Don Bluth’s final film before retiring, Titan A.E. shows a little of both sides of the famed director. It’s a shockingly dark film with an interesting concept that plays out surprisingly well, though not without its faults.
Cale (Matt Damon) and his father (Ron Perlman) were on good terms until the father abandoned the son during an attack that left Earth completely destroyed. Fifteen years later, Cale finds himself on the run from the same creatures who took his planet, trying to find the elusive Titan Project, essentially a backup drive for Earth. He makes new friends in Captain Korso (Bill Pullman), co-pilot Akima (Drew Barrymore) and first mate Preed (Nathan Lane) aboard a ship following a map in the ring his father left him.
This is another sad story of a good movie that nobody has seen. I suppose it only stands to reason that this will happen with a few gems, but it doesn’t make it any less depressing. It came out on the same weekend as the remake of Shaft, and was also beat out by Gone in 60 Seconds, Big Momma’s House and Mission: Impossible II. Unfortunately the film was also made on a massive budget of $75 million, so it wasn’t likely to make back its money anyway.
Finally, though, I’ve found one of the few movies written by Joss Whedon that I actually really enjoyed. It was also written by John August, oddly enough the guy who’s written all of Tim Burton’s films since Big Fish. Firefly was clearly on Whedon’s mind at the time, because there is a very similar vibe throughout. There’s a lot less annoying banter going on than in his other works though, so it’s a lot more tolerable (I’ve made it clear in the past that I REALLY hate Firefly).
There are a lot of daring choices taken in the making of this film, possibly a factor in parents not bringing their kids to see it. Namely, it is an uncommonly violent PG movie, with characters dying brutally on-screen. It’s also a tad slow moving, for characterization purposes, which also felt odd in what was allegedly being sold as a film for children. It all works though, and the story flows in a usually-intelligent manner.
There are, however, some questionable situations. There’s a portion where Akima and Cale get stranded on an old Chinese refugee station, and have to fix up a rocket to catch up with the others. The montage of them fixing the ship makes it look like it should have taken weeks, but apparently it was all done in one afternoon. The movie also has a problem understanding how wounds work, with one character surviving what appeared to clearly be death, or Akima being told to “sleep off” a gunshot through her shoulder. It’s just lazy writing and hurts what is otherwise an enjoyable film.
Something I found very confusing and a little concerning were the blatant similarities between this at Disney’s Treasure Planet, which came out two years later. Both are traditionally animated sci-fi action movies using heavy CG effects to tell a story about a boy abandoned by his apparently “great” father who left him a small gold object that could be used as a map to find a planet where the core held a type of treasure that everyone wanted. Both films also feature themes of betrayal, and both feature very similar alien designs. Considering production on Treasure Planet didn’t get really underway until right around the time Titan A.E. was released, I’m afraid to assume these aren’t merely coincidences.
I think it’s important to also point out that this is the last big project featuring Tone Lõc before he wrongfully faded into obscurity.
Titan A.E. is a bold, engaging sci-fi epic, featuring interesting characters, some unique takes on the genres, and a lot of very grim story elements. It’s a tragically forgotten jewel that’s definitely worth checking out, even with all its faults.