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Archive 2
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Titan: After Box The Office.
Nathan Davies

"It’s no Star Wars, but then it’s not meant to be (and considering the mediocre Episode I, it wouldn’t want to be either). It is however a fine example of pulp science fiction on one of its better days

Before its cinematic release last summer, Titan A.E., the animated science-fiction adventure from Don (Anastasia) Bluth and Twentieth Century Fox was being hyped as a milestone in both traditional and digital animation. It was going to be something special. Different. Unique. It was going to be amazing. Then it was released. While it was a passable success on most accounts it failed to make the return that Fox had expected. It broke the bank and it broke the studio. Now it’s out on video. So what is Fox Animation’s final film like?

Well, pretty damn good, actually. It’s no Star Wars, but then it’s not meant to be (and considering the mediocre Episode I, it wouldn’t want to be either). It is however a fine example of pulp science fiction on one of its better days. The story is set in a 31st Century where mankind has taken to the stars and begins with the parting of a father and son as the Earth is destroyed by a powerful alien race known as the Drej. It then jumps forward to fifteen years after Earth (the A.E. in the title) where we meet the boy, Cale (voiced by Matt Damon), now grown into a bitter young man and working as a salvager on a deep space station run by aliens. With no home, their numbers dwindling and the Drej as their enemy, humans have fallen to the bottom of the galactic heap and Cale is really feeling that when he meets fellow human Joseph Korso (voiced by Bill Pullman), and is told only he can save mankind by finding his father’s ship, the Titan. From there it’s a race across the stars (with some stunning vistas and spectacular locations thrown in), packed with action, the obligatory romance (with Drew Barrymore giving voice to Cale’s love interest and ace pilot, Akima) and even a splash of intrigue, with the Drej always in hot pursuit.

What makes the film special, and lifts it from perhaps just being an average film to a good one is the way it’s been done. Not simply because of what the animators have been able to do in mixing traditional cell style animation with the cutting edge 3D stuff, but also the fact that it’s a cartoon. It’s an animated feature that is neither a children’s film nor an overly adult orientated piece of anime (Japanese animation). Instead it is somewhere in between the two, allowing it to borrow both child-like fantasy elements and more realistic attitudes towards life and the universe. There is heroism and adventure, but there is also violence, death and a social hierarchy that does not favour human beings. To put it another way, as with Disney’s Tarzan, though perhaps to a greater extent, there is the refreshing feeling that the story is not being compromised to conform to a certain audience demographic.

Another thing that Titan A.E. has in common with Tarzan is its blending of 2D and 3D animation, and again Fox’s film goes further. Elements of the ‘deep canvas’ technique used to bring a measure of depth and perspective to the jungle in the Disney film (by texturing a painted matte, such as a background, onto a 3D object) can be seen in Titan, and is, according to production designer Phil Kruden, something that Fox has been doing for years. Now they have actually gone a step further by using an aspect of that same technique to render, and to a certain extent, mask their 3D components. For example, there is a sequence early on in the film that has Cale in a space suit cutting up derelict spacecraft. In this there is a matte background of a star field, on top of which is the 2D cell of the space ship Cale is cutting, on top of which is the 3D model of Cale in his suit, inside of which is Cale’s 2D face. If that wasn’t complicated enough, to maintain a unified feel to everything and to disguise the artificial look of the 3D model, Cale’s suit has been rendered in 2D. It is simply amazing when you think about what actually went into putting together a single shot, and it looks good on the screen too.

There is a lot about Titan A.E. that is simply about looking good; about getting the most visually stunning environment and then ‘filming’ it in the best possible way (take for example the race with the wake angels through a cloudy nebula, or the game of hide and seek in the ice field near the end) but there is a plot tucked away in there as well. Perhaps it could be accused of being a little basic and the characters a little underdeveloped but, overall, it works. It’s fast, it’s fun and it has a planet called Bob. It is endearing pulp science fiction and it is indeed something different.


Titan A.E.

Starring: Matt Damon, Bill Pullman, Drew Barrymore, Nathan Lane, Janeane Garofalo, John Leguizamo.
Director: Don Bluth and Gary Goldman.
Certificate: PG.
Price: £12.99 (video).
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox.

Best Line: “Hmmm, an intelligent guard. Didn’t see that one coming.”


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