Monday, September 28, 2009

Visual Media Review: Battle for Terra Blu-ray/DVD

'Lo Peoples,

Battle for Terra
Rated PG

After all her recent fuming, Her Tangh-i-ness is delighted to have something to crow about for a change. Between the second Transformers movie, District Nine, and the second season finale of True Blood, I felt that maybe other painful, racist tropes were due for a comeback at any time. I have seen proof positive that the kind of movies I want to see and support are actually being made. Buy or rent a copy of Battle for Terra. It's totally worth the good karma points. We need to demonstrate there's a market for these folks.

Battle for Terra has been directed and written by Aristomenis Tsirbas. Evan Spiliotopolous is the screenwriter. Gentlemen, Her Tangh-i-ness, and the Lemurian are supremely grateful for your decision to create and produce a story that falls outside the usual Hollywood toxic fare. Efcharisto! Well done. May the Blu-ray and DVD sales make up for what didn't happen in the box office.

In the making of segment, the Tsirbas explained that he intended for this to be an "invasion" movie. Humans are the invaders this time around. Spiliotopolous also points out that an animation like this is adult fare. Countries such as Japan and France can create animation for grownups, but in the US, audiences are still slow to catch on.

I'm saddened that when my brother, the Lemurian, and I actually went to see Battle for Terra in the theaters, it was consigned to locations that might as well been light years away. We didn't hear about it in time to catch it locally. Yet, the Lemurian decided, based on reviews from sources like IGN, the gamer site, that Battle for Terra would be an instant buy.

So this weekend, we settled in front of his Sony 1080 Full HD screen and slid the Blu-ray into the trusty Samsung. I know there have been rumblings about the quality of the animation, but to our mind, nothing detracted from the viewing experience. Simplicity can be quite complex as any South Park episode can demonstrate. Quality CGI does not result in minstrel-bots or freakin' Jar Jar Binks.

As a person of color, I usually identify with aliens in science fiction. I watch movies expecting the aliens to get the short end of the stick just like human, so-called "minority" groups.

I observed the pale-skinned, three-fingered, tadpole people glide through the first few minutes of the movie. I call them tadpole people because they had the same kind of vestigial tail without fins. They literally float-swam through their atmosphere which incidentally was poisonous to humans. The Terrans were cute in the sense that E.T. and the Muppets are cute which helps with viewer empathy.
Big eyes never fail. At first, the majority of the Terran population revered the invading humans as gods. Terran Elders seemed to have a different opinion of the happenings but they refused to share what they knew with their own people. The plot thickened.

Mala was the fiesty Terran heroine who rescued a human, Jim Stanton, in order to save her own captured father. By the time, we got this part, I'd been thinking this could be Pocahontas meets John Smith 2009 times worse. With his square chin and close-shaved head, Jim Stanton looked like a Space Marine posterboy with a designer eyebrow cut. (Stanton, incidentally, reminded Her Tangh-i-ness and the Lemurian of Richard Corben's Den. Visually. Not actually.) Jim Stanton's character arc required him to move from seeing the Terrans as potential hostiles to sacrificing his life for their welfare. Mala lost her own father but successfully defended her home planet from the crippled generation ship populated by desperate humans. It turned out the Terrans once had a warlike period but banished the evidence to the outer regions of the planet and certain underground facilities.

When I noticed the Black human President voiced by Danny Glover, I think I relaxed a tiny bit. (Yes. Her Tangh-i-ness is oversensitive! She is trying to undo years of exposure to racist propaganda.) The film's antagonist, a suitably hawkish General Hemmer leads a coup against the President in order to ensure survival of the human race. Hemmer intends to terraform the planet and write off the intelligent Terran population as collateral damage. Humans will once again have a home despite the lethal cost to another species. If Hemmer had said, "Stay the course," to Jim Stanton, we could have substituted Hemmer for any number of recent political figures.

I expected Jim Stanton and Mala to save the day, but I didn't expect the hero to die in order to make things right. This is where I really appreciated the risk taken by the director and writers. Sacrifice usually falls in standard movie fare upon some hapless sidekick (often a person of color) whose death clears the path to resolution between the warring parties. The hero strides into the sunset with the heroine on his arm and credits roll.

But it didn't go down like that in Battle for Terra. Jim Stanton takes out Hemmer and everyone else aboard the terraformer in order to put a stop to the madness. Can we say deep? After his suicide run, the Terrans opt to share their world with humans who are confined to a dome where oxygen-producing foliage can allow them to peacefully co-exist. Mala and Stanton's younger brother share a feel-good moment.

Even as much as I'm down for Spock and Uhura, I cringed at the thought of an interspecies romance but Battle for Terra didn't go there either. Thank the Force. Jim Stanton got a statue dedicated to his memory. Mala glided into the sunset piloting her own ship accompanied by a love interest of her own kind. And the Black President survived.

I can totally understand why parents might be loathe to answer questions from their little ones after watching. Why there's that disturbing near-death scene of all those cute tadpole people. And who really wants to own up to the predatorial nature of the human species?

Thinking parents who want to raise the next generation of staunch Pro-Alienists like Her Tangh-i-ness and the Lemurian cogitate, then teleport, but don't walk to get a copy of Battle for Terra.


Her Tangh-i-ness

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