Film review: 'Battle' suffers from dull storyline

Published: Friday, May 1 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Giddy, left, Mala and Capt. Jim Stanton are characters in "Battle for Terra," which uses computer graphics.

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BATTLE FOR TERRA — ★★ — Animated feature starring the voices of Evan Rachel Wood, Luke Wilson and others; shown in both the 2D and 3D formats; rated PG (violence, mild profanity, brief gore); in general release

"Battle for Terra" shows that you need more than computer-generated graphics to make a quality animated movie these days.

The quality of the animation in this science-fiction parable is serviceable — it's at least on par with anything shown on television's Cartoon Network programming, for example.

But the storytelling itself is subpar.This is fairly dull and unoriginal stuff. Among other things, the film features some heavy-handed environmentally and ecologically friendly messages (shades of the "Avatar" cartoon series), some "Battlestar Galactica"-style mythology, and some character and vehicle designs that were obviously inspired by the "Star Wars" movies.

(Also, given the upsetting nature of some of its violent content, the film probably deserved a stronger rating than the PG it got from the MPAA.)

The film's title refers to a planet that's inhabited by peaceful, tadpole-like creatures.

These "Terrians" — which include the rebellious but inventive teenager Mala (voiced by Evan Rachel Wood) — come under attack from an interstellar army force.

One of these invaders turns out to be an Earthman, Jim Stanton (the voice of Luke Wilson), who is injured during the initial melee.

But Mala nurses him back to health, and the two become friends. Together they hope to rescue Mala's kidnapped father (Dennis Quaid) — as well as possibly repel another attack.

It's a quaint notion to have Earth humans be the bad guys of the piece. But rather than pursue what that might mean, co-screenwriter/director Aristomenis Tsirbas goes the easy route.

He makes one character — the megalomaniacal General Hemmer (Brian Cox) — be the one who's mostly responsible for the invasion.

As half-formed as the project feels, it makes you wonder how Tsirbas got so many talented people to join the voice cast. In addition to Wood, Wilson, Cox and Quaid, other voice actors include Danny Glover, James Garner, Justin Long and Amanda Peet. (Apparently they just needed an easy paycheck.)

"Battle for Terra" is rated PG and features strong, animated violent content (laser blasts, space-vehicle mayhem, explosive mayhem, violence against animals and some teen-in-peril elements), scattered mild profanity (mostly religiously based), and some brief animal gore. Running time: 85 minutes.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com

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