MOVIE REVIEW- Fight for Peace: Battle for Terra-ble


Their parents may have been conceived in a hippie commune, but today's kids don't want to watch movies about people sitting in a circle singing "Kumbaya."

Hence the hypocrisy of movies like Battle for Terra. It may help create a new generation of peaceniks with its simplistic message, "War bad. Peace good." But as the title indicates, much of its 75-minute narrative is devoted to videogame-styled armed conflict. If you don't pique adolescent boys' interest with war, you're not going to be able to sell them peace.

Marketing realities aside, Battle for Terra isn't a very good movie. In a twist on the usual "space invaders" plot, it's the survivors from a destroyed Earth who are looking to colonize another planet, taking it over by force.

The planet they choose is one they've named Terra (Latin for Earth, so they'll feel at home– if they speak Latin). It's a peaceful place, but, we eventually learn, it was not always so. The peace is maintained by totalitarian, if benevolent, rulers who dictate every detail of the people's lives.

Well, not people exactly. In this animated feature, the Terrians look like pale green sperm with big eyes. Typical of cheap computer animation, Terra is a world of surfaces with no texture; and like most science-fiction since 2001: A Space Odyssey, the hardware is more interesting than the lifeforms, human or Terrian.

Evan Rachel Wood voices our heroine, Mala (speaking of translations, why is the good girl named "Bad"?). She's a brilliant but rebellious teenager who ditches school with her boyfriend Senn (Justin Long) to go flying in primitive machines that look like Leonardo da Vinci meets H.G. Wells.

Speaking of Wells, an early mention of a kid with a cold suggests we may be in for a War of the Worlds ending, with a germ killing off the invaders; but that's a red herring, if it's even intentional.

Suddenly there's "a new god in the sky" over Terra. It's the Ark, the mother ship carrying the last of the human race. After an aerial dogfight, Mala rescues the pilot of the fighter plane she's downed, Lt. James Stanton (Luke Wilson), creating the only friendly dialogue between the opposing cultures. For comic relief, Jim's accompanied by a puppy-like robot named Giddy (David Cross).

The Ark is falling apart and has a limited amount of oxygen remaining. Sharing Terra is ruled out because Terrians breathe something else and the Earthlings will have to change the planet's atmosphere, killing its natives, to survive there. They have a gizmo that enables them to do this, which raises the question of why they don't use it on the Ark to increase their oxygen supply and buy them more time.

For that matter, Mala is able to build an oxygen tent for Jim at home. How come the grown-ups of two cultures can't be so resourceful?

Both sides have relatively reasonable leaders (Danny Glover and James Garner), but they're drowned out by the military coup-ing of Earth's General Hemmer (Brian Cox), who is glad to hear the Terrians know how to fight: "Then they'll die with honor."

The voice cast also includes Dennis Quaid, Chris Evans, Amanda Peet and some relatively big names in small roles: Mark Hamill, Rosanna Arquette, David Krumholtz, Ron Perlman, Danny Trejo, Beverly D'Angelo and Laraine Newman.

Will they give peace a chance, or will both sides lose the Battle for Terra? You'll have to see the movie to find out. If you do, you'll come away with an anti-war message and a bonus message about preserving our environment, so we won't have to move.

But perhaps the most important message to be gleaned from Battle for Terra is that it's possible to learn good lessons from bad movies.