In the 31st Century, Earth is destroyed by an alien race known as the Drej, and the survivors escape into space. One of those survivors grows up to be Cale (Matt Damon), a lowly salvage worker who one day is approached by a starship captain (Bill Pullman) with the news that Cale holds the key to finding humanity a new home - the Titan, a project his father was part of. But the Drej are looking for the Titan too, and they know that Cale holds the map to its location...
This meticulously crafted, science fiction epic was scripted by Ben Edlund, John August and Joss Whedon, from a story by Hans Bauer and Randall McCormack, and represented Twentieth Century Fox's try at capturing the hearts of sci-fi and animation fans of all ages. But in their attempt to appeal to a wide age range, the project fell between the two stools of the adult audience and the child audience and ended up with no audience. Consequently, Fox closed down its animation department.
There's no denying Titan A.E. looks fantastic. Obviously seeking to cash in on the anime market, its futuristic setting and adventure plotline are used for a selection of imaginative landscapes and slick characters. One planet is covered with organic hydrogen balloons and inhabited by giant bats - just the excuse you need for an explosive pursuit by the Drej. Those baddies are electric blue and strangely nebulous, as if they are projections. The last twenty minutes take place in a wonderfully rendered cloud of huge ice crystals which the characters have to negotiate.
Which is all very well, but doesn't count for much when the rest is so amaemic. More thought seems to have gone into creating Cale's floppy hairdo than his personality; there's some business about fathers letting down their sons, but that's as much depth as you get. He is welcomed aboard the Valkyrie, a ship crewed by a motley collection of aliens, including one which has her legs about ten feet apart - can't be comfortable. The villains are two dimensional, and their motives are hazy. In fact, the most interesting character is a guard who appears for about thirty seconds; everyone else is just there to propel the plot. I mean, they might as well be cartoon characters.
Perhaps a little more self-conscious humour would have drawn in the more mature audiences. I don't mean turning it into Futurama, which it resembles for some of the time (maybe it's the heroine's purple hair), but at least a little more irony than just the odd wry grin. We've seen the whole space opera thing enough times to know the deal here, and simply adhering to the conventions isn't enough to make it stand out. Think what The Hitchhikers's Guide to the Galaxy did with the destruction of planet Earth as a starting off point. Mind you, as chewing gum for the eyes, Titan A.E. is great value. Music by Graeme Revell.
Bluth is also famous for Dragon's Lair, one of the of the first Laser Disc games and a marvellous cartoon in its own right. He followed that up with Space Ace... both brilliantly animated, even if the gameplay was excruciatingly frustrating! Netflix have reportedly commissioned a Dirk the Daring film!
By the nineties, Bluth just wasn't competing with Disney anymore, despite his talents, and films like Thumbelina and The Pebble and the Penguin were being largely ignored. Anastasia was a minor success, but Titan A.E., touted as a summer blockbuster, was a major flop and Bluth has not directed anything since.