By Chuck Francisco
June 12, 2013 Source: Mania.com
We live in an age where entire summers are won and lost on the box office prowess of a handful of tent pole titles; where the fate of three hundred and sixty-five future days of hopeful film pitches can be washed away by the stench of one colossal bomb; and an entire animation studio is shuttered despite the earnest efforts of Joss Whedon, Matt Damon, and Ron Pearlman. Titan A.E. had all the hallmarks of a science fiction classic: it's visually resplendent, full of genre actors, operatic in scale, and desperately searching for deeper meaning. Yet it grossed only half of its budget back worldwide ($36mil out of $75mil), causing fox to close down Fox Animation Studios (though it's now open again). So why did it fail?
A better question to reach the same point would be "who is the audience for this film?". And with that an epiphany: in casting such a wide net; in employing many writers with divergent, yet strong voices, Titan A.E. Suffers from a confection of personality. Does it want to be a post apocalyptic space adventure about the last gasps of the human race? Is it a kid friendly romp with goofy characters that appeal to a younger crowd? Was it trying to cut itself from the same cloth as Star Wars? The answer to all of these questions is "Yes", and so you can begin to understand why it failed to appeal to anyone; it tried to appeal to everyone. But this is a past concern of Fox bean counters a decade removed from us now. All we really need concern ourselves with is one question: Is this movie entertaining spectacle? And yeah, it totally is.
Now finally receiving widespread acknowledgement as king of the nerds, Joss Whedon poured a lot of his creativity into this project. It's plainly recognizable in elements which would go on to form prominent design choices in Whedon's masterpiece Firefly. Does a rag tag crew of space brigands, piloting a smuggling ship, surviving on the ragged edge sound familiar to anyone else? How about a gruff female weapons officer or bulky space suits reminiscing of diving equipment? Even the sequence of Matt Damon's character Cale salvaging space junk scream of Firefly's pilot.
The voice cast is diverse and deep, starting with Hellboy himself, Ron Pearlman as Sam Tucker, creator of the Titan and Cale's (Matt Damon) father. Damon may put in the weakest of the straight voice performances, never quite getting full grasp of the material. Cale fills the role of disaffected young man, angry about the hand he's been dealt, cocky about his abilities, but naive about the true way of the universe. Guiding him is former soldier turned space scoundrel Korso (a gruff Bill Pullman with a great pirate name). Falling in love with him is space navigator Akima, voiced by Drew Barrymore during her dancing on David Letterman's desk phase. Surrounding this core are a talented contingent of costars: Nathan Lane, John Leguizamo, Janeane Garofalo, and Jim Brewer.
The most amazing aspect of Titan A.E. is perhaps the paintbrush used to depict this rich universe. Combining traditional animation with groundbreaking CGI yielded an incredibly unique and deep spectrum of images, well beyond what was being showcased at the time. A descendant from this can be seen on Family Guy (especially in the Star Wars parodies), but those bring nowhere near the visual ka-pow of Titan A.E.'s beauty.
The soundtrack is charged with a wicked set list compiled from a who's who of late 90's alternative rock bands, amping up the experience with some delicious tracks from Powerman 5000, Fun Loving' Criminals, The Urge, Luscious Jackson, Splashdown, and Jamiroquai. It's the marquee song "Over My Head" by Lit though that completely steals the show when it accompanies a Rocky-esk montage. You read that right: this spaceship movie has its very own montage and it's awesome.
Titan A.E. will never see a sequel, never recoup its budget, or possibly even get a Blu Ray release (a tragedy confiding the visuals). Despite all that it is a rousing adventure that's brilliant if you're willing to overlook the obnoxiously shoehorned in kiddie characters. The vanilla DVD release is easily and cheaply acquired from Amazon, but the soundtrack CD is quite a bit more expense and rare. This would make for a great double feature with The Iron Giant. Check out the trailer below and I'll see you next Wednesday.
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Wednesday's Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.
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