2000, PG, 95 min. Directed by Gary Goldman, Don Bluth. Starring Alex D. Linz, Ron Perlman, John Leguizamo, Tone Loc, Janeane Garofalo, Nathan Lane, Bill Pullman, Drew Barrymore, Matt Damon.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., June 16, 2000
With five writers -- among them Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Joss Whedon -- it's no wonder that Titan A.E.'s rambling storyline is such a gorgeous mess. It's hard enough to keep one scribe focused and on track; with five, the story meetings must have resembled a sci-fi geekboy summer camp, with each writer struggling to keep his work in the fore. That many-handed approach shows in every scene of this ambitious, teenage fantasy, and unfortunately results in an animated epic that pilfers heavily from all that's gone before. Whether homage or just plain lazy imaginations at play, Titan A.E. borrows liberally from such precursors as Star Wars, Star Trek II:< The Wrath of Khan, Battlestar Galactica, George Pal's When Worlds Collide, and even the so-bad-it's-great Heavy Metal. You'd think a film with that many reference points would cull the best and brightest plot points, but Titan A.E., for all its spectacular animation, feels like a been-here-done-that dud. On the plus side, Bluth, who's been trying to out-Disney Disney for a deuce of decades now, has finally managed to do it, at least in the computer animation department. For all its hokey backstory and retro derring-do, this film has some of the most jaw-droppingly vivid, realistic, gosh-wow! scenes to date. Bluth's immense team of animators has rendered giant, crystalline ice fields and hovering "hydrogen flowers" with a seamless ease; it's some of the most visually enticing work in years. The fact that the characters (except the villains) are animated in the flat, two-dimensional style of years gone by catches you off guard at first, but strangely adds to the film's Saturday-morning panache. It's an RKO Radio Picture for the 21st century. The story is pure RKO, too. In the 31st century the earth is destroyed by the Drej, a race of pure energy, who apparently like nothing better than to lay waste to carbon-based beings. Fifteen years later, a young boy named Cale (Damon) is the human race's only hope. His father, the creator of the mysterious Titan Project, long ago gave him a DNA-encoded ring to act as a map to the hidden Titan Project, a device that can create an entirely new Earth for the former planet's scattered refugees. Teaming up with his pop's old comrade Korso (Pullman), space cruiser pilot Akima (Barrymore), and a host of alien allies, they race to find Titan before the Drej can locate and destroy the nearly extinct human race once and for all. Not the most original of storylines, but Titan A.E. is clearly aimed at young teen males (if you have any doubt, check out the wildly intrusive modern-metal soundtrack) who've been playing at PlayStations their whole lives. As such, the film feels as hollow as the video action it so strenuously apes. It's worth seeing, however, for the breathtaking CGI visuals (particularly the background work) that litter the film. As before, the merging of 2- and 3-D animation is a bit jarring at first, but if you're up for some stellar dogfights and outrageously cool imaging -- in lieu of a decent storyline, of course -- then maybe Titan A.E. isn't such a bad popcorn wipeout after all.