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DVD Review: Battle for Terra

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Science fiction and fantasy can sometimes challenge current thinking in ways that popular media sometimes can't do head-on. And animation seems to be able to sneak new ideas onto the big and little screen that can't be done using real actors or sets. So when you combine the two, sometimes you can explore some surprising places.

Battle for Terra surprised me. When I saw the trailers when this film was released in the first half of 2009, I was not impressed. An animated movie about a war? Why would I want to see that? But now I'm sorry that I missed it when it was in theaters.

This movie takes the standard alien invasion story that's been popular in science fiction forever (aliens invade the Earth, Earthlings fight back), it's us doing the invading and the aliens are defending their home. It's great to see the story in reverse so we can feel the what it's like to be on the wrong side of an invasion. And along with the great story, Battle for Terra manages to stay entertaining and not get too preachy, which was also a plus.

The voice cast reads like a "who's who" of actors young and old with big careers at the moment: Evan Rachel Wood (Across the Universe, TV's True Blood) plays Mala, an inhabitant of Terra; Luke Wilson (The Family Stone, Henry Poole is Here) plays Lt. Jim Stanton of EarthForce; Dennis Quaid (The Express, upcoming Pandorum) plays Roven, Mala's father; Brian Cox (X-Men 2, The Bourne Supremacy) plays General Hammer, commander of EarthForce determined to make Terra a new Earth; and David Cross (Arrested Development) plays Giddy, Stanton's robot companion. And there are many others, including Danny Glover (Dreamgirls), James Garner (The Notebook), Rosanna Arquette, Beverly D'Angelo, Chris Evans, Mark Hamill, Amanda Peet, Ron Perlman, and Justin Long.

Terra is a planet far from our own, inhabited by a race which has achieved a peaceful balance with themselves and their world. But when the remnants of humanity invade their space in an aging spaceship, things begin to change. Desperate for a new planet to call home, General Hammer is intent on making Terra habitable for humans at the cost of all life on the planet. Can Mala and Stanton stop the all-out annihilation of the Terrians?

This is not your average animated feature. Though it takes advantage of recent advances in computer animation tools and techniques, its creators did an amazing job of adding the little imperfections here and there (like jiggling the camera) to make it more real. Add to that the serious nature of the story of the impending war between Terrians and humans and you have a compelling movie with great voice actors, animation, and story.

As a fan of science fiction, I'm always amazed how the aliens on other worlds tend to be very humanoid. I thought director Aristomenis Tsirbas and his crew did a fantastic job of making an alien job actually seem alien for once. The Terrians themselves float or fly and I was constantly wondering if it was a low-gravity world, if there were particular gasses in the atmosphere and within the Terrians themselves that allowed them to float.

And then there are all the amazing creatures – especially the sky whales. What a beautiful creation. Take something we're familiar with on our own planet – an animal with grace and a bit of mystique as it travels through our own oceans – and then place something similar in the skies above Terra. There are also a couple of other critters that appear, including a little bird/butterfly creature that flies around near Mala several times and a monster that exists beneath the clouds on the snowy surface in a deleted scene.

In addition to the movie itself, there are a number of short features.

"The Making of Battle for Terra" is definitely my favorite, as it shows the different stages of development and lets the writers, director, and animators talk about their various aspects of making the film.

There are four deleted scenes included as well. And though I liked seeing them, I understand why they were cut, as they distract too much from the main storyline or simply don't add enough to warrant keeping them in. However, the "Snow Monster!" scene is kind of cool from a science fiction standpoint as I mentioned earlier.

"Aristomenis Tsirbas: Pulling the Strings" inserts director Tsirbas into scenes in the movie as an animated narrator character, which is kind of cute. I've never seen a director take the time to do that before.

And "From Storyboard to Final Render: Mala Sneaks Around," "Animatics: Mala's Escape," and "Production Design" all show various aspects of the production process, which provides additional perspective in how the film was created.

All in all, I was very surprised and happy that Battle for Terra was not at all what I expected. The movie incorporates great storytelling, special effects, and animation to provide a well-rounded science fiction feature. I wish we'd see more movies like this! Be sure to check Battle for Terra out at your favorite retailer when it is released in September 22, 2009!

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About Fitz

Fitz is a software engineer and writer who lives in Colorado Springs, CO, with his family and pets, trying to survive the chaos!