Titan A.E. Finds New Life

Voices of Matt Damon, Bill Pullman, John Leguizamo, Nathan Lane, Janeane Garofalo, Drew Barrymore. Directed by Don Bluth, Gary Goldman. Aspect ratio: 2.35:1 (anamorphic). Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS (English), Dolby Surround 2.0 (English, French). 95 minutes. 2000. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment 2000924. PG. $26.98.

It's 3028 and a race of aliens, the Drej, have destroyed the Earth: kaput, fini, nothing left but a ring of rubble. But before the apocalypse, a handful of humans managed to escape. Just as important, a cutting-edge spacecraft, Titan, managed to evade the invaders. It is now hidden in deep space, sought with equal fervor by a few of the remaining humans and the Drej because it holds a secret that may give the human species a new home and rescue it from the nomadic life into which it has fallen. The hero, Cale, is the son of one of the scientists who developed Titan. With two other humans and three assorted aliens, he sets out to find Titan while avoiding the Drej.

The fully animated Titan A.E. (After Earth) is a tightly-packed science-fiction tale that resembles Japanese anime more than it does a typical Disney flick. It may not be entirely original, borrowing as it does from such films as Armageddon (the sequence just preceding Earth's Big Bang), Stargate SG-1 (the TV series, the name of whose villains closely resembles the name of one of the alien races here), Star Wars (borrowings too numerous to list), and even Citizen Kane (I leave that one to you to figure out; just think "ice"), but it uses its sources well. Titan A.E. doesn't always appear to make scientific sense, but remember, we're talking about a story set 1000 years in the future; we can hardly imagine what the human race might accomplish in that span of time, barring major setbacks. What was that line about any sufficiently advanced science being indistinguishable from magic?

Titan A.E. was criticized by many critics for its uneasy combination of computer and traditional animation. I found this a slight distraction, and only early on; once I got into the story, I barely noticed it. Yes, the film would have worked better had it been completely computer-animated—a few shots that should have been awe-inspiring come across as rather static, flat-looking hand drawings. But overall, the animation looks gorgeous, and the DVD transfer is stunning—certainly the best I've yet seen from Fox. The images leap out, and at least four sequences are of demonstration quality. Titan A.E. is often more visually arresting than The Phantom Menace.

The sound design and quality are also striking, with active surrounds and a deep, powerful, reference-quality bottom end. There are also 5.1 tracks in both DTS and Dolby Digital. I auditioned primarily the DD for this review, but the two formats sounded extremely similar. This is also the first dual-format 5.1 DD/DTS DVD I know of that allows you to switch between the two versions on the fly, without having to drop back into the menu.

My main reservation about Titan A.E.'s soundtrack is that the music is sub-par. The recording quality is fine, but the incessant rock songs backing much of the action seem to have been chosen only to appeal to a target audience rather than for how appropriately they fit the film. They also risk prematurely dating it. The few orchestral cues are unmemorable.

Extras include a director's commentary, deleted scenes, a featurette, a music video, trailers, and a gallery of stills. The THX-certified disc includes THX's Optimode audio and video calibration feature. The one real downside is the Fox promo at the beginning, immediately after the less annoying FBI warning. It runs a full two minutes (seems like 10!), sound and video are mediocre, and a loud voiceover hypes the studio. Fortunately, it can be skipped.

It's no secret that Titan A.E. cost a bundle, and that its failure at the box office prompted Fox to close its Phoenix animation studio. A pity—for animation fans, a loss of any source is disappointing. Fox, it seems, did not know how to market this film. It was apparently aimed at the teenage action fans believed to be the prime audience for science fiction, but it seems teenagers won't be caught dead going to a feature-length "cartoon." It just isn't cool.

Titan A.E. may well find a new life on DVD. It probably won't prompt Fox to reverse its decision to get out of the animation business, but it just might make them notice that there was very little wrong with the movie itself.