Friday, August 27, 2010

Don Bluth Month: "And you can't take the sky from me..." Thoughts on "Titan A.E."

First, Nerd Joy from the closing credits. These all prompted me to shout, "YES! I EFFING KNEW IT!!!"

So, hypothetically, a movie involving Joss Whedon, Ben Edlund, Wayne Barlowe, the Blue Sky crew, and Don Bluth should make me go

And "Titan" was perfectly okay, and even great at times. But there's something off about it and I can't really say what it is.

2000 was a weird year if you were a science fiction fan. "Titan A.E." could not have been released to theaters at a worse time. Let's just say that people were... a *little* disillusioned with big damn galaxy-spanning space operas with gorgeous CGI and crazy alien designs after a certain hotly anticipated movie came out the summer before. "Titan" ultimately flopped and is, to date, Don Bluth's last theatrical film.

And that's very sad, because one of the awesome things about this film, upon rewatch, is the fact that you get to see what Bluth could do with a big sandbox of state-of-the-art animation and a hefty budget. The movie is one of the best-looking sci-fi films of the past decade. Look at the gorgeous and tense chase through the ice rings.

There are also some wonderful little subversive moments with a distinctly Whedonesque feel to them (the cook character who looks like he's going to stick around as a JarJar-esque annoyance -- then gets blasted to smithereens, that wonderful "An intelligent guard?!" scene.) There are times when the movie feels like a test run for ideas that Joss would eventually get to play with further in "Firefly". And there are a few really neat characters. In the commentary, Bluth wishes that Gune could have had his own movie and I, too, almost wish that this had been his story. He's a great, whimsical, and very Bluthy little character with a very funny anxious John Leguizamo voice. He gives the movie some much-needed levity.

And I think that might be what strikes me as off about "Titan": get rid of Gune and there is almost no humor in the movie. Bluth's movies have always been a little dark, certainly more so than Disney's, but it's always undercut with something funny or sweet. This is a movie that starts off with the end of the world (which is very dark even by Bluth standards) and never lightens up after that. Bluth appears to have been unfettered for the most part, so where is his trademark weirdness? (Well, OK, there is some weirdness. But it's the kind of weirdness that was clearly the executives' fault, and we'll get to it at the end.)

Also, before I started this project, I used to think that music wasn't as big a deal to Don Bluth films as they were to Disney films. But let's try an experiment here: Hum the score from "N.I.M.H." Now sing something from "American Tail". Now hum the opening credits music from "Land Before Time". Sing something from "All Dogs", "Rock-A-Doodle" (I can and I didn't even rewatch it!), "Thumbelina", "Penguin", "Troll", "Anastasia". OK.

name a song from "Titan A.E." Yeah. What we get is a weird mix of modern (for 2000) hard rock with bludgeon-obvious lyrics. So in other words, you get those aforementioned amazing animated sequences set to the lilting tunes of... Lit. (Next challenge: remind me what Lit's one popular single was.)

Basically, what we're left with here is a movie that has an amazing combination of CGI and hand-rendered animation -- that also casts Janeane Garofolo as a Knees Akimbo kangaroo/velociraptor weapons expert. In the previous sentence, the executive-mandated weirdness is in italics.

So that brings us to the end of Don Bluth month... or does it?


Art of the Day?

Man, how can I tease the painting any further? I won't.  Have these instead:

8.20.10 - Geeky Country Signs!


Zach said...

I recently saw this movie for like the third time on cable. There are parts of it I really like (overall premise, likable characters) and parts of it I don't (implausible finale, Kangraptor). I don't think the CG blends as well as they think it does--particularily the bad guys, who look like something out of a kid's TV show.

It IS a shame that nothing else has come out of Don Bluth's studio since. They have genuine talent over there, when they put effort into it, but I'm afraid that the days of traditional hand-drawn animation are largely over. The poor reception of "Princess & the Frog" seems to have sealed that art form's fate, sadly.

And it's a shame, because I will ALWAYS prefer hand-drawn 2D animation to almost everything DreamWorks does. I would very much like to see Pixar do a 2D film.

Trish said...

^ Funny you should say that, Zack. I was just thinking that I'd be curious as hell to see if Pixar could pull off a hand-drawn feature at this point. (One of their more interesting upcoming projects is a live-action/animation feature, and they used hand-drawn animation to wonderful effect in the "Day and Night" short before "Toy Story 3".)

John V. said...

Shouldn't Ben Edlund's name be underlined as well, if Joss Whedon's is? This isn't the only time they worked together on one of Joss' projects...

Trish said...

^ Aye, now that I have since found out why I recognized his name, he should be underlined too. Fellow South Shore resident, if I am not mistaken. <:(

Trish said...