Peaceful inhabitants of the planet Terra are stunned to see an alien spaceship in their skies. Gods and monsters to the Terrans, the invaders are human, the last-ditch survivors of Earth’s extinction, out of gas and in need of a new home. Feisty young Mala saves a crashed human pilot. But when her father is kidnapped by the invaders, Mala begins a world-changing battle for her planet’s survival.
Beautifully animated, Battle for Terra is a low-budget 3D marvel. Ravishing semi-real photography and a top-notch cast belie its small scale origins. A world as well-created as this justifies a big-screen viewing. But only good word of mouth will give it the cinema time it deserves: an independent movie, it lacks the clout of the mainstream studios.
Aimed squarely at younger viewers yet unstinting in its portrayal of death and destruction, Terra is a punchy little film. Playing with conventions, it’s a refreshing, affecting experience. Battle scenes are genuinely exciting. Explosions and aerial battles are entertaining - and unusually edgy for a kids’ film.
Mala’s friendship with square-jawed fighter-ace Jim Stanton, is Avatar-esque. Humans can’t survive in Terra’s atmosphere. Changing it will kill the Terrans. Aiding Mala’s attempt to save her father, Stanton risks his race’s survival. But can he doom Mala to destruction?
Battle for Terra sounds gung-ho but resolves its dilemmas with surprising honesty and ingenuity. The space-station rescue is nail-biting, the revelations about Terra’s past are chilling and the eco-message is loud and clear. Avatar-like it may be, but Battle for Terra has more heart and mind.
And check out the voice-cast. Evan Rachel Wood (The Wrestler) is the film’s anchor as Mala. But Dennis Quaid as her father, Brian Cox as the humans’ military chief and Danny Glover as their President add depth. And gravitas comes from veteran star James Garner as the Terrans’ leader, Solon.
Originally shot in 2D, a second camera was added to create the 3D effect. And it’s worth it. Silky-smooth, the animation seems both hand-drawn and computer-made all at once. But while comparisons with Avatar are inevitable, the film’s spirit, imagery and feisty airborne heroine are more akin to Hayao Miyazaki’s dreamily real Japanese classics.
A family film with humour, heart and humungous explosions, Battle for Terra is one to watch. And watch again.