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Western Animation / Battle for Terra

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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 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. This prompts her to try getting abducted herself, leading to a dangerous chase as she catches the attention of Lt. Jim Stanton. 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, 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.

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 without weapons.
  • 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.
  • 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. 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.
  • 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 deaths of Senn and Jim Stanton...
  • 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.
  • Blood Knight: Hemmer unapologetically wants to kill the Terrians. When he's told they can fight 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.
  • 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.
  • 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".
  • 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.
  • Exposition Beam: Used in place of Translator Microbes.
  • Face Death with Dignity:
    • Jim dies with a content expression on his face as his ship is consumed in flame.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Mala.
  • 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.
  • 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 Hero Dies: Well, co-protagonist, but Jim definitely qualifies.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Jim, who died destroying the terraformer.
  • 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... and is then killed in the fireball.
  • 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, one that wants to kill the natives via terraforming the planet, and another that wants to try to coexist with them peacefully.
  • 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 war that nearly destroyed their species.
  • "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?"
  • Literary Agent Hypothesis: In the beginning of the film we are introduced to aliens... that surprisingly speak English. Later on, one of the aliens meets an English-speaking human, at which point we realize that they actually can't understand each other. Obviously, the aliens are speaking their own language, and the filmmakers just gave it to us in English to make it easier to understand. Though it leads to a bit of confusion the first time the alien and human meet when one realizes that their first few lines (both of which we hear in English) are actually in different languages. In the DVD Commentary, the Director/Writer says he had originally intended to do something akin to The Hunt for Red October but many people found it more confusing than the way it ended up.
  • Living Gasbag: Pretty much all the native life on Terra consists of this, including the Terrians.
  • 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, despite the fact that the council he is arguing to brings up both points.
  • My Species Right Or Wrong: Jim's brother's attitude.
  • No Flow in CGI:
    • No one has long hair (Jim is bald, 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.
  • Not So Different: 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.
  • 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.
  • Our Founder: Jim gets a statue at the end, since his Heroic Sacrifice led to the establishment of a colony that benefits both species.
  • Outrun the Fireball: Both subverted and played straight. When the terraformer goes boom, the fireball outruns Jim, but his brother and Mala manage to barely escape it.
  • Planet of Hats: Averted. The terrians weren't always a happy, life loving people. They were once a warlike people who nearly wiped themselves out.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The President and his council, before a coup which results in Hemmer taking over.
  • 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.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Mala gets pissed when her friend is shot down by Jim's brother. If not for Jim's intervention, she'd have vaporized him eventually.
  • Robot Buddy: Giddy.
  • Sadistic Choice: When Hemmer forces Jim to choose between saving Mala or his brother. Also doubles as a Secret Test of Character, since Jim's brother willingly went along with it to test Jim's loyalty.
  • 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!"
  • Soft Glass: Averted. When Giddy breaks the glass of the containment room holding Mala, the shards give Jim some decent cuts on his face.
  • Space Whale: Well, flying planet whales at any rate.
  • Superweapon Surprise: The terrians' past fighters and tanks. Subverted in that they're unable to put up more than a token resistance even with them, just enough for sympathetic humans to act.
  • Take a Third Option: Twice. Jim first is presented with the Sadistic Choice between saving Mala or his brother, and chooses his brother. Then he manages to save Mala by ordering Giddy to save her. 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 flies between them, interrupting their fight, and then destroys the terraformer. Don't worry, it resulted in an Earn Your Happy Ending.
  • 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.
  • War Is Hell: Shown quite unflinchingly, including the casualties.
  • We Come in Peace Shoot to Kill: The president wants to explore all options before they go with genocide, 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, bombers 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.