Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Movie Review: Titan A.E. (Spoilers)

First of let me say that I love this movie. Other than The Matrix it is probably most responsible for cementing my love of cinematic science fiction growing up. But it is also seriously flawed movie. It went down in history as the movie that shutdown  Fox Animation and ended Don Bluth's cinematic career.  While I am going to point out what I consider to be the narrative flaws of the movie, it deserved better than it got.

There are a lot and I mean a lot of good ideas.

Let's talk about the first 15 minutes or so. They are dramatically different from the rest of the film and when people say it feels like a different movie they're right. The majority of the movie feels a lot like The Matrix in tone, but this feels a lot more like The Iron Giant.

A lot of other reviewers say they would cut it but I feel it serves a lot of purposes. It sets up who the characters were and creates a contrast to who they become. Our protagonist, Cale was a bright eyed little squirt and in the time skip he's a cynical smartass. "Well you know having your planet blown up can have that effect on a species."

Speaking of which let's talk about the back story. Aliens blew up Earth, this is the A.E, after Earth.

Anyway his shift in personality says something about the universe he's living in. I like dystopian science fiction, but a lot of it is starting to look the same. I've seen Road Warrior knock off after Road Warrior knock off. It's interesting to get a new setting, and with it a new aesthetic (alright so I know their ripping off Blade Runner a little but who the hell doesn't rip off Blade Runner).   .

A good deal of the movie discusses the concept of not just an individual home, but an ancestral one. One of my problems with the film is that it set ups weighty issues like that, but doesn't follow through. When we generally discuss humanity we're talking about the bonds of and rights sentience bestows on any organism. But that is not what the movie is discussing. It's discussing the commonality of an ancestral home, culture and heritage and how important or unimportant such commonality  should be to an individual.  Something something panafracanism something something Israel.

Korso another character comes to Cale with The Call, and he at first turns him down, more or less making the argument a high and mighty quest for a new homeland is pointless. Specifically Cale's father left him a genetically encoded map to a macguffin that could lead him to a new home, thus making him the chosen one destined to lead the people to the promised land does this sound familiar, like Exodus familiar.  Yeah the movie has a lot to say about fathers, sons and father figures, but that stuff doesn't interest me as much as the search for home does.

At this point Cale doesn't give two shits about team human. And for the next couple minutes we get pretty pictures. Okay I love the race through the hydrogen trees, but narritively it serves no purpose other than to make the heroes emotionally vulnerable enough when they get captured to drop Joss Whedon's trademark snark, yes he was one of the writers on this, and talk about all that homeland stuff.

Apart from that the middle part is also frustrating because we get to see glimpses of the much larger universe that humanity has been forced to inhabit and adapt to, but we never have enough time to drink it in so it resonates has implications for the characters.

For instance there is about a five minutes scene in which Akima, the female lead, is nearly sold into slavery, but she fights her way out of it and the interesting environment and the implications of slavery being a thing that happens to people aren't focused on long enough for them to have any point other than Akima can take care of herself.

There is a lot of underlying comedy to the scenes dealing with it, but I can't help comparing it to the scene in the Warriors with the Orphans. Describing that scene without going on a long diatribe about The Warriors would be tough but I'll just say that the pitifulness of the Orphans is humorous, yet at the same time they do provide a tense immediate threat to the eponymous Warriors. "Thirty is a lot more than eight." I don't feel that in the slave Akima scenes. For a better reference let's think of Jabba's palace. Sure you get a lot of dancing muppets but there is still a Rancor in the basement and the odds are Leia and Han ain't walking out of there. Also the movie spends a long enough time there for the audience to get a feel for the place.

The settings are interesting.

One which we do get a feel for is New Bankok, a drifter colony ship that houses remnants of humanity.  But let me talk about Korso. There will be spoilers here. If you plan to watch the movie leave now. You have been warned.



Korso double crosses Cale, intent on selling the map to the bad guys, whom the movie is admittedly a little vague about.  I like this turn of events but the movie undercuts it. See by this point Cale has had character development.  He's starting to buy what Korso and Akima have been selling. Rather than being the strictly individualistic Cale of the later half of act one he's starting think about "humanity".

In the aftermath of the betray Cale spends sometime in New Bangkok and through the impassioned words of a throw away character starts to understand what a home means to the rest of humanity.

The twin reversals could create an interesting dichotomy, the newly converted making pleas and arguments to the jaded renouncer of the faith. The ending could work if not for one change but let me back up.

One perspective that I really wish had been explored in the film is the concept that a community doesn't require a geographic place. But that's a heavy argument even I am not prepared to make.

You get some cat and mouse and then a big physical fight at the end. They trade a few words, but altogether I wish it were a little smarter with Korso giving better arguments for his actions. Is he really that forlorn that he would literally sell out his entire species, hastening their extinction for immediate gratification? And has he been that way so long that he doesn't even question it anymore?

That is interesting. And there are places you can go with that. But instead the movie gives him an unbelievable heel/face turn that undercuts the emotional gut punch that was his betrayal. He gave Cale hope and was spouting some pretty idealistic stuff and when he takes aim at the heroes, the unspoken question that both the characters and audience are asking is, "Was all of it a lie?"

While not as well executed the Cale-Korso relationship in many respects is like Smith and Paine. Like Smith Cale's father died and he viewed his father's friend Korso as a bit of a mentor at least, by the end of the second act. Cale's angry but I think the movie just doesn't also communicate how hurt his character should also be. Korso got Cale believing in heroes and then took it away. It's an interesting moment and the movie does nothing with it.

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