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Battle for Terra, originally known simply as Terra in the US, is a 2007 Speculative Fiction CGI movie about an invasion by advanced and hostile aliens, a dangerous friendship, the ties of family, and the hard choice of doing what's right and the survival of your race. Oh, and we're the godlike invaders.

The planet Terra is home to a race of peaceful, floating aliens who celebrate life and live in harmony with nature, but everything is not as cheerful as it seems. Mala (Evan Rachel Wood) is a mechanically gifted and rebellious girl who questions their society's restriction on science and the Forbidden Zone. After an ominous eclipse, space ships descend and abduct several of the Terrians who mistake them for gods; among the abducted is Mala's father (Dennis Quaid). This prompts her to try getting abducted herself, leading to a dangerous chase as she catches the attention of Lt. Jim Stanton (Luke Wilson). After a harrowing pursuit, she outmaneuvers him into a wind tunnel and his ship crashes.

Mala takes him to her home, and with the help of his Robot Buddy, Giddy (David Cross), keeps him from being suffocated in Terra's atmosphere. Stranded, Jim agrees to help Mala find her father in exchange for help returning home. Things only get more complicated for the two as friendship, loyalty, and family set them and their people up for a devastating battle that could wipe out one of the two races.

A compact and entertaining movie, it doesn't pull its punches when it comes to the death involved in such a conflicting plot. It boasts a mixed cast of famous film stars and voice actors, with solid performances all around. A pity that the marketing was practically nonexistent, and few people were aware of the film when it came out. Despite its modest budget and slim runtime, it's a very underappreciated and surprisingly complex film that's highly worth a watch for science fiction fans and casual audiences alike.

Has nothing to do with Toward the Terra.

This film provides examples of:

  • Acceptable Breaks from Reality: The film has several cases of what may pass in a film aimed for children/family, but not so as this is very much aimed at the Sci-Fi Fans or Star Wars Teens.
    • Mala and Giddy build an oxygen synthesizer that uses a single plant (like something from a flower pot) to create enough breathable air to keep Jim alive. The plant would be working at several orders of magnitude faster than anything from Earth to produce that much oxygen.
    • For that matter, the conversation preceding that scene implies there is no oxygen in the air, which flies in the face of current scientific rationale that oxygen is pretty much required for multicellular life (nothing else produces enough energy), and directly contradicts the existence of an oxygen-producing plant. One can rationalize this away by presuming that it's the concentration of oxygen that is the issue. It is possible to have a level high enough to support complex life on Terra but low enough to be lethal for humans, and then it would be almost a matter-of-course that the levels humans are used to would be lethal for Terrians (oxygen is a very toxic gas in high concentrations). It should also be noted that the humans at one point bomb Mala's village, complete with flaming platforms tumbling down, which would necessarily imply the presence of oxygen for combustion.
  • Action Girl: Mala, which is pretty unusual considering she grew up in a society where weapons are generally proscribed.
  • Aliens Speaking English: Averted. The terrian language is rendered in English for the viewers' convenience, but Mala requires Giddy's help to communicate with Jim.
  • Alien Sky: Terra has two moons, and a ring system. The giant purple nebula that completely enshrouds the planet can also been seen from Terra's surface at night.
  • Alliterative Name: Maria Montez, the second in command of the council.
  • Almost Out of Oxygen: Jim runs out of oxygen in his spacesuit, and the other protagonists have to synthesize it for him. Later in the movie, Jim's brother and Mala are stuck in a room that is pressurized to support her, but not him. He has to choose between pumping oxygen in to save his brother, or to let him die to save Mala. He takes a third option by getting Giddy to destroy the glass and bring Mala's respirator. Hemmer also reveals that the Ark itself is down to two months of breathable air, making their need for a new home all the more immediate.
  • Ambiguous Situation: A minor example, but whether the refugees come from all three of the destroyed planets in their home system or just one is unclear.
  • Ancient Order of Protectors: The Elders seems to have this as part of their role, keeping new technology from being developed, but also keeping the populace away from the ancient war machines that nearly destroyed them long ago.
  • Anyone Can Die: The death of Mala's father, probably predictable even for a PG-rated movie. The death of Jim Stanton, on the other hand...
  • Anti-Villain: General Hemmer wants to exterminate the Terrian species, but his motivation is to ensure humanity's survival when they're rapidly running out of options aboard a ship that's literally falling apart around them, and he clearly cares about the lives of his men, lamenting in frustration to Jim that equipment failures caused more deaths than actual combat.
