Stale, Mate

04/29/2009 4:00 AM |

Battle for Terra
Directed by Aristomenis Tsirbas

“Hey, at least the 3-D was cool,” you might find yourself saying upon exiting the humorless, heavy-handed animated feature Battle for Terra, incapable of generating a more trenchant response. You might not even reach that paltry conclusion, as you probably removed your 3-D glasses several times, just to see something distorted and surprising to distract you from the film’s stone-faced anti-war breast-beating.

Director Aristomenis Tsirbas’ story may at heart be a parable on pacifism, but it nonetheless seems confused about its causes. After the teen-aged alien protagonist Mala (voiced by Evan Rachel Wood) is punished by her father for rebelling against the teachings of her tribe’s “elders,” you expect a stab at Maoism — mainly because the highest-ranked elder is draped in red. But then Mala’s Dad is kidnapped by human soldiers — all blank-faced chiseled jawline and booming basso — who’ve been ordered to colonize the alien planet and replace its air supply with alien-killing oxygen. Only the nice pilot Jim (Luke Wilson), and a not-sassy-enough robot (the usually hilarious David Cross, doing a lame nod to Johnny-5) can help Mala end the war. Could a war on air be a metaphor for (gulp) a war on oil?

Tsirbas lacks a solid angle, in a film that variously seems in favor of peace, anarchy and treason. It’s also hard to detect any moral amidst all the thunderous plane combat and Mala’s non-stop gasps of “No!” and “Jim!” The dialogue is steadfastly serious, the characters indistinct from one another — the aliens are all cuter, noseless versions of E.T., with sutured-on ponytails and plaintive, frightened eyes as wide as whirlpools; the humans express terror, outrage and pride in the same cue-card reading monotone.

All that’s left to react to, really, is that sweet 3-D gloss: sleet you can practically touch, flakes of debris you can practically choke on, adorable aliens, sauntering like airborne seahorses, you can practically cuddle with.

Opens May 1