MOVIE REVIEW - 'Battle for Terra' Doesn't Quite Win Fight

The old adage is fools rush in where angels fear to tread. With the exception of the film Wall*E, the extended track record of animated science fiction films has been overall rather dismal.

So is rookie feature film director Aristomenis Tsirbas being young - and to put it nicely - a bit naïve to expect success with the new animated science fiction feature Battle for Terra? While Terra is an incredibly solid try, it probably won't be a game-changer the fortunes of animated sci-fi.

To reiterate, Tsirbas’ efforts on this film could be called more than human. He and scriptwriter Evan Spiliotopoulos created a believable (for sci-fi) plot line that incorporates elements of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, Ursula K. Leguin’s magnificent short story “The Word of the World Is Forest,” and Rene Laloux’ animated feature film La Planette Sauvage. Old school science fiction fans will see what the movie is about pretty easily, but more generic fans will probably find its roll reversal aspects fairly novel. Tsirbas and Spiliotopoulos also spent an incredible amount of time and effort in coming up with believable alien and human societies, given each race’s environments.

Yet, as we detailed in our interview with Tsirbas earlier this week, at his disposal was a budget somewhere between one tenth to one fifth that of something Blue Sky, Disney/Pixar and/or Dreamworks spends on their animated features. He openly admits he had to employ shortcuts guys like John Lasseter would never allow.

This becomes particularly apparent when it comes to the rendering of the human characters. As he openly admits, Tsirbas purposely left most of them without body hair [creating body hair is one of animations most time consuming and therefore budget-increasing tasks]. The end result is an effect that gives his humans a lack of expressiveness that can sometimes be disturbing. There are other times where the timing of the action is just off kilter. The animation is just good enough, however, to make you wonder what this young director could have done with a few more million.

That’s because when push comes to shove, the final—like you’re surprised there wasn’t one?—battle sequence is a head turner. When it comes to the climactic confrontation, fans will see Tsirbas delivers more than his money’s worth.

The time that went into designing much of the futuristic tech and the alien race itself is also quite remarkable. This leaves the impression that if Tsirbas did have that extra money, Battle For Terra could have given the Wolverine movie, which also opens this weekend, a solid scrap…at least on the critical reception front.

While Battle For Terra might not have achieved the lofty goals it set out for itself, it isn’t for lack of effort Hopefully the film does well enough that Tsirbas gets the green light for another project where he’ll use his Terra experience to his advantage. That being the case, don’t be surprised if this is a name we should definitely keep our eyes on.

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