Battle for Terra (UK - DVD R2)
Our Marcus battles for Terra but decides he probably doesn't want to stay there...
One sunny afternoon on the nature friendly planet of Terra, the sun goes out. On closer study, the young Mala (Evan Rachel Wood) realises that this isn’t a natural occurrence or an act of a new God, but an invasion; an invasion of the last survivors of a destroyed Earth, and they’re here to get a new planet, by force if necessary.
I’ve always been one to gravitate towards the small out of nowhere sci-fi/ fantasy animated movies. As a kid I ate up Starchaser: The Legend of Orin and The Flight of Dragons. I remember when Akira wasn’t the landmark it is today, but a mesmerising video sleeve drawing me in from the shelves of Ourprice record shop and even more recently I had a hell of a soft spot for Titan A.E. and 9 last year really proved that you don’t need to be Pixar to make something exceptional in animation. While I’ll admit that the look and sound of Battle for Terra didn’t exactly trigger the same excitement as the previous movies listed, when the offer came up to review this little animated flick, I was genetically wired to say yes.
We’ll get the elephant in the room out of the way first. Yes, as per the cover quote hailing Terra as ‘an animated Avatar’, this little movie is a lot like James Cameron’s Na’vi fest (though this did come out first) but let’s not hold that against it, Avatar is far from original after all.
We are bathed in all the typical stuff; good natured aliens, misunderstandings, greed, an angry war-mongering army general, the mutual discovery of balance between two unlikely members of each of the species and, of course, a grand ol’ battle to sort all this mess out in the finale. Battle for Terra keeps to the basics but that’s not saying it doesn’t bring its own personality to the table.
The angle of having the invasion from the native Terraians point of view makes the demonising of the human race work very effectively and how the story unfolds giving us what’s at stake for both species (essentially if the humans win, all the Terra dudes die and if the Terra dudes win, all the human die) adds a whole lot of weight to proceeding and the importance of the final battle (in many ways I’d say this element outdid Avatar in spades—if we’re comparing that is). There’s also a heaviness to some of the darker scenes that highlights what I always used to love about some of the older sci-fi animated movie as a kid. Stepping up from the weekly animated shows that have to keep it one-hundred per cent kiddy friendly and venturing into death, difficult choices and genuine dramatic visuals of pain and sadness. Terra doesn’t really excel at any of this (in fact its limited animation and dodgy lip syncing issues really let it down) but that doesn’t make it ineffective.
By the end I liked this little animated feature, even with its very basic look (the aliens are essentially tadpoles with big eyes and not a lot of detail) and done a million times civilisations at war storyline. I really enjoyed David Cross’s turn as the robot helper Giddy (but I’m a movie robot whore), and as I’ve mentioned already the dramatic high points worked well for me (even if the animation style didn't). Battle for Terra does what it needs to do but has quite a few moments of feeling a little flat and typical.
However, saying that, considering it's a small fish in a pond full of some pretty big animated powerhouses, it’s good to see that those little animated movies, the likes of which I adored discovering as a kid, are still managing to make their way to an audience, even if it is by hopping on the back of the biggest movie of all time.
The 1:78 transfer here is pretty clean and bright, but really there's no avoiding that the visuals are a little bland. I don’t think the disc is lacking as such but the movie's limited budget and the lack of HD powered lighting on this DVD meant that the tiny touches really aren’t there to sell the finer details of Terra (if indeed there are even any there to be seen).
Objects and characters are generally flat with a small glimmer of texture here and there. Hair is all but avoided for the human characters, eyebrows look painted on and the natural landscape of Terra isn’t much more than bowls and tall, beige towers. There’s a little more detail in metal objects, with some of the spaceships having a more 3D look and Giddy looks positively great in his close ups (so much so he sometimes doesn’t even feel right within some scenes).
Battle for Terra might look a little brighter on Blu-ray (not that we get that option in the UK), but really the best transfer in the world isn’t going to make this low budget outing look good enough to compete with the big boys in animation.
So, Terra gives us sci-fi action, spaceships sweeping about and shooting, explosions and all set on an alien world. This is what 5.1 tracks are made for right? So only having the option of a Dolby Digital 2.0 track is a hell of a disappointment.
The 2.0 track does nothing to make Terra feel bigger than it is. There’re really no dynamics to any of the action and other than a surprisingly emotional score and clear dialogue there’s just nothing to write about with this bog standard audio track.
Once again the UK release gets left out in the cold with nothing in the way of Terra features. The US disc comes with commentaries, the original short film, and more, while we just get trailers for Despicable Me and Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang and a lifeless menu.
Battle for Terra doesn’t quite do enough to get noticed and it’s a real shame because what it does do well with its dramatic arcs is actually very rewarding. Kids might go for this a little more and as per the cash in feel to this release, the smaller Avatar fans will probably lap it up.
The disc really is a half-arsed affair with absolutely nothing to get excited about in A/V or extras. Really this one has been clearly targeted at four to ten year old boys who are after an alternative to the family friendly mainstream titles mummy and daddy don’t mind watching with them. Exactly the place a small little title like this could thrive. Welcome to the world of straight to video animated sci-fi kiddies!
Review by Marcus Doidge
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 5th July 2010
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Subtitles: English SDH
Easter Egg: No
Director: Aristomenis Tsirbas
Cast: Evan Rachel Wood, Brian Cox, James Garner, David Cross, Justin Long, Dennis Quaid, Luke Wilson
Genre: Action, Adventure, Animation and Sci-Fi
Length: 76 minutes
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