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Space Junk

The year is 3028, the film is Titan A.E., and the future of the human race is . . . white. It‘s a shock, we know, but hopefully it won’t spoil anything for you. It‘s not like we’re giving away the movie‘s startling climax; it doesn’t have one. Titan A.E. begins with the Earth getting blowed up real good, and real pretty, too. Too bad the film‘s creators, animators Don Bluth and Gary Goldman (An American Tail, The Secret of NIMH) and co-writer Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) didn’t quit while they were ahead. Instead, they reach for the limits of humanity‘s horizon, a closer-than-you-think millennium from now, and grab a fist of wind.

The future, in Team Titan’s eyes, is a blond, bubble-butt, boyband could-be named Cale, who makes tomorrow safe for baseballs and rainbows and frozen burritos, with a little help from some protoplasmically diverse space critters and a semi-Asian warrior-chick named Akima. Akima -- and this, in the chicks+explosions=box-office summer season, is no digression -- is way cool. A kind of Lucy Liu‘d Lara Croft with purple bangs, a Coke-bottle waist and a bountiful upper torso, she makes her home (for no particular reason beyond someone’s wan attempt at salaciousness) on a post-planetary drifter colony. Concerned with humankind‘s cultural heritage, Akima keeps her space suit on and introduces Cale, voiced by Matt Damon, to those frozen burritos. Even zipped, we know Cale’s got a nice ass, because we get to see it, twice, and since she‘s Valley-voiced by Drew Barrymore, Akima, we’re meant to suppose, probably does too. (Is there an animation edition of Celebrity Nudes?)

Of course, sexual and cultural politics, let alone plot development, are not what Titan A.E.‘s designed to make you think about; not with all its gorgeously computer-noodled 3-D rocket ships, its zillion-dollar sunsets and myriad depth-layers of drifting gases and liquid neons. No, Titan A.E. -- whose trippiest episode takes place in a grove of highly explosive hydrogen trees, which hover like glowing testicles over a red lagoon -- is designed to make you think like Peter Fonda’s character in The Limey. When someone comes out of this, Hollywood‘s biggest-budgeted animated sci-fi since 1981’s hempic Heavy Metal, and murmurs, “I liked the colors,” you‘re meant to nod lysergically along and confirm, “We all did.”

As any 7-year-old could tell you, the film’s story is strictly for those who‘ve slept late for the last 20,000 Saturdays or never had cable TV. Cale is a Colorado kid left adrift in the cosmos after the Drej, an extraterrestrial species, or groupmind, or whatever, vaporize Earth. The film’s target demographic -- the children of ILM and Jerry Springer -- are apparently meant to identify with Cale, who blames the whole end-of-Earth bummer on his deadbeat dad, a holographic ringer for Errol Flynn. So much for inner space. Toss in various Star Wars--cantina castoffs, one of them voiced by the inevitable Nathan Lane, and away we go, battling the Drej (who look like melted head-shop lamps) and searching for the titular Titan, a whatsit purportedly capable of regenerating the Big Bang.

Part of the impetus for Titan A.E. clearly stems from anime anxiety, a condition Hollywood cel-mavens have developed in reaction to Japan‘s psychologically dense, emotionally dark and immensely profitable animation juggernaut. Too bad, then, that Bluth and Goldman’s end result is more Anastasia, Extended than Akira, Enhanced; the film is too emotionally breakaway to even ding its Japanese counterpart‘s bumper. A bass-akward extravaganza of expensively giga-built surfaces, dazzlingly spectral lighting effects and state-of-the-Armageddon craftsmanship, Titan A.E.’s like the original Bullwinkle Show in reverse: an overproduced cartoon without a freeze-dried ounce of wit.