Eight years ago, I missed "Titan AE" when it came out in theaters. It looked cool, but I was afraid it would be stupid. Don Bluth had disappointed me before.
It turns out that this flashy, expensive science-fiction epic brought the Don Bluth studio down in flames - their best, their worst, and their last film.
Let us consider the tragic fall. What went wrong? On the surface, the film looked incredible. The character animation deeply impressed me. Facial expressions, gestures, timing, even the illusion of weightlessness were masterfully executed. The lush interstellar backgrounds, the 3-D ships, the incredible imagination at work - I almost think they should have hired John Williams to compose a soundtrack and simply skipped the dialog and story. It could have been like an outer space version of Fantasia 2000.
Not all of the dialog was bad. In certain individual scenes the exchanges between the characters were delightfully honest. The trouble was, in the next scene the dialog would be stilted and canned and the characters would be, well, out of character!
The story should have been compelling enough to command ninety-five minutes. In the opening sequence of the film, mankind flees planet earth just minutes before an evil alien race turns our home sweet home into an asteroid field. Fifteen years later, humans are living on the fringes of galactic society, homeless and quickly dying out. Wow, what a premise!
Then things begin to go down the drain. Enter surly twenty-year old Cale. He might have been unhappily cutting up derelict spacecraft for his alien employers all his life if it were not for the fact that his dad was a brilliant scientist who built a nifty machine that makes . . . planets! Just what we needed! Unfortunately, Dad hid the machine and went missing, and Cale is about to find out that he's the only one with the secret genetically encoded ring map to find it. He's got to hurry because the evil aliens bent on the destruction of the human race would like to get to it first and blow it up.
Okay, okay, so it's silly, but I still think they could have pulled it off. Unfortunately, the story has no cohesion. I can not watch the film a second time because things the characters did and said early in the movie make no sense in light of later events. Did I mention there's a pirate captain, a kangaroo woman, a batty scientist turtle, and a hot laser-toting space pilot babe with purple bangs? Sounds awful! That's why I didn't go see it in the theater.
Worst of all, this film had no audience. After the exposition, where Cale is a cute five-year old kid on the day the aliens destroy the earth, all my children howled with disappointment when they saw how old he would be for the rest of the film. "I liked him better as a kid!" they all cried. With lead characters in their early twenties and a garage-band soundtrack, the film is aimed directly at teens. It was eight years ahead of its time. The equally sloppy and much less brilliant "Clone Wars" may not be doing tremendously well, but it was cheap to make and enough people went to see it that it hasn't put a hole in the studio and sunk it.
"Titan AE" is one of those films that makes me wonder - is there some kind of inverse relationship between the amount of really awesome visuals and action sequences and the intelligence of the plot? Must it always be this way? Or will anyone ever combine smart storytelling, great characters, and mind-blowing visuals into a single film?