  • Apocalypse How: The terraformer can create a breathable atmosphere for humans... but the natives won't be able to breathe it.
  • Avoid the Dreaded G Rating: Not avoiding this trope was most likely one of the reasons, along with the nonexistent marketing, for the movie's bombing at the box office. Despite containing no sexual content or profanity, the film's story of interspecies warfare and environmental devastation is much closer in tone to something like Avatar than the rating would seem to reflect, and it doesn't pull any punches on the wartime casualties.
  • Bad Guys Do the Dirty Work: Well, "bad guy" is putting it a bit too strongly, but Jim turning against his own people, and destroying General Hemmer and his cabal of military extremists, conveniently puts the more reasonable civilian leaders in charge so that they can broker a peace agreement between the two species.
  • Blood Knight: Hemmer unapologetically wants to kill the Terrians. When he's told they are fighting back, he's glad to hear it; slaughtering them like animals would have been a much less noble end.
  • Bloodless Carnage: There's little to no blood in the movie, but there's a lot of warfare and death.
  • Break Out the Museum Piece: The Terrans do this on a massive scale, pulling out weaponized versions of their past technology to fight the human armada.
  • Centrifugal Gravity: The Ark simulates gravity through a series of spinning rings.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The "web-room" of breathable oxygen that Mala builds for Jim, later discovered by the elders. It's eventually reused on a greater scale when the humans establish their own colony.
  • Colony Ship: The Ark is Earth's last colony ship when it arrives at the inhabited planet Terra. It's deteriorating badly, and is unlikely to deliver a live crew to another habitable planet.
  • Conflicting Loyalty:
    • Giddy gets hit with this when Mala asks him for information on how the humans will attack. He's programmed not to disobey them, but at the same time was given a direct order by his immediate superior (Jim) to save Mala, which she contends will require him to help save the Terrians. After thinking on it for a bit, Giddy decides Jim's order has higher priority.
    • This is the primary source of Jim's conflict throughout the film, stuck with the moral dilemma of saving either his people, who are dying, or the Terrians, who are innocent, and knowing that siding with one will likely doom the other. He eventually chooses to save both.
  • Continuous Decompression: Mala's father causes a hull breach on the Ark which does this to himself and two humans.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Not only the Superweapon Surprise; the Terrians fight surprisingly well for such a pacifistic people. They weren't always "Celebrating Life".
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Despite their superior weapons technology, the Terrian defense forces ultimately fail to hold off the numerically superior and far more experienced Earthforce fleet. A few days of Training the Peaceful Villagers after centuries of complete peace isn't going to cut it against a highly trained army, no matter how much better your weapons are.
  • Earth That Was: Earth, Venus, and Mars were destroyed in an interplanetary war according to Giddy. As a result, the few surviving humans have been traveling through the heavens in an attempt to find a suitable planet to create a new homeworld.
  • Enclosed Extraterrestrials: The Invaders subverted in that they're actually Earthlings.
  • Ethereal Choir: The main theme "Life on Terra & First strike" features this, the use of which perfectly encapsulates the otherworldly beauty of the planet Terra.
  • Explosive Decompression: When Giddy uses his cutting laser to breach a containment unit, the glass explodes and flies outward into the room, injuring the observers. This is an odd case as both sides were pressurized and the containment unit was being used to demonstrate the terraformer, so the two atmospheres should have been nearly identical.
  • Exposition Beam: Used in place of Translator Microbes when Mala demands to be taught English in exchange for helping Giddy save Jim.
  • Face Death with Dignity:
    • Jim dies with a content expression on his face as his ship is destroyed.
    • Subverted with Hemmer. Though he initially keeps his composure while his men flee in response to Jim bearing down on the terraformer, he ultimately loses his cool at the final moment, as if he wasn't really convinced Jim would actually succeed.
  • Fantastically Challenging Patient: Inverted. After human pilot Jim Stanton crashes his one-man craft on planet Terra, native alien Mala comes to check on him. Stanton is breathing with difficulty, since his air supply is almost exhausted, and the planet isn't habitable for humans. Mala has to cobble together an oxygen collector to keep Stanton alive with Giddy's help.
  • Fantastic Racism: Jim reacts this way to the Terrians at first. He grows out of it.
  • Fighter-Launching Sequence: The human fighters are launched by rail from the Ark.
  • First Contact: For both species, although the film focuses on the terrians.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • One of the shots inside the Elder's airship shows a digital display on the wall, well beyond the tech level displayed at that point.
