"Battle for Terra" twists the premise of "The War of the Worlds" so that the invading aliens are humans, homeless (Earth is no more, owing to a war with colonies from neighboring planets) and desperate to find a new life-supporting residence. The invaded are noseless, tadpole-like creatures with dewy alien eyes, heretofore living a peaceful life devoted to the liberal arts and hang-gliding.
Evan Rachel Wood provides the voice of Mala, the story's principal female tadpole, who enlists the help of a downed U.S. military pilot (voice by Luke Wilson) to rescue her abducted father. The pilot's commander ( Brian Cox) is blinkered venality incarnate, given to doomsday pronouncements such as "us or them!"
Director Aristomenis Tsirbas' film expands on his 7-minute short "Terra." It has the virtue of being serious; the mixed blessing of a near-total absence of humor (no animated science-fiction film has ever had so many scenes of near-asphyxiation); and the vice of a heavy hand.
I appreciate its antiwar message; so much in our popular culture is designed to feed a new generation of eager, desensitized warriors, virtual or otherwise. But the indirect attack often works best in these stark stories of humankind and alienkind brought to the brink of extermination.
The movie's the latest in a blizzard of 3-D features, though it was shot in conventional 2-D. Visually the landscapes and various life forms come to life, or something like it, in a style one tick up from " Star Wars: The Clone Wars." One tick's not much.
As for the Target Audience, my son liked the film: He found it both intriguing and unsettling that "Terra" asks the audience to root, root, root against the home team, as personified by Cox's general. When Mala's human pal Jim embarks on what is essentially a suicide bombing mission against his own superior, you know you're not in conventional Hollywood territory.
Why is the film almost good, which is to say, not bad but not more? Largely, I think, it's because screenwriter Evan Spiliotopoulos invents a lot of narrative complication of minimal interest to stretch out a short film to feature length, including a relationship between pilot Jim and his brother, and an R2D2-inspired robot named Giddy (voice by David Cross).
The drab color palette seems limiting as well. The world we see has its moments, but the best thing about it is the sound, created by the company known as Wow and Flutter. As Mala and her Terrian friend soar above the sky-whales and clouds in their aircrafts, the whup-whup-whup and brrrrrrrrrrrr effects evoke both the old days and the new days.
All in all? A curious preachment yarn for peace, one which makes you wonder if the filmmakers couldn't wait to get to the climactic aerial dogfights.