SUB-GENRES: Action / Adventure
DIRECTED BY: Don Bluth & Gary Goldman
WRITTEN BY: Ben Edlund and John August and Joss Whedon (screenplay); Hans Bauer and Randall McCormick (story)
PEW PEW: High quality animation provides great action sequences with thrilling outcomes. It’s a great ride.
CAT FOOD: Beyond the obvious tributes to the will and flaws of the human race, the film favours action over social commentary.
This largely over-looked animated film’s DVD cover features a quote from Hollywood Bytes that boldly declares “this is the movie Star Wars fans have been waiting for,” and, you know something? That’s not altogether incorrect.
First, a little background on the number one reason why Titan A.E. is significant for me. In the late seventies, during the making of The Fox and the Hound, animation giant Don Bluth left the confines of Disney and took a large cadre of animators with him to form his own animation house. Their immediate focus was to recapture the magical animation of Disney’s golden age.
What followed was a series of stellar animated feature films which all but decimated Disney’s offerings in the eighties. The Secret of NIMH (my personal favourite) was followed by An American Tail, The Land Before Time, and All Dogs Go To Heaven. Combining ace animation with memorable, colourful characters, and some intensely dark scenes which may or may not have totally ruined your childhood, this initial run are some of the most wonderful animated films ever made.
There came a rough patch in the nineties. Not that Rock-a-Doodle, Thumbelina, A Troll In Central Park, and The Pebble and the Penguin aren’t decent animated features, but they were certainly lacking something. Still, even when Bluth’s films are stinkers, they’re wonderful to look at. Bluth was back in the swing of things with the superbly well-rounded Anastasia and its companion picture, Bartok the Magnificent, and it truly is a shame that the failure of Titan A.E., his final film to date, took the wind out of his sails.
The biggest shame is that the man went out on a limb to so fantastically capture the magic and wonder of science fiction — I find it no less than tragedy when someone takes a chance on this king of genres and it fails. I’ve heard that Bluth was never a big fan of science fiction, but it most certainly doesn’t show in the finished product. It comes off as a child that was well-loved — a tribute to the man’s class.
In the 31st century, a race of ruthless aliens known as the Drej have swept across the galaxy, destroyed Earth, and eliminated almost all traces of human life — only a handful have survived and the hopes and dreams of the mysterious Titan project have all but died after Professor Sam Tucker and the titular ship’s disappearing into hyperspace.
Fifteen years later, enter our main character, Sam’s son Cale, who manages to exist between being ridiculed by a number of different alien species and working a tough gig in a salvage yard. When Cale meets up with a pair of fellow humans, he teams up with they and their crew aboard the starship Valkyrie to piece together a map to the missing Titan.
The resulting adventure is action-packed and, most importantly in this writer’s opinion, visually astounding. When the action does give way to quieter moments, these moments seem all the more intimate and immersive by contrast, and the gorgeous visuals paint the coldness of space with an unprecedented warmth. Bluth’s traditional animation lends itself well to a world of stunning vistas populated by a rabble of strange alien creatures. Every new landscape is a welcome one and we are introduced to them almost as if on a tour bus at warp speed.
Which brings me to the next point: the story, and how this film really should be on every Star Wars fan’s watch list. Very much like Star Wars, Titan A.E.’s story is fairly linear, but it kind of has to be. As it was back in 1977, when we were dropped into the middle of an epic adventure and massive galactic war which we had to explore through the eyes of the largely inexperienced Luke Skywalker, Cale and his mission are the only things we’re sure about throughout the course of the film. As he makes his flight through the galaxy, so do we, and we receive the same crash course he does — the absolute perfect way to introduce viewers to such a huge universe. The character interactions are fascinatingly nonchalant, making the viewer feel like as much of newbie as Cale. This is no mark against the film as it actually adds to the bond between he and Akima, and makes one of the film’s twists almost personal.
Titan A.E. succeeds where the Star Wars prequel trilogy failed to present the sense of mystery and wonder that the original trilogy presented.
Back on track, and just in time to wrap things up, Titan A.E. was a different beast for Don Bluth, as it featured decidedly more thrilling action than any of his previous films, it featured an edgier, amost anime-style look, and his regular musical numbers were forsaken for a now dated turn of the millenium alt-rock soundtrack (which is oddly relevant to the picture’s feel), but it is every bit the classic his first run of pictures were.
In closing, my only beef with Titan A.E. is that it presents such a fertile platform for a franchise that history failed to give us. The film acts as an introduction to a greater universe we never saw developed, and that impedes it tremendously — imagine if there had never been an Empire Strikes Back. There is so much to explore in this gritty, yet beautiful, universe that it is a shame we may never get to see any more than the all too brief sample we got. It’s nothing short of the sci-fi film equivalent to friendzone.
If ever there was an animated film that deserved a live action sequel or remake, or even an animated series, this very lovely film is it.