    • When they're sneaking out of the village, Jim takes note of a festival which Mala says is "Celebrating Life". Jim doesn't contradict her, but he clearly recognizes the movements.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Mala, who invents a better telescope just because she needs one and is able to replicate complex clockwork with some instruction from Giddy.
  • General Ripper: General Hemmer.
  • Generation Ships: The Ark is one, and has been in space for so long that its entire population was born there. It's also so old that it's falling apart at the seams, and in two months will be incapable of supporting life at all. When the humans form a new colony on Terra, it is left to fragment in the depths of space.
  • Genocide Dilemma: The primary source of Jim's conflict. After befriending Mala, he's forced with the extremely uncomfortable problem of siding with the Terrians, who are a completely innocent and fully sentient race just trying to defend their homeworld, or with his own people, who are essentially refugees fleeing from a planet that was destroyed long before any of them were born and have no time to look for another colony because the Ark has only two months worth of breathable oxygen left. He ultimately chooses to save both.
  • Great Offscreen War: Two of them, actually. During the backstory, the colony planets Mars and Venus fought a war for independence against the Earth, which resulted in the destruction of all three planets and the near-extinction of humanity. The Terrians nearly wiped themselves out as well, which is why the elders are so paranoid about the development of any new technology.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: No one in this film is evil; the Terrians' Shadow Dictator is well meaning and kind, and most of the humans don't want to invade, but see no other option as their ship will fail in about two months, which is why the villain is so willing to do whatever it takes. Moreover, despite appearing like a textbook example of Perfect Pacifist People at first, the Terrans themselves have a long history of warfare, and when the humans invade they don't hesitate to whip out their stockpiled weaponry and fight back. The protagonists do some questionable things as well. Jim's brother is still presented as a sympathetic character despite almost killing Mala's friend Senn and only failing due to random luck, and while he definitely had good reasons for doing so, Jim does eventually mutiny and kill not only his own commanding officer, but everyone else who was onboard the terraformer, at least some of whom we can assume were just good, if conflicted, people like Jim and his brother.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Stewart is shown making peace with the Terrans at the end as he passes them in his fighter.
  • The Hero Dies: Well, co-protagonist, but Jim definitely qualifies.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • Mala's father holds off the humans so Mala can escape, causing a breach which spaces him and the humans.
    • Jim, who dies destroying the terraformer to prevent both civilizations from killing each other.
  • Homeworld Evacuation: Earth, Mars and Venus have all been blown up, so humans go to the eponymous planet to find a new home.
  • Hope Spot: It looks like Jim is going to crash his ship into the terraformer's tower, but he blows it up before he hits it and then turns around, almost about to make it to safety...but is caught by the fireball and killed.
  • Hostile Terraforming: The humans have a terraforming device that can convert Terra's atmosphere into something they can breathe, but doing so would kill the Terrians.
  • Humans Are Cthulhu: How humans are first presented as. Mala and the others stare in wonder at this new thing that showed up in their sky. Then these metal things suddenly come down and start abducting citizens, including Mala's father. Eventually they learn that said aliens are humans attempting to find a new homeworld, and there are two conflicting factions within, Hemmer who wants to urgently kill the natives via terraforming the planet so the humans could survive, and the council, which considers negotiations before warfare and was forced out of power.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Hemmer notes that even if his plans work, future generations will almost certainly view him as a monster for what he's done… but the fact that at least they'll be future generations makes it all worth it to him.
  • Impossible Hourglass Figure: All the terrians, man and woman alike.
  • Innocent Aliens: The Terrians... mostly. Those low hanging clouds in the Forbidden Zone? Ash clouds from a civil conflict that nearly destroyed their species.
  • Invading Refugees: The humans. As General Hemmer points out, they basically have to colonize Terra or face extinction because Earth, Mars, and Venus are all long gone, and they can't look for somewhere else to live because the Ark has only two months left of air which doesn't allow them to move far enough.
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: The humans refer to the terrians with the pronoun "it", or just call them monsters. Jim demonstrates that he's warming up when he refers to Mala as "she", a fact which Giddy points out.
  • Kick the Dog: The Sadistic Choice General Hemmer forces upon Jim. Subverted in that Jim's brother was apparently in on the plan and agreed to it in order to confirm Jim's loyalty.
  • Lampshade Hanging: General Hammer lampshades the terraforming device taking seven days, an obvious reference to Genesis, by saying, "Very biblical, don't you think?"
  • Living Gasbag: All the native life on Terra consists of this, including the Terrians.
