Titan A. E.

Titan A. E. (2000)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Extras: Commentary Track, Making-of Featurette, Deleted Scenes, Art Gallery, Music Video, Theatrical Trailers, TV Spots

When most films are released, the filmmakers have a target audience in mind. Be it a certain age group, or other demographic, the marketing is usually aimed towards a certain group of people. With animated motion pictures, we usually see the film being directed towards a younger audience, although most quality animation is designed to appeal to the adults in the audience as well. (Let’s face it, the kids are going to drag their parents to these things!) But, the makers of "Titan A.E." took an entirely different approach and decided to aim the film at America’s most fickle filmgoers: teenagers. By employing well-known young actors, and a "hip" (but not "hip-hop") soundtrack, 20th Century Fox hoped to bring a new kind of film to the marketplace; an animated film for adolescents. Did it work? We shall see as we take a look at "Titan A.E." which just recently came out on DVD.

"Titan A.E." begins in the year 3028 A.D. We are introduced to Cale, a young boy playing by a stream on a seemingly perfect day. Suddenly, Cale’s father arrives and informs Cale that they must go at once. The sky grows dark and futuristic helicopters whiz by, as Cale is taken to a military installation. In a rapidly edited scene, we see Cale placed on a spaceship which quickly blasts off, as Cale’s father heads for a bunker. As Cale’s ship goes into space, we see the ground open and a massive ship, The Titan, emerges from the Earth and flies into space. Just as Cale’s ship gets into orbit, a group of alien ships, The Drej, invade Earth’s atmosphere and begin to attack. Then, the Drej mothership aims a force-beam at Earth and blows it to bits, which in turn destroys the Moon.

The story then jumps ahead 15 years. Cale (voiced by Matt Damon) is now a young man. Cale works salvage on a space station, and tries to get along (unsuccessfully) with the aliens. As the lone human, Cale is angry, isolated and alone. Then, a ship docks at the space station, containing Korso (Bill Pullman) and Akima (Drew Barrymore), two humans. Korso confronts Cale and explains that Cale is the only hope for the survivors of Earth. Cale wears a ring that was given to him by his father, which is actually a map showing the location of The Titan. Cale is reluctant to believe Korso, but suddenly The Drej show up and attempt to kill Cale. Cale’s only choice is to trust Korso and accompany him. After meeting the rest of the crew, Gune (John Leguizamo), Stith (Janeane Garofalo) and Preed (Nathan Lane), Cale uses his map to guide the ship to a distant planet, in hopes of finding The Titan. But, The Drej are now also convinced that Cale is the last hope for humanity and they will stop at nothing to kill him. Thus begins a race to see who can find The Titan first. Along the way, Cale will find love and he will also learn that trust is a difficult thing to come by.

As someone who’s never been a fan of Don Bluth’s animation, I was surprised by how much I liked the style of "Titan A.E.". I’d read reviews condemning that animation in the film, but I found it fascinating. The animation is a combination of classic 2-D cel animation, and 3-D computer generated images, with some special backgrounds thrown in to boot. This style gives the film a real texture and a staggering sense of depth. While some scenes look better than others (we learn in the <$commentary,audio commentary> that the production was somewhat rushed), the overall look of the film is quite impressive. The "Ice Ring" and "Ice Planet" scenes are especially fascinating as the ice creates thousands of reflections. Another impressive shot occurs when we first meet the mature Cale, as this is a 2-D hand-drawn head within a 3-D CGI spacesuit. I’m still not crazy about Bluth’s character designs, as the humans in "Titan A.E." fall somewhere between cartoony and realistic and never quite look right. Also, Bluth has a habit of using muted colors in his films and "Titan A.E." follows that pattern, except for The Drej, who are a glowing electric blue.

While the animation is top-notch (for the most-part), it’s the story in "Titan A.E." that brings the film down. As usual, there were probably too many cooks in the kitchen, as it took five writers to come up with this uninspired, hackneyed film. The idea of the Earth being destroyed and the survivors trying to start a new world is a fascinating one, and it just gets lost in "Titan A.E.". The biggest problems are probably the steretoyped characters, whom we’ve all seen before in other films. (Can you say "Star Wars"?) And any movie like this has to have a good villain, and The Drej, being faceless glowing blue things, just don’t cut it. "Titan A.E." boasts some wonderful voice acting (Nathan Lane shines as Preed), and some exciting scenes, but it just didn’t grab me and I found that I didn’t care what happened to Cale.

