The easy sell for "Battle of Terra" is to compare the film to "Wall-E," blended with a heaping teaspoon of the "Star Wars" prequels. This latest go-around with an independent CG-animated epic certainly holds lofty sci-fi aspirations, but it's executed with unexpected grace and patience that lends the thematic objective a genuine weight. "Battle for Terra" isn't blessed with the most luxurious animated resources around, but it's a mature, active piece of storytelling and a nice surprise in the cluttered family film home entertainment sweepstakes.
On the peaceful world of Terra, young Mala (voiced by Evan Rachel Wood) is a curious creature, possessing assertive intelligence that worries her father (Dennis Quaid). When a strange spaceship enters the atmosphere, Mala fearlessly attempts to study what has arrived, only to find aggressive militaristic humans contained within, looking to terraform a new planet after Earth's demise. Frantic to retrieve her father after his abduction by the humans, Mala discovers James (Luke Wilson), a wounded soldier who promises to help the creature find her family in exchange for assistance returning to his base. Mala agrees, and finds James the lone human willing to reconsider the violation of her home world, overseen by the wicked General Hemmer (Brian Cox).
The screenplay for "Terra," written by director Aristomenis Tsirbas and Evan Spiliotopouls, isn't groundbreaking material in the least, yet the mixture of eco-panic and psychological pull is a convincing statement, packaged inside a rousing, yet enchantingly forbidding adventure film. Tsirbas directs confidently, orchestrating a sci-fi narrative that's liberal with action and emotional consideration. Granted, the film's allegorical underpinnings tend to be distributed more heavy-handedly than necessary to plug into younger viewers, but the balance between the explosions and the exploration of destructive human nature feels suitably organic.
While "Terra" has plenty on its mind, I was completely taken with the rotund sensation of the world Tsirbas is creating. Taking the audience to another planet, "Terra" is beautifully designed, from the naturalistic, artistic community of the Terrians (better to contrast with the humans' metallic, unfeeling edge) to their tadpole-like visualization, which has the characters wiggling endearingly around the frame. The inspiration behind the animation trumps actual results at times, but the majority of the picture is an absolute feast for the eyes. Tsirbas embraces big screen majesty, envisioning colossal hostilities between the species. It may not possess the budget to overtake animation titans Pixar and Dreamworks, but "Terra" has a rich sense of purpose and intelligence, carried out by talented filmmakers and their clear adoration for the medium.
Keeping in mind that the film was created with a tight budget, the AVC encoded image quality on the "Terra" BD (2.35:1 aspect ratio) captures the ambition of the animation. The limitations are easy to spot, but the viewing experience is a nicely textured event, with details coming in from the characters and the landscapes, building interesting layers of dramatic effect. Colors are allowed to breathe, and black levels only seem to lose their strength during indoor sequences. It's a glossy film to begin with, and I found the BD handled the limited animated pizzazz very well.
The 5.1 PCM mix is raring to go from the start, with a dynamic push for sci-fi atmospherics and repetitive combat boom. LFE activity is abundant, with a nice bottom-heavy pitch to the action sequences and intergalactic showdowns. Dialogue is easily understood and projected crisply to the front of the mix, while alien life and spacecraft fly by in the surrounds. It appears an enormous amount of effort went into the creation of the sound design here, and the BD really spreads the experience around for maximum coverage.
English and Spanish subtitles are offered.
It's a dry listen, but the feature-length audio commentary with director Aristomenis Tsirbas and writer Evan Spiliotopouls explains the artistic and technical challenges the film faced during its accelerated production schedule. Building a feature from his short film, Tsirbas discusses his hopes for "Terra" and how he originally wanted the movie to be a live-action event, settling on CG animation when the project became too enormous to corral for a price. Talk of actor contribution, editorial decisions, and thematic intent dominate the conversation, though the guys do manage to crack themselves up from time to time. The commentary helps to clarify some of the murkier directions "Terra" heads in and is well worth a listen.
"Deleted Scenes" (6:58) offer Mala some more inventor mischief and restores a snow beast attack that was smartly snipped.
"The Making of 'Battle for Terra'" (4:45) captures the ideal amount of BTS insight in a short amount of time. Burning through the highlights of production, the featurette doesn't provide depth to the "Terra" discussion, but conveys a feeling of joy throughout the cast and crew. Some footage of Wood recording her lines adds some needed verve.
"From Storyboard to Final Render: Mala Sneak Around" (:24) briefly showcases the four different stages of animation production.
"Animatics: Mala's Escape" (2:15) compares the director's crudely animated vision for the scene with the final product, though it's not nearly as drastic a difference as expected.
"Production Stills" showcase 18 pages of design concepts and doodles.
"Aristomenis Tsirbas: Pulling the Strings" (1:29) is an oddity, presenting the director in animated form walking around the CG sets, explaining his lifelong love of film. Cute, but weird.
A Theatrical Trailer is included.
I was surprised just how much I grew invested in the story of "Terra," watching as Mala and James engage in a seismic collision of ethics as their respective armies heat up the war machines to control the region. It leads to a stunning moment of personal sacrifice unheard of in this genre, and the bravery of the filmmaking erases any doubt that "Battle of Terra" is something unique and haunting in a sea of colorful conformity.
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