Space Invaders

Battle for Terra, an antiwar message in 3D

If you're a fan of retro kitsch, you might get a little thrill when they hand you a pair of plastic 3D glasses at the movie theater. But today's feature — unfortunately! — isn't Bwana Devil or House of Wax, but Battle for Terra, a computer-animated science-fiction film enhanced with 3D effects.

Originally called just Terra, the movie was made in plain old 2D and converted to 3D, providing the illusion that winged whales, spaceships and snowflakes are flying into your lap. The 3D isn't integral to the story, but it's a pretty cool novelty, and no doubt fun for kids to experience.

The modest, independently made movie is technically impressive — nicely detailed CG animation, a talented voice cast and an amusing crablike robot sidekick voiced by the funny David Cross. But what's most remarkable is the movie's explicit antiwar theme. Director Aristomenis Tsirbas, who wrote the script with Evan Spiliotopoulos, wanted to tell a story like H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, but from the aliens' point of view. And so Battle for Terra is something uncommon among sci-fi battle movies: a plea for humanity that asks us to identify with an "alien" population threatened with imperialist invasion.

The movie centers on the idyllic Terra, a planet whose inhabitants — large-eyed creatures with spermatozoa tails — celebrate nature and live in peace. Their planet is being eyed as a future home for exiled former Earthlings, who long ago destroyed Earth with their environmentally destructive ways (see Wall-E), and for good measure, decimated three other planets in subsequent wars. A rebellious teenage Terrian, Mala (voiced by Evan Rachel Wood), whose father (Dennis Quaid) is captured by the humans, rescues crashed human Air Force pilot Jim Stanton (Luke Wilson), who agrees to take Mala to her father.

Jim and Mala become friends, and he comes to realize the horror of the planned invasion, which will kill the peaceable Terrians with the deadly Terraformer (analogous to a nuclear weapon). Jim must decide whether to defy the orders of the bellicose General Hemmer (Brian Cox), whose close-set eyes suggest an exaggerated George W. Bush — a resemblance emphasized when Gen. Hemmer tries to bully a United Nations-like council into endorsing his reckless invasion plan.

The movie is slight but has enough action and whimsy to please young viewers and an important message — especially relevant amid revelations about American torture — about the evils of the War on Terra.

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