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Titan AE

Voiced by Matt Damon, Bill Pullman, John Leguizamo, Nathan Lane, Janeane Garofalo and Drew Barrymore
Screenplay by Ben Edlund and John August and Joss Whedon; story by Hans Bauer and Randall McCormick
Directed by Don Bluth & Gary Goldman

IN SHORT: For eight year old boys ... or Thai stick smoking stoners

...which means either way you look at it, this terribly written, cliché ridden animated flick is perfect for slo-mo playback on hour home DVD.

I write that with a great sadness. Long term readers know that I'm a big-time 'toonhead, so, when the trailer for Titan A.E. first started hitting the big screens this space opera looked, to me, to be totally cool. Judging strictly on an artistic level, Titan AE looks like nothing Don Bluth and partner Gary Oldman has ever done . There is some breathtaking computer animation work -- not just ultrarealistic spaceships but some truly beautiful nebula and star-stuff space backgrounds -- combined with cel animation figures that are better defined and more lifelike than previous work, like Anastasia. The opening sequence, in which our beloved planet Earth is destroyed by energy beings called the Drej, includes a truly cool looking kablam and crunch-a-roni of our sole satellite, the Moon. The technical advances shown in the combo of cel and 3D CG is truly a wondrous thing. It ain't the looks that are the problem here.

The year is 3028 A.D. The place is Pierce, Colorado and our hero to be Cale (Alex D. Linz) is "more than four years old." When the end comes, he's popped into an evac rocket while his dad puts a gold ring on his son's finger, takes the boy's toy top and tries to flee in a massive ship called Titan. As the Drej attack turns the Earth into the animated equivalent of the death star -- though our destruction features by boiling oceans and volcanic eruptions spewing lava over the remaining land masses -- Titan rises and barely escapes into hyperspace. Cale watches his father disappear into deep space thinking "I wanna go with Daddy . . ."

Fifteen years later, a very bitter grown-up Cale (Matt Damon), one of the homeless humans derogatorily called "drifters" has a job doing heavy salvage work out at the deep space salvage station Tau 14 (all locations thankfully noted for your historical pleasure by subtitles scrolling across the bottom of the screen). Crossing his path one lunch hour, almost squashing him like a bug, actually, is the starship Valkyrie, piloted by the lovely Akiva (Drew Barrymore). Problem is, it isn't Akiva who asks Cale to run away with them, it's her boss Korso (Bill Pullman) who tells the boy that he's the only hope for the scattered remains of the human race. It's that ring on his finger, y'see . . . it's a map to the hidden location of Titan. And Cale tells 'em to take a hike. . . just before the Drej bust through the station, gunning for the kidlet. One space dogfight and a hair of the toes escape later, this trio meets up with the final members of our us-against-the-Empire crew, Stith the main gunner (Janeane Garofalo) who has more sense than the rest of the aliens on the crew combined, Preed the First Mate (Nathan Lane), who likes to shoot big weapons at small insects, and Gune the Navigator (John Leguizamo). Wherever they go, the Drej (and a soundtrack that sounds like a bad rock album from about 1982) follow.

But just after the Drej get what they want, and they want him alive 'cuz it wouldn't be much of a story if the hero gets bbq'd halfway through, the slender tendrils that had been holding the story together (and any SF fan or normal grownup with a good story sense could have driven a truck through most of the first half) give up the ghost. Grownups will slump in their chairs 'cuz everything they see on the screen they've seen before, many many times. We are so tempted to break our rules and give it away, that's how bad it is, but that would spoil it for the eight year olds who don't care about such things or for the parental units who will have to slump in the adjoining chair.

What we're left with is scene after scene of artistically stunning set pieces and a story that goes from set piece to set piece a) because they're there and b) because any believable character or emotional development has been flushed into deep space. The climax of the story [the ring is the trigger to restore earth -- titan is a SF Noah's ark and daddy deliberately flew off without the key], on paper, would have had any competent story editor sending the writing team (The Tick's creator Ben Edlund, Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator and almost X-Men scribe Joss Whedon and Go writer John August) to the woodshed. Except that Edlund, at least, washed his hands of his work a long time ago. 'toonheads will recognize Titan AE for what it is. A lot of pretty pictures and kickass technological breakthroughs desperately in need of a story that isn't piecemealed from what SF has gone before. (Or a supporting character, Gune, whose visual appearance is lifted right out of the pages of the X-Men spinoff Cable and it's character, Blacquesmith. Coincidence? There are other nods to the most successful comic ever all over this thing, so we think not).

The biggest, and most pleasant, surprise here is that Nathan Lane is, for once, not playing "broad" comic relief. That's what the Gune character is for. What comedy is assigned to Lane's role is very dry and quite funny. It doesn't help you believe anything that happens to, or any of the character's reactions in, the second half but it may be something you pick up when the disk is slid into your home system

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Titan AE, he would have paid...


strictly rental for the grownups though I'd lug my nephew (seven) down in a second. Boy Kidlets of that age at the screening I attended were using words like "awesome". Grownups were laughing at the screen.

Click to buy films by Don Bluth
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Click to buy films starring Bill Pullman

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