"Titan A.E." comes to DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film is presented in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> and is <$PS,letterboxed> at 2.35:1. As with the recent "Toy Story" releases, the <$THX,THX>-certified image on "Titan A.E." is basically perfect. There is no noise or grain to speak of, nor are there any signs of artifacting problems. The framing appears to be accurate and the picture is very clear. However, unlike the "Toy Story" films, the colors on "Titan A.E." aren’t quite as impressive. As I noted before, the film has a muted color palette and the image doesn’t exactly jump off of the screen. While this is a minor quibble, and at times, the diminished color scheme is integral to the story, animation is the one film medium that should always impress you with its colors in one way or another, and "Titan A.E." doesn’t. Still, that’s is the only real flaw in this video presentation, which otherwise comes across quite well.

The audio on "Titan A.E." is equally impressive, boasting both a <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 track and a <$DTS,DTS> mix. With the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, the speakers are constantly filled with the sounds of spaceships flying by and explosions during the battle scenes. There is a notable amount of bass response and the subwoofer is busy throughout the film. The soundtrack by Graeme Revell, as well as the original songs in the film, also sound great. The surround sound offers a wide soundfield and does an excellent job of bringing the viewer into the film as the spaceships move from one side of the screen to the other and the sound placement is duplicated in the speakers. The DTS soundtrack is equally impressive, although differences are mostly found in the slightly better spatial integration and clarity of the DTS track over the Dolby Digital mix.

The "Titan A.E." DVD features many special features. First up, we have an <$commentary,audio commentary> with director Don Bluth and co-director/co-producer Gary Goldman. While the commentary is very informative and does has some interesting points, in the end it is just too technical. Bluth and Goldman go on and on about the animation techniques used in the film and basically give an overview of how the entire film was made. While this may be of great interest to true fans of animation, I think that most audiences will be bored by the commentary. As Bluth and Goldman have worked together for years, their talk is pleasant and laid-back, but it sounds too often like a college lecture.

For a better overview on the making of "Titan A.E.", check out "The Quest for Titan". The featurette originally aired on FOX Kids Saturday morning show. The 20-minute plus special does an excellent job of bringing us into the world of the film, by introducing us to the voice actors and the animators. "The Quest for Titan" focuses on the film’s story, how the voice actors got involved, and then lastly shows how the animation was actually done. We get a layman’s knowledge of how the 2-D and 3-D animation was combined and the special never gets overly technical or boring. "The Quest For Titan" also spotlights the musical talent that was brought together for the film’s soundtrack. "The Quest for Titan" is clearly a long commercial for the film, but it also gives us a good glimpse behind the scenes.

Speaking of the soundtrack for "Titan A.E.", the DVD features a music video from the band Lit for their song "Over My Head." The video combines performance footage with clips from the film. Also from the promotions department, we have several promos for "Titan A.E.". There are two theatrical trailers, each <$PS,letterboxed> at 2.35:1. "Trailer C" is particularly interesting, as it features only sound effects and the Creed song, "Higher". There are also two TV spots, each <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1. (I prefer these, as one features "Supernova Goes Pop" by Powerman 5000.)

For a further glimpse behind the scenes, there is an art gallery which features many stills showing both production design and character design. And finally we have four deleted scenes. Two are actual deleted scenes, while the other two are alternate cuts of scenes which appear in the film. Strangely, there is no cast and crew section, as there are many voices in the film that will have you saying, "Where do I know them from?"

While "Titan A.E." boasts some incredible animation, it is as a whole not as exciting and thrilling as it could have been. The beautiful imagery can’t overcome the lame story and characters. Still, if you choose to see the film, you must see it on DVD. The digital transfer has rendered the picture nearly flawless and the surround sound is fun and impressive. The DVD offers many special features to further answer the question, "How’d they do that?" I can only hope that if the Earth is destroyed, I can find some way to take my DVDs with me.