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Battle for Terra
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Aristomenis Tsirbas
Produced by
  • Ryan Colucci
  • Keith Calder
  • Dane Allan Smith
  • Jessica Wu
Screenplay by Evan Spiliotopoulos
Story by Aristomenis Tsirbas
Music by Abel Korzeniowski
Cinematography Aristomenis Tsirbas
Editing by J. Kathleen Gibson
Studio Roadside Attractions
Snoot Entertainment
Distributed by Lionsgate Films
Release date(s) September 8, 2007 (2007-09-08) (TIFF)
May 1, 2009 (2009-05-01) (United States)
Running time 85 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $4 million
Money made $6.1 million

Battle for Terra, originally screened as Terra, is a 2007 American 3D computer animated action-adventure science fiction film, based on the short film Terra, about a race of beings on a peaceful alien planet who face destruction from colonization by the displaced remainder of the human race. The film was directed by Aristomenis Tsirbas who conceived it as a hard-edged live action feature with photo-real Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI) environments. The close collaboration with producing partner and investor Snoot Entertainment redirected the project to become fully animated and appeal to younger audiences. The film features the voices of Evan Rachel Wood, Luke Wilson, Brian Cox and James Garner (In his last major film role before his death) among others.

It premiered on September 8, 2007 at the Toronto International Film Festival. It was widely released in the United States on May 1, 2009. The film was originally shot in 2D but was made in such a way that a second camera could be added to the film. After the film was shown at festivals and distributors showed an interest in it, a small team was hired to render the entire film again from the perspective of the second camera for a true 3D effect. It won the Grand Prize for Best Animated Feature at the 2008 Ottawa International Animation Festival.


Mala (Evan Rachel Wood) and her friend Senn (Justin Long) are young creatures of an alien race that inhabits Terra, a peaceful, near Earth-like planet that is part of a star system in the Milky Way galaxy, and have a rich semi-advanced culture.

One day a large, mysterious object partially blocks the Terrian sun, piquing the Terrians' interest. However, since the Terrian culture bans the development of new technologies, such as telescopes, without the approval of the ruling council, none of the inhabitants are able to get a closer look at the object in their sky.

Mala, who is inventive and headstrong, goes against the rules of her community and creates a telescope, which she takes out into the dark empty area outside the Terrian city and uses to view the object and witnesses smaller objects coming from the large object. Coming down to the city, the small objects are revealed to be some kind of incoming scout spaceships. The scout spaceships fly through the city, and by the time Mala gets back there they have already begun abducting Terrians (with some willingly offering themselves to the scout spaceships mistaking them as their new "gods").

After Mala's handicapped father, Roven (Dennis Quaid) is abducted she goads a ship into tailing her and lures it into a trap, which causes it to crash. Afterward, she saves the life of the pilot, revealed to be a human, an officer named Lieutenant James "Jim" Stanton (Luke Wilson). After his personal robot assistant named Giddy (David Cross) warns Mala that Jim will die without a supply of oxygen (which the Terrian atmosphere does not contain), she creates an oxygen generator and fills a tent with oxygen so that Jim can breathe, and eventually convinces Giddy to teach her human language. Giddy informs Mala that the mysterious object is a generation ship called The Ark, containing humans from Earth.

Giddy tells Mala that centuries beforehand, both Mars and Venus were terraformed by humans and colonized due to the consumption of natural resources. But 200 years later, the two planets demanded independence from Earth, which the Earth government refused to grant to them due to the high demand of resources from the two colonies. This dispute eventually escalated into a violent interplanetary war that rendered all three planets uninhabitable. The remnants of the human race traveled for several generations in the Ark across space looking for a new home, before they arrived at Terra, and gave it its name. When Jim awakes, he learns from Giddy he has no means of calling for help and a crucial part of the ship was damaged beyond repair in the crash. Mala agrees to make a replacement part, so that she can go with Jim to save Roven. When Mala, Jim, and Giddy return to the crash site, they discover the ship has been moved.

The trio track the ship to a huge secret underground military facility which was built by a previous, warlike generation of the Terrians. The trio realizes that despite the current peaceful nature of the Terrian's city, the elders and wise leader Doron (James Garner) of the council have secretly retained the military technology from the dark days of war (realizing Mala and Jim's species do have things in common). After infiltrating the facility, fixing the ship and flying back to the Ark, Jim orders Mala to stay hidden and goes to be debriefed.

Impatient, Mala ventures off, meanwhile, the commander of the military wing of the Ark, General Hemmer (Brian Cox), takes power over the civilian leaders in a coup, and declares war on Terra, citing the deteriorating condition of the Ark. Then, after Mala finds Roven in a room where the humans are studying the captured Terrians, and when she was about rescue him, human guards are alerted to her presence. Trying to save Mala, Roven sacrifices himself and two guards after breaching the hull. Hemmer tells Jim his goal is to annihilate the Terrians so the humans can turn Terra into the new Earth by dropping a huge machine onto the planet's surface-called the Terraformer-which will create an Earth-like atmosphere. To set the example to Jim's loyalty, Hemmer puts Mala and his younger brother, Stewart (Chris Evans) inside of a chamber with Terrian atmosphere. Hemmer tells Jim if he presses a button, the room will fill with oxygen, and thus he cannot save one without killing the other. Jim saves Stewart, but secretly also saves and helps Mala escape back to Terra with Giddy (who Jim orders to protect Mala at all costs). Hemmer orders Jim to be in the first group of space-fighters designated by Hemmer to defend the Terraformer, while Hemmer will go down to the planet's surface in the Terraformer to personally supervise the terraforming process.

Doron and the Terrian elders give the order to have Terrians use the military technology from their base for the reason that they had kept it all secret, but intact, and Terrian glider-fighters led by Mala (accompanied by Giddy, still acting under Jim's orders to protect her by helping her saving the Terrians), attack the human ships, beginning a huge battle. After the humans drop the Terraformer onto the surface, it begins replacing the native gases with oxygen and nitrogen, which will asphyxiate the aliens.

Finally, as the Terraformer is close to completing its objective, Jim realizes that annihilating the Terrians is morally wrong, and also by seeing an angered Mala and Stewart fighting each other (after Stewart shot down Senn, who's also part of the Terrian resistance) and turns his ship towards the Terraformer and attacks it. As his ship is damaged with anti-aircraft defensive fire, Jim fires his air-to-air missiles at the Terraformer's command module, destroying it, and killing a disappointed, betrayed Hemmer. While Mala, Giddy and Stewart barely escape the resulting explosion, Jim's ship is destroyed in it and he dies peacefully, knowing he did the right thing.

An epilogue shows what happened in Terra some time later. The Terrians and the humans agree to live in peace. With the Terraformer destroyed, the Terrian atmosphere becomes safe once again for the aliens. The Terrians create a sanctuary for the human colonists to live in, with an Earth-like atmosphere. In the human sanctuary, a large statue of Jim is under construction, in honor of his memory and sacrifice, much to Mala, Senn (who had survived Stewart's attack), Giddy and Stewart's comfort.



Annecy International Animated Film Festival 2009
Award Category Nominee Result
Cristal Award Best Feature Aristomenis Tsirbas Nominated
Giffoni Film Festival 2008
Award Category Nominee Result
Silver Gryphon First Feature Competition Aristomenis Tsirbas and Dane Allan Smith Won
Heartland Film Festival 2008
Award Nominee Result
Crystal Heart Award Aristomenis Tsirbas Won
Ottawa International Animation Festival 2008
Award Category Nominee Result
Grand Prize Award Best Animated Feature Film Aristomenis Tsirbas and Dane Allan Smith Won
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