Friday June 16, 2000
If you think homelessness is a problem today, look closely at the initials at the end of "Titan A.E." They stand for After Earth, the time in the 31st century after our planet has been incinerated. That's right, humanity has been turned into the homeless people of the universe, forced to live on drifter colonies, junk heaps cobbled together from random pieces of intergalactic trash. It's not good not to have a home.
It was the Drej, a terrifying race of stainless-steel insects, who did this to us. The nastiest master race since the Borg started picking on "Star Trek" crews, the Drej may be pure energy, but they have no gift for small talk. "Destroy the humans, destroy them all" is their most common remark, followed closely by "Eliminate the human race" and "The human threat ends now." Not anyone you want to be seated next to at a dinner party.
Though American feature-length animated science-fiction films are rare, "Titan A.E." does not lack for standard elements. Its characters are, well, cartoonish; their dialogue is of the "Hang on kid, I'm coming/Are you sure this will work?" variety; and the whole project, from the pulse of its soundtrack to the tattoo on its hero to the slinky look of it heroine, has been ruthlessly calibrated to the likes and dislikes of teenage boys.
Still, as concocted by five credited writers (story by Hans Bauer and Randall McCormick, screenplay by Ben Edlund and John August and Joss Whedon), "Titan A.E.'s" rudimentary narration does work up a certain amount of propulsion. But it's not the story that's the story here, it's the film's bravura visual look.
Under the joint direction of animation veterans Don Bluth and Gary Goldman ("The Secret of NIMH," "An American Tale," "Anastasia") and influenced, connoisseurs say, by the style of Japanese anime, "Titan A.E." does an excellent job of using computer-generated effects to create a vast and wondrous outer-space world.
Whether it's the luminous, highly explosive hydrogen trees of Sesharrim, the terrifying Ice Rings of Tegrin, or even the blast that turned the Earth into toast, "Titan A.E." is always up to generating distinctive and involving visions. And being able to put its characters through sci-fi-type action no human stunt person could match is also a plus.
Though the backdrops are 3-D, the film's characters are drawn in old-fashioned two dimensions. We first meet the gang in the year 3028, just after Earth's scientists have completed the Titan Project, mastering a universal secret so profound it has attracted the attention of the Drej--jealous in addition to their other virtues--who attack and destroy because they fear our potential.
Sam Tucker, the top Titan scientist, just has time to get his young son Cale on an escape ship before attempting to save the Titan Project. He gives the boy a ring, telling him, prophetically as it turns out, "as long as you wear it, there's hope."
The next time we see Cale (voiced by Matt Damon) it's 15 years later, and he's a muscular hunk working as a space junkman on salvage station Tau-14. A cynical, cocky, what's-in-it-for-me kind of guy, Cale has a spaceship-sized chip on his shoulder because his dad never made it back into his life.
Docking at the station at that moment, however, is his dad's old comrade-in-arms Korso (Bill Pullman), who tells Cale that the ring he is wearing is in fact genetically encoded to reveal the location of the Titan, which if found has the power to give Earth's stragglers a home.
"The human race needs you," Korso says with a straight face, but Cale is more interested in Korso's pilot, a hot number with fuchsia highlights in her hair named Akima (Drew Barrymore). A no-nonsense "in your dreams" type of woman, Akima is a product of those drifter colonies and has the kind of warm feelings for Planet Earth that gradually win Cale over.
While these characters are solid, if expected, the alien members of Korso's crew are more problematical. Intended as comic relief, Gune (John Leguizamo), Preed (Nathan Lane) and Stith (Janeane Garofalo) are way too cutesy and easily the weakest and most off-putting element in this cosmic concoction.
With Cale and Akima making eyes at each other and nothing less than the fate of the universe at stake, "Titan A.E." goes its preordained way through a very trippy version of outer space. It's the kind of film you'd like to share with a teenage boy; if one isn't available, Cheech and Chong will do.
Titan A.E., 2000. PG, for action violence, mild sensuality and brief language. A Gary Goldman Production in association with David Kirschner Productions, released by 20th Century Fox. Directors Don Bluth & Gary Goldman. Producers David Kirschner, Don Bluth, Gary Goldman. Executive producer Paul Gertz. Screenplay Ben Edlund and John August and Joss Whedon, story Hans Bauer and Randall McCormick. Music Graeme Revell. Production design Philip A. Cruden. Art director Kenneth Valentine Slevin. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes. Matt Damon as Cale. Bill Pullman as Korso. John Leguizamo as Gune. Nathan Lane as Preed. Janeane Garofalo as Stith. Drew Barrymore as Akima.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun