If you’ve always wondered what the original “Star Wars” would
have been like if it had starred Jonny Quest instead of Mark
Hamill, Don Bluth provides the answer in his latest animated
feature. To be fair, “Titan A.E.” isn’t just a recycling of
George Lucas’ 1977 phenomenon; it folds elements of many other
past projects into the mix, too. There’s a good deal of
“Battlestar Galactica” added, though the focus has been shifted
from a ragtag bunch of humanoids from another destroyed planet
seeking earth to a similarly ragtag bunch of earthlings trying
to survive, and ultimately to regroup as a species, after old
terra firma has, shall we say, bitten the dust at the hand of a
nasty, nefarious alien race. There are echoes of the first
“Superman” flick, too, when the young hero is visited by the
holographic image of his deceased, Jorel-like father to aid in
his recovery of a long-hidden terrestrial spaceship which might
save the remnants of humanity, as well as innumerable other
pictures, ranging from “Star Trek” and old westerns to “Bats”
and Stephen Spielberg’s WB miniseries, “Invasion America.”
Narratively, therefore, the movie is a virtual compendium
of cliches of the sci-fi adventure genre, with dialogue that
(despite a few witticisms probably provided by Joss Whedon) is
hackneyed enough to generate a few derisive laughs.

Still, “Titan A.E.” is an improvement on most of Bluth’s
previous efforts simply because it’s technically superior to
them and manages to create a few outer-space sequences that,
especially in the wide-screen format (it’ll be gone on video),
have some visual elegance; one involves shimmering creatures
that follow the heroes’ ship balletically through space
like ghostly dolphins, another shows a dangerous pursuit
through a ring of ice surrounding a distant planet, and a third
depicts a breathless chase over a water-covered world shrouded
by luminous yellow balls of explosive hydrogen. The work of
the artists during these moments is very impressive, even if
a good deal of the effect was undoubtedly accomplished by
state-of-the-art computer technology.

Otherwise, however, the picture lacks precisely the sort of
“limitless imagination” that the narrator refers to in his
opening remarks about thirty-first-century mankind. Little
seems to have changed in human culture in the thousand years
supposedly separating that world from our own; the lifestyle
and language are depicted as being on a lamentably lowbrow
2000 level, and the score in particular suggests that if man’s
musical tastes have progressed so little over the centuries,
perhaps he deserved extinction (the songs sung under a few
of the sequences are especially pathetic). One would think
that, freed from the constraints of live-action filming, Bluth
and his cohorts might have come up with something more
consistently different and exotic; but, apart from the
isolated episodes noted above, “Titan A.E.” doesn’t even
exhibit the visual verve evident in the “Star Wars” universe,
although it’s nicely edited and moves along at a good clip.

The nature of the beast doesn’t allow for much in the way of
acting, of course, but on the whole the voice talent does a
decent enough job. Matt Damon provides enthusiasm and manages
an occasional wry touch as the young hero Cale, and Drew
Barrymore lends some edge to his cohort and eventual partner
Akima. Bill Pullman, on the other hand, doesn’t bring much
to Korso, the captain who’s originally presented as a Han
Solo sort of guy but undergoes a radical shift (or several
of them) in the last reel. Nathan Lane and Janeane Garofalo
are okay as two members of Korso’s alien crew, but it’s John
Leguizamo, as a navigator-scientist with more than a hint of
Yoda to him, who makes the deepest impression.

Youngsters accustomed to cartoon action on TV will probably
be the viewers most drawn to “Titan A.E.”–they’ll find it
familiar but watchable stuff. Toddlers should be kept away,
though; the violence will undoubtedly frighten them, and the
rest of the plot will bore them to tears. As for adults, it
depends on how willing you are to tolerate a story that offers
little novelty and gruesomely leaden dialogue for the sake of
some pleasing animation.