Battle for Terra (2009)

Rated: PG for sequences of sci-fi action violence and some thematic elements.
Length: 85 minutes
Grade: CBFC+=F
Budget: $4-8 million
Box Office: $2.8 million (1.6 U.S., 1.2 Intl.)

Written by: Aristomeris Tsirbas (First feature film) and Evan Spiliotopoulos (Nutty Professor, Pooh’s Heffalump Movie, Little Mermaid 3, and Jungle Book 2)
Directed by: Aristomeris Tsirbas (First feature film)
Starring: The voices of Brian Cox, David Cross, Beverly D’Angelo, James Garner, Dany Glover, Mark Hamill, Justin Long, Amanda Peet, Ron Perlman, Dennis Quaid, Luke Wilson, and Evan Rachel Wood.

The Terrans are peaceful alien airborne seacreatures who have learned to live at peace with nature. Unfortunately for them, humans who have destroyed their own ecosystem on earth are now out to steal their planet and terraform it for themselves. A crashed pilot, however, learns the truth about the Terrans’ goodness and tries to save both peoples.

Entertainment Value: C
This is amazingly good animation for such a teeny tiny budget. I was impressed. It’s a fairly captivating story, and they do a good job of building the plot toward the end. Also, they have a lot of good voices, too many, really.

Superficial Content: B
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sex/Nudity A, Violence B-, Language A
At the end of the movie, there is military violence and a lot of imaginary sea creatures are in danger of dying, including the killing of a flying whale. Some space ships are shot down, and there is a lot of talk about killing and death. Otherwise, the movie is squeaky clean, on purpose, I think.

Significant Content: F
Xenophobia is bad. And having an "us or them" mindset is also bad. But here’s what you really need to know about this movie. Humans are evil, having destroyed their own planets. Sea creatures (represented by the Terrans) are good because although they once were warlike they have now forsaken almost all technology and live in peace by having reunited nature. Also, they’re polytheists, whereas the humans’ only religion appears to be Christianity, as exemplified by the super-evil general who actually references the Bible as signifying the Divine pattern of their conquest plans. So, the Terrans have to go back to their forbidden old technology to fight off the humans. There are some serious dilemmas posed here about the coexistence of two species who each require incompatible environments. If only we humans could learn a lesson from the peaceful whales and strange alien minnow-people, we could all live happily ever after together. But here’s the biggest problem with what this movie is saying. It is a celebration of 9/11 style suicide/martyr/terrorism. See, in the end, the human who has learned about the true peace-loving Terrans chooses to turn against his own general and fly his plane into the terraforming machine they are using to change the atmosphere of Terra from one the Terrans can live in to what the humans need. And this Kamikaze traitor is then celebrated with his own statue in the new smaller human-dome the two peoples build on Terra together. Meaning? A true hero who understood the goodness of sea creatures would fly his plane into whatever governmental headquarters is responsible for destroying the seas, even risking the death of all humans if need be, in an effort to save the Earth (thinly allegorized by the use of the word Terra for the alien planet). And to add emphasis to the punch of this frightening endorsement of eco-terrorism, you have to figure all these famous actors did this movie for free since the budget is so tiny. Meaning not only do they all support this message, but they support it so strongly that they’ll volunteer their time for it in making a movie which no one but a handful of impressionable young children might watch. If I could bring myself to believe that all these actors and writers somehow just didn’t realize this is what they were making, I might be less worried. But I would have to believe them all to be collectively far more dense than even my credibility can manage for me to suppose that. This is NOT a movie to let your kids watch!

Artistic/Thought Value: C
I’ve said what I need to say, an the discussion questions will raise the other points.

Discussion Questions:
~Is “us or them” thinking ever useful? How does it help or hinder our efforts to fight global terrorism? Islamic fascism? Communism? What about when it comes to Christian thinking? What does the Bible have to say about “us and them” style thinking?
~When the General mentions that the seven day process of terraforming Terra is practically Biblical, what is this movie trying to say about Christianity?
~Do you think that this movie is endorsing eco-terrorism? Suicide-bombers? Is it an adequate defense of the ending to say that the general really was evil and needed stopping? What impact does this movie have, if any, on your view of the actors who made it?
~Given that the Terrans’ decision to give up having a military eventually made them vulnerable to aggression from an outside invader, is this movie actually endorsing disarmament and peace or challenging it? Which message do you think the makers of the film intended?
~Eco-terrorists are people who destroy property or endanger people’s lives in the interests of protecting animals and the environment. Why, exactly, are their activities so wrong? What motivates them in doing these things? Biblically, how would you correct them?
~Given that God created the whole world and put us in charge of it, what sort of obligations do you think we have to the earth and plant or animal life? Should sea life be given as much consideration ethically as humans? Does the instruction to subdue the Earth grant us the license to do anything we want to our world?
~Does the robot assistant represent the voice of wisdom or God or something else?
~What is the meaning of the title? Are the filmmakers talking about some distant planet in space?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~The pilot being forced to pick between killing either Mala or his brother.
~The pilot flying his plane into the terraformer and killing the evil general.
~Wounding the whale.
Overall Grade: F
Although I don’t think all children (and even all adults) will grasp what this movie is saying, I would never let my kids watch it again. The plot and the animation are engaging, but the lessons and symbolism overwhelm any other consideration for this piece of neo-terrorist propaganda.

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