  • Mirroring Factions: As Jim remarks on when he, Mala, and Giddy infiltrate the hidden bunker, the humans and Terrians are more alike than they thought, since both species nearly drove themselves to extinction through war.
  • Missing Mom: Mala's mother is dead before the film proper, shown in a subtle yet powerful scene of Mala putting out three dinner plates, pausing, then taking one away.
  • Moral Myopia: Hemmer justifies his coup by using footage of a Terrian causing a hull breach that killed two humans along with the Terrian. He refuses to even address that his men abducted said Terrian, and that he was Mala's father and thus defending his daughter. Of course, seeing as the more negotiable council brought these points up, he ultimately uses force to assume leadership.
  • My Species Right Or Wrong: Jim's brother's attitude.
  • No Biochemical Barriers: Averting this is a crucial plot point. Humans suffocate in the Terrian atmosphere and vice versa, which is why General Hemmer wants to use the terraformer to exterminate the natives.
  • No Flow in CGI:
    • No one has long hair (Jim is bald, many humans have hats, the Terrians are hairless), and the only flowing surfaces are some pendants in the middle of the film.
    • There are also many scenes that seem deprived of after-effects and the only reason the Terrians floated was because they couldn't animate both races walking. Considering 16 people worked on it and it cost $4 Million (compare to Up's $150 million budget) it could have been worse.
  • No Ontological Inertia: The terraformer is destroyed moments before the atmosphere conversion becomes irreversible, and as a result the already produced atmosphere dissipates pretty much instantly. Maybe the oxygen were consumed when Jim's missiles prompted a combustion which quickly burned through all the oxygen in the area.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Jim's brother gets one when he realizes that Mala is the one trying to shoot him down. Given what they'd put her through previously, he has every right to be afraid.
    • Hemmer has a couple when Jim attacks the terraformer, the first when it happens and the second right before he's blown up with it.
  • One-Word Title: When the movie was just called Terra, the title was an example of The Place, since it's the planet where the story takes place.
  • Our Founder: Jim gets a statue at the end, since his Heroic Sacrifice that allowed a more negotiable outcome between the remaining human leaders and the Terrians.
  • Outrun the Fireball: Both subverted and played straight. When the terraformer goes boom, the fireball outruns Jim, who's flying a damaged fighter and is much closer, but his brother and Mala manage to barely escape it by virtue of having a greater lead and less damaged vehicles.
  • Perfect Pacifist People: Subverted, if not deconstructed. The Terrians only adopted a pacifist society after a violent war that nearly destroyed their species, and the Elders ruthlessly suppress any further technological advancement for fear that it might lead them once again down the path of conflict, only to pull it out again when they have to defend themselves.
  • The Place: When the movie was just called Terra, since it's the planet where the story takes place.
  • Planet of Hats: Averted. The terrians weren't always a happy, life loving people. History has it they've nearly wiped themselves out once.
  • Planet Terra: A subversion. Terra here is an alien planet named so by the humans fleeing the destroyed Earth. Its real name is unknown.
  • Ramming Always Works: Subverted. It looks like Jim is going to do this with the Terraformer, but he just fires his missiles at it and pulls away at the last moment. The ensuing explosion kills him anyway.
  • Ray Gun: The Terrian aircraft and walkers utilize laser-like cannons, which prove superior to the human's traditional ballistic weapons during the final battle. However, they still get outnumbered regardless.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • The human President and his council, before a coup which results in Hemmer taking over. After Hemmer dies, they presumably take over and broker peace between the two species.
    • Also, Elder Doron among the Terrians. He maintains sole authority on any new inventions among the Terrians, but it's because he was one of the last survivors of the war that nearly destroyed their species and he wants to prevent it from happening again. Later, he doesn't hesitate to break out the old armada he concealed to defend his people from hostile invaders.
  • The Right of a Superior Species: Hemmer justifies their invasion by the right of their superior technology, and their pressing need of a new home. The irony is that, other than being badly outnumbered and deliberately low-tech in their daily lives, the terrians actually have superior defensive and offensive technology (shields and beam weapons).
  • Ridiculously Human Robots: Giddy, which even catches Jim off-guard. Other robots of his model never even speak, so it's unclear if this is common or if they just didn't have enough screen time.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Mala gets pissed when her friend is shot down by Jim's brother. If not for Jim's intervention prematurely interrupting the fight and later forcing it to an end she'd have vaporized him eventually.
  • Robot Buddy: Giddy accompanied Jim and shows loyalty to him when he’s in danger, but also some understanding and even empathy with Mala who is devastated to see her people hurting Giddy.
