Battle For Terra [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Andreas Petersen (16th November 2009).
The Film

As a person who believes that his finger is always on the button, I’m always surprised when a movie comes to be reviewed that I have never heard of, even a low budget CG-Sci-Fi movie such as "Battle for Terra." But here it is, and when it comes to computer animated films that aren’t from Pixar, my expectations are low, in that I’m expecting to hate it. That said, I like to feel that I went in with an open mind.

"Battle for Terra" opens up with a pretty stunning travel through space towards the titular planet of Terra. We move through nebulas and asteroid belts to the soothing sounds of Abel Korzeniowski’s impressive score. For a split second there, I thought I was about to be blown away with a decent film, teaching me to open my horizons in the realm of computer animated films. Unfortunately, the next 82 minutes of the film happened, and I feel more justified than ever.

Terra is populated by a race of aliens that resemble sea monkeys that can float around. They are a peaceful people, but live under some semblance of totalitarian rule, with a high council that must approve pretty much any happenings within the community. One day a large ship approaches out of the sky, and most of the natives think it is a god of some sort. An inventive Terra native named Mala (Evan Rachel Wood) invents a telescope to get a better look, only to discover something that resembles a space craft. Moments later, ships come down to the surface and start snatching people up. Mala’s is chased down by one of the ships and tricks it into crashing. The pilot, Jim Stanton (Luke Wilson) emerges, but passes out from the atmosphere. Mala takes him into her home, and with the assistance of Stanton’s plucky robot, Giddy (David Cross), she resuscitates him. The plot then moves to explain that humans evacuated Earth hundreds of years ago and are now looking to terraform Terra, and this leads to a war between the natives and the humans.

"Battle for Terra" is almost good, or rather, there are strong elements at work here. Director Aristomenis Tsirbas is extremely competent, and his eye for visual flare keeps Terra from coming anywhere near the stale garbage that is the likes of "Delgo" (2008) or "Donkey X" (2007). Unlike these armature movies, the camera has a depth of field, and moves much like a real camera does. Coupled with the decent score, the film is never boring to look at.

Another strong, or at least potentially strong, suit the movie has is the thematic elements concerning plot twists between characters. However, the movie fails to bank on this for any sort of dramatic pay off. The film completely ignores the fact that by the end of the movie, characters have gone on amazing arcs that could impress even the most hardened critic, but nothing ever comes of it, and these moments are never emphasized.

Then there’s the voice acting, which I will say is the film’s biggest weak spot. This is the type of movie that hired actors to come in and speak their lines in recognizable voices, not to actually come in and do the work of a voice actor. The term “phoned in” doesn’t do justice here, particularly in the role of Senn (Justin Long). I get that studios want to attach big names to movies so they can sell it on a poster, but I can just hear how little the entire cast cared about the material.

In the end, "Battle for Terra" was a wasted opportunity, not only for a good movie, but for paving the way for indie computer animated films. Let’s hope someone gets this right soon.

Video

"Battle for Terra" is presented in a beautiful 1080p 24/fps 1.85:1 transfer mastered with AVC MPEG-4 compression, and this is honestly one of the best looking Blu-rays I have ever seen. All the care and craft must have been drained from the creative facets from the movie and siphoned into this transfer, because while I was watching the movie, all I could think about was how much the transfer itself was as good as "WALL•E" (2008) or "Up" (2009). The actual graphic renderings of "Battle for Terra" are far from amazing, or in most instances, “good”, but the clarity here is unrivaled. Every color is crisp, and every movement is clear as day. An amazing achievement.

Audio

"Battle for Terra" is presented in an English Uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround HD audio transfer mixed at 48kHz/24-bit, and while the sounds here are clear, there is nothing really to back it up. The film has some impressive action sequences, and some fairly unimpressive ones, but none of them are backed up with any real punch at all when it comes to audio. When characters scuffle, there’s no texture to grab onto, and I felt like the characters were silently hitting each other. Also, in the great big ship-to-ship battle in the film’s climax, the exhilarating visuals didn’t have the sound to match. The sound is there, but there just isn’t enough of it.
Optional subtitles are included in English, English for the hearing impaired and Spanish.

Extras

"Battle for Terra" boasts an audio commentary track, a few featturettes, deleted scenes, animatics, a still gallery and a bonus trailer, and one of the most bizarre bonus features I have ever laid eyes on. They are described in better detail below:

Fist up is the feature-length audio commentary with director Aristomenis Tsirbas, screenwriter Evan Spilotopoulos, and editor Jim May. Here, the three seem to dissect the film as though they were film students, using learner friendly terms like “beats”, or talking about how “surreal” a scene is. I don’t want to say they aren’t genuine, but the three seem to be overcompensating for how much of a mess the movie was by accompanying it with pretentious voice over.

Next we have "The Making of Battle for Terra" featurette, running at 4 minutes and 45 seconds. Here, we have an amazingly rushed making-of, which attempts to cover all its bases in under 5 minutes. We are sped through the concept phase to animation phase to the sound design phase all in a matter of seconds. I feel like I would have been interested to learn more, as this feature doesn’t give you any sort of time to latch on to anything.

Next up are four deleted scenes, all of which were surprisingly fully rendered and scored. The scenes themselves actually clear up some questions that gaps in the narrative never answered, so I actually would have liked to have seen all of these integrated back into the movie, which at only 82 minutes, there was more than enough breathing room to. The scenes are:

- "Forbidden Hobby" which runs for 2 minutes and 15 seconds, in which Mala’s love of building things is established earlier.
- "Some Creepy Weird Thing" which runs for 1 minute and 46 seconds, in which Mala is inspired to build a telescope.
- "Snow Monster!" which runs for 1 minute and 45 seconds, in which Mala and Stanton are attacked by a frosty beast on their way to his ship.
- "Moria’s Call for Action" which runs for 1 minute and 14 seconds, in which Stanton is introduced with the idea of revolution.

Next up are some production design stills, which includes 18 sketches made by Tsirbas in the early stages of production.

"From Storyboard to Render" is a short featurette, running for only 24 seconds. Here, we have a short segment of the movie played out in 4 simultaneous boxes, ranging from sketches, to story board, to early render, to final product. This is the sort of animation feature I actually find interesting, and wish there was more of it.

"Mala’s Escape" animatics runs for 2 minutes and 15 seconds, contains a picture-in-picture comparison to the early renders of the movie with the final product. I would have loved to have been able to watch the entire movie this way, as, like the previous extra, I find this sort of stuff incredibly fascinating.

Next we have "Aristomenis Tsirbas: Pulling the Strings" featurette, which runs for 1 minute and 29 seconds. Here, a CG version of the director walks around the movie with a camera and talks about how movies change who he is, and that’s why me makes movies. For some reason, his in-movie-avatar looks like a terribly deformed Muppet, and isn’t cute or approachable in the slightest. This is the sort of thing I’d stumble upon as a kid, and think about it all night while I tried to sleep.

Lastly, the disc includes a bonus trailer for "Next Avengers" which runs for 2 minutes and 8 seconds.

Overall

The Film: D+ Video: A Audio: B- Extras: C- Overall: C+

 


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