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On the Edge of Sleep 

Titan A.E. (PG-13)
Fox Animation

Billing itself as the "first animated science fiction film," Titan A.E. (After Earth) threatens to forever condemn the genre because of its insipid storyline, pathetically cheesy rock soundtrack, and half-assed blending of 2-D and 3-D animation.

If, as with the Star Wars series, science fiction movies are required to be written on a third-grade audience level, then the millions of dollars squandered on these films would be far better spent improving the educational system in this country -- including raising the salaries of America's severely underpaid teachers.

Touting a cast of voice-over talent that includes Matt Damon as Cale, Jeneane Garofalo as Stith, Bill Pullman as Korso, Drew Barrymore as Akima and John Leguizamo as Gune, Titan A.E. limps and lurches in dialogue and situations that make Bugs Bunny cartoons look like the work of rocket science genius by comparison.

The story is set after 3028 when Earth is destroyed by vicious aliens called "the Drej." Cale, one of Earth's few surviving humans, is a disenfranchised youth now working as a second-class minority with a bunch of lowlife aliens on a crummy salvage station after having been abandoned by his father when Earth hit the fan. Cale is recruited by a manipulative peer of his father named Korso, ship commander of the Valkyre, to help locate the Titan, a giant spaceship that holds the secret to salvation of the human race. Korso reveals that the ring Cale's father gave him before he abandoned him is a genetically encoded map leading to the Titan.

To say "you know what happens next" would be a vast understatement. The a to b to c plot is as thoroughly boring as its soundtrack is vomit inducing, due to syrupy rock songs like "Cosmic Castaway" (Electrasy) or "It's My Turn To Fly" (The Urge). The colorful and exotic animation spectacle may be fascinating to look at for the first 20 minutes, but the movie would fare far better if it consisted only of background action without the encumbrance of silly characters, pandering dialogue and a gross soundtrack.

The adage about too many cooks spoiling the soup could not hold more true than in Titan A.E. Screenwriters John August (Go), Ben Edlund (The Tick) and Joss Whedon (Toy Story, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) distilled the script from a story by Hans Bauer and Randall McCormick. It's probable that, if left alone, Whedon would have cranked out a decent script based on his brilliant work on Toy Story. But the inclusion of hack writer John August, whose garbage heap script for Go was one of the worst screenplays ever written, along with newcomer Ben Edlund, obviously tipped the scales of writing duties to the wrong side of success.

Titan A.E. producers/directors Don Bluth and Gary Goldman (Anastasia) have gone on in the media at length about their film's backslapping message about the "indomitable human spirit" and "the search for identity." They propose that their cartoon movie queries its audience: Are we worth saving? Can we ever have a home again?

It could be argued that writer/director Trey Parker posed the very same questions with last year's parody feature South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut. In response to South Park an audience might answer "Not really, but if I can keep having this much fun at the expense of people who don't deserve the time of day, then OK, there might be something worth hoping for." Whether kids and adults will agree on Titan A.E.'s false bottom message is doubtful. By the end of Titan A.E., I personally hoped the evil Drej would blow the last bastion of humanity to smithereens. After all, it looked really cool when they blew up the Earth and sci-fi has come to mean, by definition, nothing more than a series of really big explosions leading to redemption of the human race by the efforts of a good-looking white kid. Yawn.

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