Forgotten Classics: Titan A.E.

Posted on October 16, 2010 by

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I’m a sucker for an animated movie, it’s true. I’m even more of a sucker for an animated Sci-Fi movie. And I’m absolutely a sucker for anything that might induce in me a sense of nostalgia, because I’m weird like that. So when I saw Titan A.E. in the DVD bargain bin, I had to buy it. I had to watch it. I’d seen it at the cinema when it came out waaaay back in the year 2000, and I liked it then. I was ten years old at the time. And, well, I still like it, ten years later.

Now, I’ll be honest here, this review has given me some serious trouble in the writing, I’m not sure why. The more observant among you will perhaps have noticed that I promised this review nearly two months ago, and this is because, it is a really weird movie. I loved it as a youngster, but now I’m not so sure what I make of it. I guess we’ll see how I feel at the end of the review.

The problem with Titan A.E is that, well, it seems as if I was the only who did go to see it at the theatre, as it only grossed about half of its production budget, and basically killed Fox Animation Studies (and Don Bluth’s career) in the process. A lot of this was down to a rather haphazard advertising campaign, which made it difficult to tell if it was aimed at kids, or a more mature teen Sci-Fi audience. It turns out it was the latter.

Starring babyfaced Matt Damon (Before he was famous), forgettable actor Bill Pullman (After he was famous) and Drew Barrymore (who’s never been famous), and directed by Animation LEGEND Don Bluth (After he sold out and went mental*), and featuring extensive integrated traditional and computer-generated animation, T:AE might look like a pretty safe bet today, but back then, nobody wanted a piece of that action, and so it got pretty middling reviews (51% in fact, according to Rotten Tomatoes) although for once Roger Ebert and I were in agreement, as he quite liked it.

*Okay so, basically Don Bluth is was an animation genius. He brought us classic animated movies like The Secret of NIMH, An American Tail, The Land Before Time, as well as doing a bunch of other work on occasional Disney projects, but then… he went bonkers, and we got things like Rock-A-Doodle, A Troll in Central Park, Thumbelina and The Pebble and The Penguin. No one’s such exactly what prompted this, but most people suspect it has something to do with his having spent years trying to avoid the Disney mould of filmmaking, and making deep, mature movies that… no one went to see. At which point, he gave up and started trying to either emulate Disney (and failing) or just making plain damn weird crap. Titan A.E ., despite being the movie that basically killed his career, was actually one of his best movies.

The plot goes thusly- It’s 3028 AD, Humanity has acquired deep-space travel capabilities and has made first contact with several alien species, although when human scientists start work on something called ‘Project Titan’ (because they were presumably mad scientists with a penchant for the dramatic), Earth is attacked and destroyed by energy-based beings known as the Drej, who think humanity is getting a bit uppity and might threaten their dominance of the galaxy, which, given that they can blow up planets, doesn’t really seem like it should be such a huge worry to them, but they need to have some sort of motivation, I guess, I mean, this isn’t Independence Day for crying out loud…

A lot of the Humans got off-world before things started getting all kablooie, including Cale Tucker (Matt Damon), son of one of the Titan scientists (played all too-fleetingly by the living god that is Ron Perlman). Cale was put on an evacuation shuttle by his father, who then promptly went and absconded with the Titan Spaceship, disappearing into hyperspace, never to be seen again. Cale has some daddy issues as a result of this. Before abandoning Cale for SCIENCE!, his dad gave him a magic ring which contains a map to where the Titan now rests.

Cale is sought out by Joseph Korso: SPACE CAPTAIN (Bill Pullman), who shows Cale how to use the ring, so they can find the Titan and rekindle hope for humanity, who now exist as drifters, considered second-class citizens by the other alien races, because that’s totally what you’d do to a species that was brutally genocided by evil glowing energy beings. His shipped is and I use this term loosely) manned by an eclectic alien crew, as well as a Human pilot, Akima, the shallow token love-interest. From there, they have a frantic scramble to get to the Titan before the Drej, and I wont go into too much detail after that because I don’t like spoiling interesting plots.

The themes of this movie are surprisingly dark, not because it’s animated, go see Akira or The Last Unicorn, they’re surprising because of Bluth’s involvement. His last two dozen projects had been light, fluffy affairs, despite his best films, Secret of NIMH, Land Before Time etc, being similarly dark and gritty. The problem is that marketing executives a) don’t watch the films they’re trying to advertise and b) are utter morons in any case. What should have been marketed towards a more grown up, teen audience was instead targeted at children, and while it’s not bad for children to watch, like Watership Down (oh dear god, that movie) it probably could have done with a higher age rating just for the mature themes. Then again, parents never look at age ratings anyway, I saw a woman taking her 10 year old kid to see Kick-Ass “Because it has a little girl in it, how bad can it be?”. Ugh. RATINGS EXIST FOR A REASON, PEOPLE.

Anyway, The animation is smooth, and while the sci-fi elements tend towards middle ground of Moh’s scale, there are some seriously good elements, like a part where Cale and Korso jump from ship to ship through open space, hyperventilating themselves beforehand to oxygenate their blood, and then exhaling (You really don’t wanna have lungs filled with air in a vacuum) which really just added to the whole movie for me, someone really though it through there.

The acting comes across a little bit wooden in places, but then, Matt Damon and Bill Pullman aren’t exactly known for their expressiveness, y’know? Is it a good movie? Aeh. If you’re into Sci-Fi, or you’re just a Matt Damon completest, it’s worth grabbing if you see it second-hand somewhere cheap, if not, then you’re life wont be unduly tarnished by a lack of this movie having been in it.

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Posted in: Movies, Retrospective