NOTE: If you intend to watch this movie, don't read my review first, I'm spoiling the plot!
First off, it was rather beautifully animated even if the rendering was a tad on the light side in some cases. The shadows were well executed, and CG has come a LONG way since Toy Story! However, its 2009, so yo know it was low budget because the main characters were bald, and the ones with hair still had the solid cap looking hair that was a necessity back when Toy Story was made due to the technical limitations. Now, its just a sign of not being able to (or willing to) pay for the rendering farm usage. They captured the movements and skittishness of birds quite well in their Terran (but not the Earth Terra, but an earth-like planet called Terra... yeesh! So the critique begins...) equivalent of hummingbirds and sparrows.
Downhill from there. As always, its about humans traveling across the galaxy looking for new home because we destroyed our home planet Earth, and in this case both Mars and Venus in a giant war between humanity. Someone believes Earth would have a government, that would have colonies on Mars and Venus who would be under colonial governments and declare independence from Earth's government. Typical episodic or b-grade science fiction idea (I blame Gene Roddenberry for that one mainly, but its a far too common theme in science fiction...). Of course, the beautifully rendered bird is on the earth-like planet called Terra by humans, inhabited by none other than a peace loving race of aliens who are at one with nature (anyone else seeing where this conflict is leading?).
As you can guess, the human race, having destroyed earth is desperate for a new home world, and the human government consists of the ever wise, clear thinking, and level headed Council; and the hothead, genocidal (xenocidal) maniacs of the Earth Force. They are in a space craft called the Ark, and run across the ever peaceful species of aliens whom the Earth Force (surprise, surprise) is willing to wipe out in an effort colonize the earth-like planet of Terra. Since the Council disagrees and wants to engage in diplomacy, the Earth Force does what every military force does when faced with this dilemma in Hollyweird film, and carries out a military coup.
But wait, theres more! Our Terran aliens have a wise and all knowing Council of Elders themselves that have ensured the peace and prosperity of their planet by removing all knowledge of war from the people! Gum drops and lollipops all around! They seem to have managed to eradicate violence from their species by keeping all weapons from them! In the mountains shrouded in clouds is a cave full of the knowledge of war, forbidden to the general populace, and only the Elders have access! The Terrans have pulled their advanced technology out to save their species! Of course, the protagonist has to go through the shock of learning what violence and war is, and then learn all about how the Terrans almost destroyed themselves with these weapons, which was why the survivors banned technology that wasn't approved by the Elders and hid the weapons. So, a species that is Fallen like mankind, can just suppress all thoughts and acts of violence by removing the weapons? Right... Ask a prison warden what happens with no guns or knives, ask an orderly at a mental institution about kids raised in a 'weapon free' environment and how violent they can be just based on PURE INSTINCT. Of course, such details are omitted, as this is a child's cartoon (rated PG of course...).
As to the final battle, lets just say a human who isn't bad finally decides to stop the plans of the xenocidal maniac General Hammer. Which brings me to my next point, have you ever noticed that Hollyweird always portrays military men in science fiction as being homicidal/xenocidal/genocidal maniacs (and when they can, they chomp cigars like Patton) with no mind to the consequences of violence? That, and always ready to conquer new lands and planets and enslave the populace in order to rape said planet of natural resources! I've also noticed the tendency for said generals to execute a military coup, assassination plot, or some other bull @#%* whenever the civilian government (who is ALWAYS portrayed as wise, all knowing, peace loving, and empathetic) gets in the way of the Conquest. Perhaps this negative portrayal of the military is my biggest critique of this movie (along with mindlessness of the enlisted men and officers under the General, except for the one they intend to foil the plot with whom has 'gone native'), along with the fact that all Hollyweird war heroes tend to be officers (with occassional senior enlisted men involved somewhere... anyone in the real military will tell you the countless stories of heroism involving men who wore stripes, not bars, leaves, birds or stars).
