`Titan A.E.': been there, seen that

Movie review

XX "Titan A.E.," an animated feature with the voices of Matt Damon, Drew Barrymore, Bill Pullman, John Leguizamo, Nathan Lane, Janeane Garofalo, Ron Perlman. Directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman, from a screenplay by Ben Edlund, John August and Joss Whedon, based on a story by Randall McCormick and Hans Bauer. 95 minutes. Several theaters. "PG" - Parental guidance advised due to action violence, sensuality and brief language.

If you were thinking about checking out "Titan A.E.," there's no need. You've already seen it.

This animated, sci-fi adventure takes place in the 31st century, when mankind creates "the Titan project," a scientific leap so bold, we are told, that it compares with only three others in history - the last of which (splitting the atom) occurred in the 20th century.

This is indicative of the imagination of the film's creators. No one thought to create any fictional scientific leaps for the intervening thousand years. (Apparently our scientists are going to take the millennium off.)

The Titan project, however, so unnerves an alien race known as "the Drej" (they with the vague, evil face on their spaceships), that they blow up the Earth. Ah, but those pesky humans. Many escape in spaceships, and the Titan project itself is commandeered away by Sam Tucker, a Ronald Coleman-looking type who, before he goes, gives his 4-year-old son Cale a ring. "As long as you wear it," he tells him, "there's hope."

Cut to 15 years later. Humans are second-class citizens on alien colonies, and hunted by the Drej. Cale (with the voice of Matt Damon) is now a young man, strong-jawed but floppy-haired, a laborer on a salvage station in space. He's also prematurely cynical, but it's a kind of cynicism without imagination. In other words, it doesn't take into account his station in life but our station in life. He's a slacker kid, full of teenage irony and sarcasm, upset that his father "abandoned" him - as if everyone around him still had their dads. It's 20th-century angst in a 31st century world.

Even when his father's one-time lieutenant, Korso (Bill Pullman), arrives to explain that the ring his father gave him is a map to the secret location of the Titan project, Cale pouts and whines his way into the adventure, with the Drej always one step behind.

The movie from this point is one long chase scene, as the heroes race to find and activate the Titan project (whatever it is) before the Drej can destroy it.

Korso's crew includes the usual "types": Gune (John Leguizamo), the roly-poly absent-minded scientist; Preed (Nathan Lane), the creepy, drooling first officer; Akima (Drew Barrymore), the tough babe pilot who will become the Love Interest.

At one point, Cale and Akima are captured by the Drej, who discard Akima by shooting her into space, ahem, in a space pod. This is like throwing away an unwanted fish - but first making sure it's safe inside an aquarium.

Akima is then picked up by a trade ship, which should remind all "Star Wars" fans of the Jawas. The facile discussions of whether the human race is worth saving are straight out of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," but without Patrick Stewart's stentorian voice to give it a little panache. The Titan project, when we finally see it, was actually first seen in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan."

Worse is the film's anachronistic pandering to our sarcastic, quip-filled age. When Cale has trouble starting the Phoenix spaceship, Akima responds with a smirk. "Should I get out and push?" she asks - as if everyone still drove cars. When one crew member is asked why he betrays the others to the Drej, he responds that it wasn't just the money "but the health plan that went with it." Wucka wucka.

The film's only innovative feature is its mixture of three-dimensional animated backgrounds with two-dimensional characters. This works just fine. Unfortunately the plot is one-dimensional.

"Titan A.E.'s" creators, Don Bluth and Gary Goldman, left Disney studios two decades ago to create innovative animated features like "The Secret of NIMH," but apparently they've stalled without realizing it. For this foray into sci-fi, Bluth says in the press kit, they let their "imaginations run wild."

Their imaginations ran all right - right down to the nearest video store.