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With: (voices) Matt Damon, Drew Barrymore, Bill Pullman, Nathan Lane, Tone Loc, Janeane Garofalo, John Leguizamo, Ron Perlman, Alex D. Linz
Written by: Ben Edlund, John August, Joss Whedon, based on a story by Hans Bauer, Randall McCormick
Directed by: Don Bluth, Gary Goldman
MPAA Rating: PG for action violence, mild sensuality and brief language
Running Time: 95
Date: 06/13/2000

Titan A.E. (2000)

1 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Star Bores

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Of the four target audiences Titan A.E. is shooting for, it falls far short of three of them. Animation fans, science fiction fans, and parents will be disappointed by this mess of a movie, but kids under the age of 12 will probably get a kick out of it.

Science fiction fans who were so hideously betrayed earlier this month with Battlefield Earth are going to get more of the same. The plots of the two movies are even similar. A race of evil aliens blows up the earth (A.E. stands for "after earth") but not before a scientist can escape with the Titan A.E., a spaceship designed to rebuild the planet and everything on it.

The scientist's son, Cale (voiced by Matt Damon) also escapes, but is separated from his father and the Titan A.E. Years later, he is rescued by a crew made up of humans (voiced by Bill Pullman and Drew Barrymore) and friendly aliens (Janeane Garofalo, Nathan Lane, and John Leguizamo). Aided by a secret map imprinted in Cale's hand, the race is on to find the Titan A.E. before the evil aliens do.

Besides smacking of many other familiar sci-fi stories, this plot is full of holes. One of the humans turns traitor for no reason other than to extend the running time of the movie a bit. (And he's discovered when he's overheard having a loud shouting argument with the head of the evil aliens. Way to keep a secret there, guy.)

Amazingly, the screenplay is by three talented writers: Joss Whedon of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (both the 1992 movie and the current TV show) and Toy Story (1995), John August of Go (1999), and Ben Edlund, creator of the comic book and cartoon series "The Tick". Yet between the three of them, they can only come up with one or two inspired scenes, and these involve exterior action without any character development. (One is an homage to Orson Welles' The Lady from Shanghai, using a field of giant ice floes like a house of mirrors.) On the plus side, much of the horrible dialogue is drowned out by the blasting of second-rate alternative rock leftovers.

Animation fans, after enjoying such a great year last year with Tarzan, The Iron Giant, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, Princess Mononoke, and Toy Story 2, will be disappointed with the low quality of the work on Titan A.E. It was directed by on Bluth and Gary Goldman, the team behind the excellent The Secret of NIHM (1982) and the questionable All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989) and Anastasia (1997). Their character renditions are typically flat and look like a low-rent copy of Disney (Bluth and Goldman are former Disney employees). The problem here lies in the attempt to mix these characters with smooth, three-dimensional CGI effects. The result looks a little like a battle between action figures and the Sunday comics.

Some filmmakers know that kids are smart and can handle adult-type stories. But unfortunately, many others -- like the team behind Titan A.E. -- feel the need to dumb the story down, thinking that kids don't have the experience to realize that corners have been cut. This is a cheat, and it hurts the parents who take the kids to see the movie. If parents and kids can enjoy a movie together, on the same level, it promotes a kind of bond. If the parents have to sit quietly and grit their teeth, it makes for an altogether unpleasant experience on both sides.

Here's my solution. Animation fans, science fiction fans, parents, and kids should rent The Iron Giant, now available on DVD and video. It covers much of the same ground, but it is ten times more inventive, professional, and entertaining. I realize that Titan A.E. is critic-proof and that kids are going to demand to see it, no matter what I say. But a quick trip to the video store can right that wrong very nicely.

Best Buy Co, Inc.