There’s a high concept in Battle for Terra, that of a dying human race invading a planet of peaceful aliens. As the audience is introduced to Terra, it’s apparent that they’re fun loving and anti-war, but it turns out that’s not the case.
That’s a critical miscalculation of Terra. The alien species isn’t that different from the human race. They apparently speak our language, and in a confusing turn, need to be altered to understand it. They have numerous war-like weapons hidden underground as a contingency plan in case of invasion. Despite not using them in centuries, they work fine (and the citizens know how to pilot them), plus they’re more advanced than the human ships.
The film quickly dissolves into numerous canned conversations between underdeveloped human characters, and limited Terran (?) aliens. Despite named actors like Luke Wilson, Brian Cox, Chris Evans, and Danny Glover, there is no human personality. For a low budget film, drop the names who fail to add anything to the excitement level and add some animators to make the world of Terra visually exciting.
In terms of design choices, the film is disappointingly bright. Despite the muted color, the rather grim nature of the storyline doesn’t show visually. Much of it takes place under brightly lit skies, which is a stark contrast to the hopelessness of warring civilizations.
Terra is also hindered by being a PG-rated children’s film. Limited exploration of religious themes, life, and the very concept are let go to make more space for the cute robot sidekick. There’s talk of Earth being destroyed, neighboring planets terraformed, and then those planets meeting their end. It is glossed over and then forgotten.
Terra desperately needs more exposition from characters the audience can care about. Those conversations should be exploring the world of Terra, and why it only seems to be home to three different forms of life. Better yet, bring the story to life purely from the Terran’s point of view. The generic human characters, some who don’t even have names, are limited until a final sacrifice attempts to make their story relevant to the plot. There’s little said, especially from the clichéd General Hemmer (Brian Cox), that isn’t already obvious.
Terra has a mythology worth exploring. An early sequence, that of the Terran’s general life right before the humans block out their sun (and apparently stop doing so later) have the most to offer. Sadly, it is over before it begins, as Terra finds it necessary to avoid the complex issues it so dearly needs to continue.
Battle for Terra is a flat film. The lackluster, budget-minded animation does not offer much to compete in the CG category on Blu-ray, an area where the format excels. Ignoring the lack of general detail in the animation, there are far more issues with this transfer.
Most notably, black levels are terrible. Much of the film is flat and gray, and oddly enough, complete deleted scenes in the extras look wonderful. They carry image depth and rich blacks. Why the feature length movie appears so lackluster is odd.
Terra also lacks the crispness associated with hi-def CG films, appearing soft. Some limited, minor aliasing is forgivable and hard to pick up unless you’re looking for it. Background banding is severe and constant. Soft focus shots also suffer from posterization, although this could be intentional or a limitation of the animation. The AVC encode does handle some complex shots without artifacting, including those with countless falling snowflakes.
A lively uncompressed PCM 5.1 mix is aggressive and entertaining. Battling air forces sweep through the soundfield, with excellent separation in the rear channels. Likewise, movement is captured beautifully front to back. A heavy low-end punch delivers crisp explosions and cannon fire.
There is a lack of positional audio in non-action scenes, the massive human mother ship lacking the usual clangs of a metallic structure falling apart. Still, the action scenes are impressive material, certainly more so in terms of audio than visually.
A commentary is delivered by director Aristomenis Tsirbas, writer Evan Spiliotopoulos, and editor Jim May. They are enthusiastic about the project, and discuss the constraints of a low budget honestly. A general making-of is too short at less than five minutes to provide any decent content.
Four deleted scenes run for seven minutes, more notable for the impressive video quality than their contribution to the story. A storyboard comparison and animatic are marginally interesting, and a weird featurette has a digital Tsirbas puppet discussing the project. Some trailers remain.