  • Sadistic Choice: When Hemmer forces Jim to choose between saving Mala or his brother. Jim ultimately chooses the latter with reluctance, then orders Giddy to save Mala before she suffocates. Also doubles as a Secret Test of Character, since Jim's brother willingly went along with it to test Jim's loyalty.
  • Scenery Porn: Planet Terra is gorgeous, small wonder everyone's fighting over it. General Hemmer was right on the money when he called it "a jewel hanging in space."
  • Science Is Bad: Early in the film, it's mentioned that the Elders have to approve any new inventions. This is because the last industrial age led to the near-annihilation of their species.
  • Shout-Out: One of the characters yells, "It's a trap!" when an extremely large horde of Terrian fighters ambush them.
  • Show, Don't Tell: It's clear Mala's mother is dead, but this is never directly referenced in dialogue. There's a small scene where she's shown habitually putting out three dinner plates, then pausing and putting one away, and later on we see a small display in her house that contains figurines of Mala, her father, and her mother.
  • Soft Glass: Averted. When Giddy breaks the glass of the containment room holding Mala, the shards give Jim some decent cuts on his face, and everyone else in the room is knocked out.
  • Space Amish: The Terrians. Appropriately enough for the trope name, they do have access to better technology, but the elders keep it locked away because they fear a return to their past of violent warfare.
  • Space Whale: Well, flying planet whales at any rate.
  • Superweapon Surprise: The Terrians' past fighter aircraft and spider tanks. It's subverted with the tanks, which are unable to damage Jim's fighter and don't do much to prevent him and Mala from fleeing. The fighters are pretty powerful in action, usually one-shotting anything they get a direct hit on, though ultimately the Terrans are too few to put up much more than a token resistance against the battle-ready human army.
  • Take a Third Option: Twice. Jim first is presented with the Sadistic Choice between saving Mala or his brother, and chooses his brother, while instructing Giddy to save Mala. Later, in the middle of the battle between human and terrian around the terraformer, he has to choose whether to rescue his brother or let Mala kill him for shooting down her friend. He intervenes and blocks them from fighting each other, then destroys the Terraformer at the cost of his life. Don't worry, it resulted in an Earn Your Happy Ending.
  • Tyrant Takes the Helm: General Hemmer eventually launches a military coup when the civilian human leaders won't declare war on the Terrians.
  • Uncertain Doom: General Hemmer's terraforming operators are seen running from the control room before Jim attacks, but given the size of the explosion it's doubtful (though not impossible) they could have gotten clear in time.
  • The Unfettered: Hemmer knows he'll probably be looked at as a monster for what he intends to do, but he feels that it is truly necessary so that humanity can survive and thus goes ahead with it anyway.
  • Unfriendly Fire: Jim blows up the terraformer in a Heroic Sacrifice, killing General Hemmer and everyone else on board.
  • Used Future: The Ark is in horrible condition. There is not a single part of the ship that isn't covered in rust or worn out, and equipment failures that result in death are common. It fragmented when the humans moved out at the end of the film.
  • Villain Has a Point:
    • While his solution is rather extreme, General Hemmer is quite right that the humans have to act immediately to prevent their own extinction, especially since the ruling council doesn't manage to come up with any alternative solutions to the imminent crisis, despite their willingness to negotiate. And his speech on the matter is surprisingly moving.
      Hemmer: Tired of watching comrades die for nothing? We've come a long way, Terra is our prize. A jewel hanging in space. It has real water, not that chemical junk, and ground. God, I'd like to feel steady ground under my feet one day. Kids born on the Ark have never seen a blade of grass, or heard a bird sing.
    • A smaller example comes when Mala finds Elder Orin interrogating Giddy for information on the humans' plans and strategies. When Mala demands that they stop torturing him, the elders accurately point out that he is a tool of the enemy, one known to have superior numbers and combat experience, and the Terrians need any advantage they can get if they're going to survive. Knowing Jim wanted Giddy to protect her, she gets him to assist without further complications.
  • War Is Hell: Shown quite unflinchingly, including the casualties.
  • We Come in Peace — Shoot to Kill: The human council wants to explore all other options before they use force, while Hemmer advocates an "us or them" position. First contact consists of the military abducting numerous Terrians, and Jim opens fire immediately when he spots Mala's primitive flying machine. Later on, attack craft lay waste to her village, probably because Mala managed to take down Jim's ship.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: General Hemmer has humanity's survival as his goal, even if it means exterminating the Terrians.
    Hemmer: If I sin, let future generations judge me. But mark this: only thanks to me will there be future generations!