Make no mistake, I'm a fan of military science fiction, mostly in the books. Give me a book by David Drake or J.E. Pournelle any day and I'll gladly read it. Why? Because there is a far greater accuracy in their writing than what I've ever seen on the big screen. Of course, if Hollyweird tried to make a movie about one of their books, they'd screw up and come up with another 1997 movie erroneously named Starship Troopers (which honestly, they should have picked a Hammers Slammers story to do instead of Heinlein's book, they'd at least portray the back story of the mercs 'pleasure section' accurately even if they missed the rest of the story...). But then, Hollyweird is full of writers who don't have any military experience of their own, or if the do they get lost in the crowd of producers, executive producers, directors, and focus meetings done in order to target the script at the best selling segment of the audience at large. FLOP, WHY?! They scream when the movie fails...
Part of my frustration, which has led to this blog post, is the continual stereotyping I see in Hollyweird science fiction movies. If one were to judge science fiction based on movies, science fiction is in trouble! But alas, science fiction lives in literature and lives very well there. Much better than on big screen. We've seen Hollyweird come a long way in its portrayal of science fiction, from the basic 'green men invasion' low budget flick period in which only two movies really reflected science fiction literature ('The Day the Earth Stood Still', and 'The Forbidden Planet'), to classics like 'The Twilight Zone' and 'Star Trek' on TV, until where we are today with decent science fiction on the TV and big screen.
But there is a long way to go. I can see the format for the last two decades reverberated here. Its form science fiction again, what sells (sorta). We see the same common thread in 'The Abyss', the 'Fifth Element', and finally here with 'Battle for Terra'. Mankind is bad, we destroy our earth, and worst of all we fight wars. Therefore we are violent, 'un-evolved', people whom should be isolated on earth or destroyed completely. Um, sure... Some how, I'm on board with the military science fiction crowd (in literature) that believes that fighting is a fact of life (and being a spiritual man, an aspect of our Fallen existence). If we are this way, somehow I suspect alien life is that way, and will continue to be that way. Very FEW species on earth don't have any mechanism for fighting to survive, and those that were like that died off (the dodo for example, didn't fear man enough to fly away, or fight to defend nests, they just stood there while sailors shot them and stomped the eggs...). Fight or Flight, or die!
There is some irony here, as I'm going to quote some of J.E. Pournelle's Preface to the 1983 collection of military science fiction stories “There Will Be War”, as he was writing from Hollywood CA at the time! This is the best explanation of why movies like 'Battle for Terra' piss me off I've yet seen.
“Everyone desires peace; but there have been few generations free of war. Paradoxically, the few eras of peace were times when men of war had high influence. The Pax Romana was enforced by Caesar's Legions. The Pax Britannica was enforced by the Royal Navy and His Majesty's Forces. The era of (comparative) peace since 1945 has been marked by the deployment of the most powerful weapons in history.
The Swiss Republic has long enjoyed peace; but ruthlessly enforces universal manhood conscription and military training.
Historically, peace has only been bought by men of war [emphasis mine]. We may, in future, be able to change that. It may be, as some say, that we have no choice. It may be that peace can must be bought with some coin other than blood of good soldiers; but there is no evidence to show that day of jubilee has yet come.”
“History shows another strong trend: when soldiers have succeeded in eliminating war, or at least in keeping the battles far from home, small in scope, and confined largely to soldiers; when in other words, they have done what one might have thought they were supposed to do; it is then that their masters generally despise them.”
Keep in mind, this was written in 1982. Never forget, history repeats itself.
Writers, and those influencing scripts, in Hollyweird are as disconnected with America and reality as they are with history and the military. This movie is nothing more than a cheap flick made to fit the format of Hollyweird science fiction 'first contact' molds with computer animation. It just keeps perpetuating negative stereotypes of those who wear a uniform and actually risk something more than pissing someone off for peace.
So, where is the movie where aliens come to earth, visit the UN, and determine we are un-fit for galactic society because we kill our own before they are even born, seek to kill our elders when they are deemed a burden to society, and social engineer our children into little drones for the government in government run schools while using junk science to scare people into paying more for basic essentials for survival like wood, coal, oil, and natural gas?
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