but that there are shades of gray that must be acknowledged and that can be equally as effective as the all-or-nothing approach that is so often the option of first resort.

I’m not gonna lie. The animation — which isn’t by Disney or Pixar — is lovely, but it’s not groundbreaking. I first saw the film last year at the Tribeca Film Festival, when it was not in 3D, and while the 3D-ization of the film does not at all detract from the experience, I’m not entirely sure it was necessary either. Because Battle for Terra is not, primarily, an experience about spectacle but one about emotion and morals and ethics. If you don’t want to have to think about a movie, this is not the movie for you. If, on the other hand, you love, that, you’ll love this, too.


MPAA: rated PG for sequences of sci-fi action violence and some thematic elements

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine
  • If you want to have to think about a movie, this is not the movie for you. If, on the other hand, you love, that, you’ll love this, too.

    Ah… what now?

  • Bill

    Hahahahaha…Newbs, i gotta say i laughed out loud at your post. I’m hearing someone go “Ah…what now?” in my head, but i’m not sure who it is. Anyway, it’s cracking my shit up. Umm, so yeah, that’s all i got.

  • Chris

    I’m assuming that at least a few of them were hairdressers and phone sanitizers.

  • Ryan

    If you want to have to think about a movie, this is not the movie for you. If, on the other hand, you love, that, you’ll love this, too.

    lol Newbs, yeah…I tried about eight different versions of those two sentences…none of them worked. The closest I came to something that made sense was putting the word don’t between ‘you’ and ‘want’

  • Jon

    I think the promos made it very transparet this was a human bashing story. Given the unremarkable animation then it is at best a “wait for broadcast TV” catagory. No need to go see it when there are other better stories out there. (as if we really need another environmental PC movie that calls all humans bad)

  • Jurgan

    That’s a bit of an overreaction to an obvious typo. I’m pretty sure she meant “If you don’t want to have to think about a movie, this is not the movie for you.”

    Fry: Wait a minute- this is your home planet? We’re the evil invaders?
    Ball: Yes.
    Bender: Then I guess you learned a valuable lesson: Don’t mess with Earth!
    Ball: May you bounce in peace.
    Bender: Get the hell off my planet.

  • MaryAnn

    Yes, I was missing a “don’t” in there. And I fixed it.

    I think the promos made it very transparet this was a human bashing story.

    “Human bashing”? So humans are completely incapable of doing anything bad?

  • Paul

    Hell, being a history major sometimes felt like human bashing. We fought over this, we fought over that, we fought over this other thing. I’ve made an oath to myself to read all of Shakespeare’s plays in the order he wrote them, and sometimes I come away thinking, my goodness, we’re such animals.

  • rubberjesus

    we aren’t any worse than any other animal, we’re just smarter thus capable of more. ants, wolves, and pretty much all other creatures on the planet kill each other over resources on a regular basis, elephants are some of the most vindictive creatures on the planet and have attacked human villages in retaliation for humans killing elephants, elephants have also done some unspeakable things to female rhinos for no reason, infact the more intelligent animals become the more “evil” things they do, chimpanzee have killed out of anger and some times for no reason at all, because we do all of the above doesn’t make us evil it makes us alive, we are animals so why are we shocked that we act like animals, nature’s a bitch, real life in the forest isn’t like bambi, wars were fought on earth long before humans showed up.

  • K G

    Although it’s worth stating, rubberjesus, that it is something like the original Bambi (book).

  • I appreciate the defense of the human race in an earlier post but it’s probably not a good idea to combine this quote:

    we aren’t any worse than any other animal, we’re just smarter thus capable of more.

    with this:

    In fact the more intelligent animals become the more “evil” things they do…

    Hell, being a history major sometimes felt like human bashing. We fought over this, we fought over that, we fought over this other thing.I’ve made an oath to myself to read all of Shakespeare’s plays in the order he wrote them, and sometimes I come away thinking, my goodness, we’re such animals.

    Alas, you don’t necessarily have to read history or Shakespeare to come to that conclusion.

    But humans are also capable of genuinely great things too. It’s just not fashionable to bring them right now…

  • Victor Plenty

    Humans aren’t the only animals who do rotten things to other animals. But, to the best of our knowledge, humans are the animals most likely to feel remorse over doing those things, and most likely to build social institutions and promote moral standards that encourage them to treat others better.

    For all our flaws, I’m not ready to give up on us yet.

