I promise I’ll get back to reviewing new movies soon. It’s just that not too many interesting ones are being released right now, at least not at my town’s tiny theatre, so this seems like a good time to catch up on older films I haven’t seen before.
This little cartoon, released in 2000, starts off with a bang: in the year 3028 A.D., the Earth gets blown up by some evil energy beings called the Drej. A scientist has to leave his young son on an escaping space ship so he can pilot a mysterious super ship, known as the Titan, to an unknown location. Fast forward 15 years, and the son (who is unfortunately named Cale–I think the vegetable kale craze was still a few years away when this was made) is eking out a living at a salvage station in deep space. But one day a stranger named Korso shows up to tell him that his father left behind a map to the Titan’s hiding place that only Cale can open, and that the ship could save what’s left of the human race. So they set off, along with a pretty pilot named Akima and a few alien crew members, to find the ship before the Drej can destroy it.
I’ve wanted to watch this movie for a long time–and I mean a really long time. I was eight when it came out, and I remember seeing commercials for it on TV. Back then I barely knew what sci-fi was, and the concept of the Earth getting destroyed was a brand new, terrifying idea for me. So I was pretty intrigued by the movie, but then it came out…and I never heard anything about it again. Apparently it made so little money that it almost single-handedly destroyed the studio that made it (Fox Animation). But I recently found a copy of the DVD, and I just couldn’t pass up the chance to see it.
One thing’s for sure: this movie did not deserve to fail as badly as it did. It’s got a decent story, a creative universe, and some freaking incredible visuals. A mix of hand-drawn and computer-generated animation brings to life a ton of amazing alien worlds and outer-space imagery. When a movie begins with the most impressive blowing-up-a-planet shot I’ve ever seen, I know it’s going to be a fun ride. And this one didn’t disappoint. Just a couple of the scenes where the animation made my jaw drop: the part where Cale pilots a ship through the atmosphere of a gas planet while accompanied by what look like cosmic stingrays; and the scene where the heroes are flying through an ice field and have to figure out where the villains’ ship is among all the reflections. It puts most Disney cartoons I’ve seen to shame.
That being said, I can understand why it wasn’t a hit. See if any of this sounds familiar: A young man with a weird haircut and daddy issues, who happens to be one of very few humans in his spacefaring culture, discovers a map that only he can open, which ends up leading him to a planet-shaped machine of incalculable value, while his mentor betrays him but ultimately turns good again, and the whole thing is soundtracked by turn-of-the-millennium punk rock. If that rings a bell, it’s probably because you’ve seen Treasure Planet, Disney’s steampunk adaptation of Treasure Island, which came out around the same time. I’m not sure who was copying whom (this one came out first, but they were in production at the same time), but the similarities are eerie. And both movies, sadly, bombed in theatres, even though Treasure Planet is one of the best Disney movies ever.
Also, I couldn’t quite figure out who Titan A.E.‘s target audience was. Some of the characters and humour seem designed to appeal to younger kids, but the overall tone of the story feels more adult. And it definitely has more blood and nakedness than you’d expect in your average kids’ movie–though perhaps not more than you’d expect in a Don Bluth movie. Every cartoon of his that I saw as a kid gave me nightmares, so maybe it’s for the best that it took me so long to see this one.
The lack of a discernible target audience doesn’t necessarily make for a bad movie, but the story does have some genuine flaws. The biggest, for me, is a lack of development for the villains. We know the Drej are trying to destroy humanity because they think they’ll become a threat to them if they’re allowed to survive, but we never really find out why they think that, whether it’s true, or what form that threat could take. The manner in which the aliens are finally defeated suggests a few possibilities, but I would have liked their motivations explained a little better.
But there’s one thing I really like about this movie, which sets it apart from others of its type. In most of the movies I’ve seen where a planet gets destroyed (isn’t it weird how many there are to choose from?), the loss of an entire habitat is usually glossed over in favour of a larger story. A New Hope, Star Trek, any number of Doctor Who episodes…heck, The Force Awakens blows up five planets at once and hardly blinks! This is the first movie I’ve seen that really delves into the consequences of such a mass destruction–the feeling of homelessness and aimlessness that a species without a planet might experience, and their need to find a place to belong. It put me in mind of real-life refugees, and how they must feel when they’re forced to leave home and settle in unfamiliar and often unfriendly places. Overall, it’s not bad material for a sci-fi film to explore.
It’s hard not to compare this movie to Treasure Planet, even though they really are very different films under the surface. Titan A.E.‘s visuals blow Treasure Planet‘s out of the water–which is saying something, because that movie is gorgeous, too. But I think Treasure Planet had a better story. It was based on a classic novel, after all.
But despite its flaws, I found Titan A.E. a very fun, enjoyable sci-fi flick. It’s worth watching just for the visuals, and the story isn’t bad either. And, of course, I’ll always be in its debt for inspiring my life-long love of explosions in space.