62Jammer's Review: "Titan A.E." (2000)
- Jul 8, 2000Shameless plug: There have been some significant updates over at Star Trek:
Hypertext (http://www.st-hypertext.com), as well as some announcements, so I
encourage you to stop by. Comments welcome! In my campaign to occasionally
review new sci-fi movies, I've turned my attention to "Titan A.E.," which
may be a moot review since the box office numbers have the movie destined
for an apparent quick death (it's no longer even playing in my hometown). So
This review contains setup information on the plot, but I don't consider it
a "spoiler review."
Titan A.E. (USA)
PG, 92 min.
Release date: 6/16/2000
Voice talent includes: Matt Damon (Cale), Bill Pullman (Korso), Drew
Barrymore (Akima), Nathan Lane (Preed), John Leguizamo (Gune), Janeane
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Screenplay by Ben Edlund, John August, Joss Whedon
Story by Hans Bauer and Randall McCormick
Produced by Don Bluth, Gary Goldman, David Kirschner
Directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman.
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
Rating out of 4: **1/2
"Titan A.E." begins and ends with dramatic special-effects sequences that
rouse some genuine emotions, but in between there are many moments where the
plot chugs along the formula lines with obvious story manipulations. Rather
than reinventing mainstream sci-fi conventions, "Titan A.E." seems content
to replay them in an animated cinema venue, which America still hasn't
embraced. The result is a fairly entertaining comic book that's adequate but
could've been much more daring and memorable.
Will this be the film that convinces American moviegoers that animated
features aren't just family films? ("Anime" is hugely popular in Japanese
movie theaters; in America it has a cult status on video.) I'm inclined to
say no, because "Titan A.E." is, in essence, still a family film. It's
edgier and darker than Disney's animated features, and it looks to find its
niche in sci-fi genre fans, but the story is pitched at a level for kids.
The characters and story themes contain some palatable ideas, but they are
conveyed in broad, simplistic strokes.
The year is 3028. In a powerful opening sequence, Earth is destroyed by a
race of evil aliens called the Drej, who fear humanity and see its
extermination as a self-serving proactive safety precaution. We see Earth's
destruction through the eyes of a young boy named Cale, who is separated
from his father, a man of great importance. Cale's father must escape to
finish his work on the mysterious Titan project, which may have great
importance to the fate of humanity.
This opening sequence captures some reel feeling. In less than 10 minutes of
screen time we watch a young boy orphaned while the human race is brought to
its knees, becoming scattered bands of refugees. Earth's destruction is a
harrowing image, and there are some well-conceived touches like the moon
being hit by shockwaves and crumbling into large dead masses.
Fifteen years later, Cale (voiced by Matt Damon) works in slicing up scrap
metal. He lives the life of what now seems typical of humans--scraping by on
peanuts, a member of a species that no longer garners much respect in the
galaxy. One day, Cale is visited by a human named Korso (Bill Pullman).
Korso believes Cale may hold great importance for humanity, and he's right:
Cale learns that he holds in the palm of his hand (literally) a genetically
coded map that points to the hidden Titan vessel. Korso enlists Cale (who
resists the notion) as a crew member on his ship. The mission: Track down
the Titan before the Drej can.
The central character struggle in the film is Korso's attempts to help Cale
overcome his Han Solo-like "me first" cynicism. Cale has always felt his
father abandoned him (it's of course more complicated than that), and his
attitude is one of a skeptic who doesn't trust people. For Cale, nothing in
the world is permanent, so you have to take advantage of the opportunities
put in front of you--so long as they're self-serving.
Maybe the ship's attractive pilot, Akima (Drew Barrymore), can help Cale see
otherwise. She also grew up as a refugee, but she hopes that finding
humanity a new place to call home might be the way through which mankind can
thrive again. The Titan, it is said, may provide just that.
The story owes plenty to "Star Wars." The sense of wandering refugees
reminds us of Luke Skywalker and the rebellion, while the Drej remind us of
the Empire (though the Drej are much more cardboard in their single-minded
motivation to destroy). They even have a planet-destroyer that is roughly
equivalent to the Death Star. And at one point, Cale and Akima have just
repaired a junk heap of a spaceship and try to start it for the first time;
I had to chuckle when it stalled and Akima said, "Should I get out and
Rounding out Korso's crew are some friendly, somewhat colorful non-human
characters: Preed (Nathan Lane), the first officer; Gune (John Leguizamo), a
strange, quirky genius; and Stith (Janeane Garofalo), a temperamental
Although most of the story isn't exactly brand new, the filmmakers manage to
do a good job of delivering the material in an entertaining fashion. But
what sabotages "Titan A.E." is the way the plot doesn't play fair with some
of its key characters. Without giving too much away, I'll mention that
halfway through the movie there's a revealed motivation that doesn't track
with the way a certain character is fundamentally established earlier in the
film. Subsequently, this character's personality changes in ways so extreme
that it qualifies as a betrayal of the audience. It's as if the
screenwriters suddenly flipped a switch, and it really snapped me out of the
movie. It's frustrating to invest in characters only to have the plot
arbitrarily knock them around like pinballs.
Comic books are known for their simplistic, often exaggerated emotions and
dialog, but I don't think animation can't be subtle. "Titan A.E.," alas,
doesn't take enough subtle routes. It embraces lightning-paced
comic-book-land--which is fine--but it could've benefited from a little more
depth. The Drej are completely faceless, two-dimensional bad guys, most of
whose dialog boils down to "Destroy the humans!" or other such lines of
Where "Titan A.E." works best is in its imaginative visuals and sometimes
thrilling action scenes. The movie alternates traditional 2D animation (used
for most scenes with characters and virtual "sets") with 3D computer effects
(used for the shots of the ships and objects in space). The best eye-candy
sequence comes when Cale's ship is being hunted through a nebular expanse
filled with huge ice crystals that send reflections in every direction
imaginable, giving Cale a tactical advantage. The sequence is as beautiful
as it is complex, with constant motion in the full three dimensions.
Also imaginatively depicted are the physical characteristics of the Drej,
whose ships seem translucent and elastic, and whose force fields have a
fluidic, electric quality that registers as an original concept of sci-fi
To experience some of these sights, and also in learning what the Titan
project truly represents, I'm tempted to recommend "Titan A.E." But as a
story with (ironically) overly cartoonish characters who are too frequently
jerked around by the plot, I'm mildly disappointed. Maybe a comic book
should only be required to meet certain criteria, and depth isn't one of
them. But why straightjacket animated features that way? "Titan A.E." is a
reasonable diversion, but given what it is at its outset, it deserves to be
Copyright 2000 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.
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Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...