Battle for Terra (2009)
Animation / Action / Adventure: A peaceful alien planet faces annihilation, as the homeless remainder of the human race sets its eyes on Terra. Mala, a rebellious Terrian teenager, will do everything she can to stop it.
Genre: Action Adventure, Animation, Science Fiction
Running Time: 1 hr. 25 min.
In Theaters: May 1, 2009 Wide
On DVD: Sep 22, 2009
The theological review of this film was completed by Kelly Hames.
Film Title: Battle for Terra
Director(s): Aristomenis Tsirbas
Original release form/venue: Film festivals (2007), Theaters (2009)
Current Availability and Formats: DVD, on line (Amazon, Netflix)
Genre: Animated Sci-Fi Adventure, more dramatic than the normal animated film.
Story elements: (characters/actors/atmosphere/ storytelling point of view /plot/pacing/themes): When the peaceful inhabitants of the beautiful planet Terra come under attack from the last surviving members of humanity adrift in an ageing spaceship, the stage is set for an all-out war between the two races for control of the planet. But will an unlikely friendship between a rebellious young Terrian (voiced by Evan Rachel Wood) and an injured human pilot (Luke Wilson) somehow convince their leaders that war is not the answer? A strong case of voices (including Justin Long, James Garner, Danny Glover, Mark Hamill and many others) adds believability to the animated characters. This was crucial to the film as the voices had to carry the entire movie, giving depth and emotion to the performances.
The design of the aliens resembles tadpoles that float through the air and have extraordinarily large eyes. They are pastoral, nature-oriented, agrarian – a quiet society overseen by Elders. The Terrians are not the typical cute alien or hideous monster and they have mannerisms that seem quite human: going to the doctor, setting the dinner table, attending school (and skipping school). The last remnants of humanity are searching for a new home after destroying the planets in their own solar system through war and exhaustion of natural resources. Their military leader, General Hemmer, takes command of the survivors initiating the terraforming sequence that will kill all of the inhabitants of the planet even as it makes the planet hospitable for humans. However, neither race is quite what it appears to be. The aliens have a violent past and the humans are not evil. Even the general acts with honorable intent even though he knows of only on way to save his people: conquest.
Film Language: (setting/color/special effects/props/lighting/framing/space/camera shots & angles/costume/editing/music): In order to bring this low budget film in on time, shortcuts were taken with the animation. The aliens were designed to float because it was cheaper and faster than creating legs and the humans were depicted as hairless for the same reason. All-in-all, these shortcuts worked well in the overall production, enhancing the physical differences in the two races which were otherwise very similar, both emotionally and intellectually. The computer generated images were very well done, even using the aliens’ eyes to reflect offscreen activity (such as fires that resulted from bombings). The images of the alien planet were lush and totally unique; the final battle scene in the Terrian skies was well framed and action packed; the soundtrack was performed by a symphony orchestra and worked seamlessly into the film.
Audience/Cultural Context elements: This in one of those rare movies that would appeal to all ages. Children will like the animations and adults will be attracted to the drama and mature look at environmental and anti-war themes. In Battle for terra, we have an interesting twist in that the aggressor in this science fiction story is the human while the alien is the peaceful victim. The emotional ending is very unusual for an animated film, as well.
Theology is found: There are some clumsy religious references in Battle for Terra. For example, the human spacecraft is named “The Ark’ and the general referred to the seven day terraforming process as being “very Biblical.” But this was lowkey and left undeveloped. Primarily theology would be found outside of the movie itself.
Theological themes for conversation:
• Diversity: can different races live together in harmony and peace?
• Stewardship: what might the results be of squandering our natural resources.
Suggested type of conversation:
• The movie could be used as an example of how communication (rather than conquest) and mutual respect can lead to peaceful coexistence among different races.
• The Battle for terra could be used to challenge our understanding of our responsibility to be good stewards of the resources God has given us and what might happen if we are not.
Recommended ways to view and engage the film: I would recommend viewing the entire movie together and conversing immediately.
Concluding or summary remarks: I watched this movie for the first time when I was taking Old Testament and reading about the Israelites taking posses of the Promised Land. This movie’s depiction of the traditional victim as the aggressor can certainly lead you to read the Biblical text from a different perspective.