Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Titan A.E.

Here we go again on Fishing in the Discount Bin, as I blog about one of the many DVDs I own.  I'm now picking apart the 2000 animated film Titan A.E..  This is in my notes at September 10, 2016.

Well, after watching The Iron Giant, I had a craving for some more late-1990s/early-2000s animation, so I dusted off my old DVD of Titan A.E. and gave that another watch.

The late-1990s/early-2000s was an interesting time for animation.  The success of the Disney Renaissance made lots of other studios want to get into the animation game.  Their first films were Disney princess knock-offs, such as Warner Brothers with Quest for Camelot and Fox with Anastasia.  But, when these films failed to take off, the studios decided to get more experimental.  Also, they began losing interest, thus allowing an experimental atmosphere to develop.  Warner Brothers gave us The Iron Giant, Fox gave us Titan A.E.

To start up their animated film division, Fox decided to just hire the best.  They recruited legendary animator Don Bluth and his studio to form their animated movie division.  Bluth, of course, is a legend in the animation business.  Leading a walk-out of Disney animators in the late-1970s because he felt they had strayed too far from their classic animation roots, Bluth went on to form his own studio, and produced such animated classics from the 1980s as The Secret of NIHM, An American Tail and The Land Before Time.  His first film for Fox, the aforementioned Anastasia, was a modest hit, if not at Disney levels.

I remember reading an Entertainment Weekly article about Titan A.E. when it came out in the summer of 2000.  Producer and co-director Gary Goldman told the tale of him and Bluth being invited into the office of the president of Fox, who declared, "I wanna make a movie that'll appeal to 14-year old boys," to with Goldman and Bluth responded, "Are you mad?  That's the age when boys want to stop watching animated films!"  But still, they were handed the script for Titan A.E., which Fox had been trying to get off the film as a live-action film throughout the 1990s, and told to do something with it. 

It's been a while since I listened to the running commentary, but you can hear a hint of bitterness in Bluth's voice as he talks about the film.  Apparently, there was another director before him, and Bluth didn't appreciate being brought in at the last minute to try to salvage the film.  But, he made the best of it.  I remember, when it came out, some were starting to mention that Bluth's brand of animation was starting to look a bit dated.  And yeah, when you through in it's largely late-1990s rock soundtrack, you could see this alongside some of the adult animated films of the early 1980s, like Heavy Metal

Until, that is, when the CGI elements come into play.  Even by late-1990s, early-2000s standards, the CGI looked a little...too CGI. 

The plot:  at the dawn of the 31st Century, the human race has developed a revolutionary new technology, code-named Titan.  The alien race the Drej considers this new technology to be a threat, and orders a preemptive strike, completely obliterating the planet Earth.  The remnants of the human race live in "drifter colonies," massive space complexes made of old stuck-together spaceships.  Without a planet to call home, and the Drej still hunting down all survivors, humans become the second-class citizens of the galaxy. 

Enter our hero, Cale Tucker, voiced by Matt Damon.  Cale has grown up to be rather bitter and resentful at his station in life.  But he soon encounters Korso, captain of the Valkyrie, and a friend of Cale's father.  You see, Cale's father was the lead scientist on the Titan, and locked within Cale's DNA is the map to where Cale's father hid it.  The Titan holds the key to humanity's salvation, and before you know it, Cale is on the crew of the Valkyrie to find the Titan.

And of course, the crew of the Valkyrie is a motley bunch.  We've got Stith, the weapons specialist, and some kind of kangaroo-alien.  There's Gune, the navigator, a quirky insect type.  There's Preed, the slimy double-dealer, who just oozes evil.  And Akima, another human survivor and Cale's love interest.  Joss Whedon was one of the writers, and if you squint really hard, you just might be able to see the genesis of Firefly.

In fact, one scene strikes me as Whedonesque.  Akima has been captured by some slave traders, so our heroes disguise themselves as a slave trader and some new slaves to attempt the rescue.  As they try to bluff their way past the guard, the guard suddenly displays a Sherlock Holmes-level of deductive reasoning as he starts picking apart their disguises and deducing their true identities.  Once they subdue the guard with fisticuffs, Preed remarks, "An intelligent guard.  Didn't see that one coming." 

Another of the writers was Tick creator Ben Edlund.  Edlund went on to write for Firefly...I wonder if he and Whedon met while working on this?  Although, I did read an interview with Edlund, where he remarked that, upon seeing the finished film, he was dismayed that very little of his material made it into the finished film.  Driving from the theatre with his wife, he wife remarked, "What happened?  You used to be funny.  How come that movie wasn't funny like the rest of your stuff?"  Yeah, he felt bad. 

Who knows?  Maybe a lot of that had to do with the voice acting.  Watching it again tonight, I couldn't help but notice that our two leads, Matt Damon's Cale and Drew Barrymore's Akima, seemed rather flat in their voice acting.  But our supporting cast - Janine Garafolo as Stith, Nathan Lane as Preed, and John Leguizamo as Gune -- are relishing their roles. 

But there is some good.  SPOILER WARNING FOR A 17-YEAR OLD FILM:  when Korso is revealed to be in league with the Drej, and Cale and Akima go off on their own to find the Titan, there is a rather tense scene in the icy rings of a planet, as Cale and Akima in their ship and Korso and the crew of the Valkyrie slowly pursue each other around these giant, floating space icebergs.  Reminds me a lot of the final battle in the nebula in Wrath of Khan.

And of course, the biggest Wrath of Khan homage is when the Titan is revealed to essentially
be the Genesis Device, and so Cale and Akima activate it to create a new homeworld for the human race.  Damon and Barrymore show the most life in the closing moments, as they create the new world and are deciding on a name for it. 

"I think we should name it...Bob."

"I'm not calling it Bob."

"Why not?  Who made you the king of Bob?" 

Quippy enough to be another Whedon line, no doubt. 

I remember being really excited for this film when it came out in Y2K.  Having watched a lot of anime in my college days, we were waiting for some form of "American anime" to come forth.  When the Disney princess would fall by the wayside, and some gritty sci-fi tales would start getting told in animation instead.  Between this and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within in 2001, we hoped that time had come.  But alas, when both Titan A.E. and Final Fantasy flopped, we knew that would not be the case.

But yeah.  As sci-fi action tales go, it's pretty generic.  But it's animated, and that alone makes it stand out.

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