Titan A.E.

(Don Bluth & Gary Goldman, USA, 2000)


This odd sci-fi epic takes a stab at crafting a movie somewhere between the typical Disney or DreamWorks animated fare for children and the adult sophistication of Japanese anime.

That means it includes some mildly risqué sexual references and slightly more intense violence than the usual G-rated American cartoon feature.

In just about every respect, however, this lumbering contraption directed by Don Bluth (An American Tail, 1986) and Gary Goldman has a regressive, old fashioned feel – beginning with the square jaws of its he-man hero. Even script input from Joss Whedon (Alien Resurrection [1998], TV's Buffy) fails to bring this epic alive.

On the technical plane, spectacular set pieces uneasily mingle with lax lip-sync and a mediocre selection of middle-of-the-road rock tracks.

The plot is pure boy's own stuff. Cale (voiced by Matt Damon) spends his childhood and young adulthood pining over his Dad – Mum never even rates a mention – after Earth is destroyed by the evil Drej. His spirit is almost crushed as he labours in a floating sweatshop strangely reminiscent of the outer space civilisations once mocked by Chuck Jones in his cartoons of the '50s.

But then Cale is conscripted for the revolution by Corso, an older brother-figure and Akima (voiced by Drew Barrymore), the type of shapely, sassy babe familiar from every video game designed for male adolescents. In this as in most respects, Titan A.E. seals its fate as half of a future double bill with Battlefield Earth (2000).

Paradoxically, science fiction – particularly as created by Americans – displays an especially acute insensitivity whenever it tries to depict foreignness. There is an attempt to give the Drej their own language but, miraculously, earthlings seem to be able to read their subtitles as easily we can.

The revolutionaries' helpers are a fanciful bunch of benignly alien mutations of fish, bug, kangaroo and bird – but, in the hierarchy of the action, they are completely dispensable creatures.

This myopia, finally, extends to anyone or anything non-American. In this tale, a 'drifters' colony' called New Bangkok contains, beyond the heroes, only a few token Afro-American faces. There is no trace of the slightest language, culture or sensibility beyond this constricted American norm.

At its most solemn, Titan A.E. transforms the standard Star Wars galactic epic into a fully blown Adam and Eve myth, as Cale and Akima strive to create a new Earth. It is a pity that Cale's goal comes to resemble an expanded version of his origins: the entire planet, it seems, will one day be a giant Colorado.

MORE Bluth & Goldman: Anastasia

© Adrian Martin January 2001

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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