Bombs, Disasters & Flops: TITAN A.E.

Gail Williams gets ready for the human race.

"When Earth Ends, The Adventure Begins."

It’s a great tagline, and one of six that were linked to Titan AE. The problem for Fox was that that was pretty much where it ended too! This animated movie did not do well at the box office when released in 2000, resulting in the closing of Fox’s animation studio in Arizona after only two films (this and Anastasia). Clearly there was room in the viewing public’s heart for animations and science fiction. The Road to El Dorado and X-Men were both success stories that year, so is it just a question of Titan being unremittingly awful?

Personally I don’t think that’s the case. I’ve watched the movie lots of times and always enjoy it, but for those who don’t know... Titan AE is set in 3028, fifteen years after Earth (hence the AE of the title) has been destroyed by the Drej (energy beings and mortal enemies to humans, fearing what humans ‘could become’). The human race has been reduced to a bunch of fugitives eking out an existence in a galaxy where the other species seem to find us deficient. Cale is just a young punk, a rebel without a clue, and humanities last great hope for salvation through the Titan project.

This project is the brainchild of Cale’s father (don’t suppose anyone’s surprised by that, are they?), and involves a plan to recreate Earth out in the universe. Titan itself is a progenitor ship loaded with the DNA of every life form still living on Earth at the time. The location of Titan and the hope for human prosperity is bio-locked to Cale’s father, who happens to be dead. Of course there is sufficient similarity with Cale for him to be able to unlock the secret and locate Titan. When found by Captain Korso and a supporting cast of misfits, Cale locates the Titan, fights the Drej, and overcomes overwhelming odds and personal betrayal to become the saviour of us all.

Okay so the story line, especially the way I tell it, isn’t the most awe-inspiring in the world, but trust me, it works better than I’ve made it sound and is well worth the watch. That said, I am about to take exception with a number of plot points.

Humans are deficient. Species-ism raises its head again, nothing new there. Every species from Vulcan to Gallifrey, and all those in the Scape so far away, always think humans are a lesser limited life form.

Fear of what humans ‘could become’. Heard that before? The Q didn’t like it, though if anyone should know better, they should have. The Anti-Mutants didn’t like it. And on a smaller scale, the trickster-Turn-Left woman was terrified of the coming Doctor Donna.

Salvation is always down to one person, and usually the disenfranchised son of some previously great man. Arthur, son of Uther Pendragon, Garion of the Belgariad. Superman.

Titan AE was recorded in English and Mandarin. Is it simply a numbers game that it’s always the Americans and Chinese which survive? Firefly anyone?

So it’s not without its repeating themes, no story is, but that doesn’t make Titan AE unoriginal.  It is however responsible for one history making moment. According to IMDB, for its premier in Atlanta, Titan AE was the first Hollywood film distributed via transmission over the internet direct to a digital projector without ever touching a film reel. Something it should be remembered for if nothing else.

The artwork of the piece is something I particularly like. The space backgrounds are beautiful, there is a section where they are flying ships through giant reflecting ice crystals, which is just amazing. I particularly like the Helium trees on Sesharrim, they drift and shift with elegance - until they turn into fiery burning balls of death, but hey ho, eh? 

As with all non-static visual arts, films have a great reliance on the auditory too, and in this case the music wasn’t just production studio churn. The soundtrack includes original pieces by both Jamiraquai and Texas, alongside others that fit the nature of the work perfectly to give a rocky, slightly grungy oomph to the action. It starts with “Cosmic Castaway” (Electrasy) and ends with “Not Quite Paradise” (Bliss), both great tunes matched well to the relevant sequence.

Titan had a heck of a cast too. With Matt Damon, Bill Pullman, Drew Barrymore, Nathan Lane, Janeane Garfalo, and Ron Pearlman included. I particularly enjoy Janeane’s performance as foul tempered Stith, who of course has a heart of gold and ranks among the heroes at the end.

But like most animations, Titan AE, has more than the surface to look at. However, seeing those things isn’t always easy. And there are always references to other shows. Take a look at the tattoo on Cale’s arm, it bears a distinct similarity to the symbol of the Terran Empire in Star Trek (TOS) episode Mirror Mirror. And who can resist a Star Wars reference?  Apparently not the person responsible for New Bangkok, where the words “should I get out and push?” are uttered, you might just see Princess Leah’s double as a slave girl, not to mention that New Bangkok is a hodge-podge of cobbled together spacecraft, including the Death Star.

There is real heart and depth to this movie so I don’t know why it bombed. Some cite bad marketing, some critiques best described it as ‘meh’, but I think it deserves a chance, and not just for the kids.  This story, like Cale, is a diamond in the rough which polishes up beautifully. So go on, lose an hour and a half to see what Titan AE is all about.

Spoiler Alert - Ultimately, of course, this is an American movie, so after all the fighting, faux pas, the explosions, horror, bitterness and betrayal, there is a happy ending. The Year 16 AE introduces the universe to New Earth, though Cale is insistent that they call it Planet Bob.

Gail Williams lives in her own private dungeon populated with all the weird and the wonderful she can imagine.  Some of it’s very weird, and the odd bits and pieces are a bit wonderful.  Well okay, she lives in Swansea with her husband and daughter.  And the world’s most demanding cat. To find out more about Gail, check out - Dare you!
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