  • Pedro

    Watched the Portuguese preview screening last night, sans kiddiewinks present in the room. Was bored to tears. Although I have to admire the movie’s bravery in presenting an unapologetic depiction of war (with losses and burning things and references to the death of soldiers) in a children’s movie, I think the piss-poor voice work and complete absence of laughs make for a very boring final product.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like that the movie has a more reflexive nature, rather than be a hyperkinetic joke-a-minute affair. God knows we have enough of those (starting with the also recent, and dreadful, G-Force). But would it hurt to have ONE funny line or two? I guess David Cross’s robot is supposed to work as comic relief, but he never really says anything funny.

    And the voice acting was pitiful. The only people I really liked were Luke Wilson as Lieutenant McBland and Brian Cox as the bad guy. The rest were a waste of big-name talent.

    Also, for some reason, I kept thinking what this movie would be like in live-action format. Probably better, I daresay.

    All in all, glad I didn’t pay for it. But I was sorely tempted to sneak into some other movie, perhaps “The Informant” playing right next door…

  • MaryAnn

    Humans aren’t the only animals who do rotten things to other animals. But, to the best of our knowledge, humans are the animals most likely to feel remorse over doing those things,

    We don’t know that. It may be likely, but we don’t know that for sure. And even if it’s true, we should be even more ashamed of ourselves, because we supposedly know better and do bad anyway.

    and most likely to build social institutions and promote moral standards that encourage them to treat others better.

    Well, we don’t know that, either. Who knows what whales are singing to one another? Perhaps dolphins tell other dolphins, “Dude, it’s totally uncool to rape” (which dolphins have been observed doing).

    For all our flaws, I’m not ready to give up on us yet.

    Neither am I. Not at all. But does that mean we never point out areas for improvement? Of course not.

    But humans are also capable of genuinely great things too. It’s just not fashionable to bring them right now…

    Oh, come on. Really? Who’s stopping anyone from mounting a museum exhibit of great art? Or a concert performance of great music? We’re constantly celebrating the best of what we can do.

  • Oh, come on. Really? Who’s stopping anyone from mounting a museum exhibit of great art? Or a concert performance of great music? We’re constantly celebrating the best of what we can do.

    I’m not saying that we stopped doing that. It’s just not as fashionable as it used to be. Just like the representational art of an Andrew Wyeth isn’t as fashionable today as the nonrepresentational art of an Andrew Pollack. Or opera isn’t as fashionable today as it was in Enrico Caruso’s heyday.

    It’s not like we’ve seen a lot of movies devoted to the likes of Thomas Edison or Leonard DaVinci. And when we do see a movie or TV show devoted to a genius, we seem to feel this need to make him or her dysfunctional as if we were living in the era of Harrison Bergeron and we can’t abide seeing someone unless he or she is hopelessly flawed.

    Thus, the lead character of Bones can’t just take pride in her work investigating crimes and helping to catch criminals. She has to constantly second-guess herself and seek reassurance that she’s doing the right thing. And Dr. Greg House just can’t be a genius-level doctor who solves difficult cases. He has to be an emotional basket case. And don’t get me started on the changes made in Doctor Who–though it seems a shame that for the first season or so, he no longer saved people for the sake of saving them–he had to be inspired to save them. As if would-be disaster victims have time to worry about “inspiring” their would-be rescuer…

  • Psyclone

    It’s not the message itself that I’m most uncomfortable with: it’s the fact that it’s insert in what is basically a children’s movie. I mean, is “humans have behaved like genocidal monsters through history and there’s no reason the future will be any different” a message you want to teach kids? In the name of what, “realism”? Why not teach them stuff like “exploiting the legal system works” or “If you want to become a rich CEO, learn how to be able to steal, cheat and lie to get ahead. It works!”. Aren’t those “realistic” messages?

    Yes, you may claim this has en environmental message, but what will kids take from it? “Recycle or in the future humanity will kill all the cute aliens for their resources?” What if they ask “But daddy, doesn’t that require EVERYONE to recycle to work? Then there’s no way to avoid the cute aliens dying! Waaaaaah!”

    Say what you want about Avatar, but at least it was marketed towards a more mature audience. This is a tad misguided IMHO.

  • Psyclone

    In fact, according to Wikipedia:

    The film was directed by Aristomenis Tsirbas who conceived it as a hard-edged live action feature with photo-real CGI environments. The close collaboration with producing partner and investor Snoot Entertainment redirected the project to become fully animated and appeal to younger audiences.

    There you go. Executive Meddling at its finest. I wonder how that meeting went.

    “So your movie is about Earth invading another planet and planning on exterminating the inhabitants for their resources? You know, this would make a great kids movie!”

Pin It on Pinterest