Atlantis, Final Fantasy, Titan A.E., Finding Nemo

Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, Universityof Wisconsin - Green Bay
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Atlantis: the Lost Empire

Indiana Jones meets 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea meets Journey to the Center of the Earth. A meek archaeologist in 1914 is bankrolledby a billionaire friend of his father to search for the sunken land of Atlantis. 

Pearl Harbor was aptly described by Roger Ebert as “Atwo-hour film crammed into three hours.” This film, on the other hand, wouldhave benefited from being half an hour, or even ten minutes, longer. The mostdramatic moments, the sinking of Atlantis and the pursuit of the explorers’submarine by a sea monster, are just too rushed and chaotic for viewing.

The sub is destroyed, and the survivors carry on the questin a maze of undersea caverns. And what a crew. There’s the meek archaeologistand the grasping leader.James Garner is agreeably smarmy as the voice of the expedition leader. There’s the billionaire’s slinky and cynicalassistant. There’s an Italian explosives expert, a French geologist, achain-smoking Brooklyn communications operator, a Hispanic teenage girlmechanic, a half-black, half-Cherokee medic, the kid from Brooklyn who’s tooyoung to die … oops, wrong movie. The manic quest to be politically correct intimes when prejudice was the norm isso intense, it grates. How exactly would a Hispanic girl in 1914 get to beentrusted with running the engine room on a large ship?

The Italian explosives expert is perhaps the best developedcharacter. He had worked in a flower shop until a gas explosion revealed histrue passion, blowing things up. Sweet, the medic, lives up to his name and theHispanic girl has her moments. The others mostly irritate. The characteridiosyncracies contribute nothing to the story. The French geologist Moliere,nicknamed “mole,” is depicted as so passionately in love with dirt that henever bathes, but so what? All he does in the film is throw the switch on atunneling machine, a job anyone on the expedition could have done.

There’s not too much science per se in the film. You justhave to ignore the mechanical impossibility of supporting caverns that large.Also, somebody needs to teach Hollywood about thermal equilibrium. One of the favoriteunderground gimmicks, it seems, is a river of molten lava (Where does it comefrom? Where does it go? Don’t ask.) In reality, if you had permanent lavaunderground in a confined space, it would heat the surroundings until everythingwas as hot as the lava. Yet here we have rope bridges spanning the lava, noteven singed. Who built the bridge? Why? Would you sign up for aconstruction crew to build a bridge over molten lava? Discuss. Compare.Contrast. Analyze. 1000 words, due Thursday.

Also, the Atlanteans speak a dialect that is the root ofall existing languages, so they can instantly pick up any modern language. Saveshaving to do subtitles. If it were only true. You could take Latin andautomatically speak French, Spanish, and Italian.

In a nice twist, the Atlanteans need the outsiders becausethey have lost the ability to read their ancient writings. The expedition leaderand the slinky assistant are in it only for the plunder, however. They steal a giantcrystal that is the source of all life energy for Atlantis. The remainingcharacters throw in their lot behind the archaeologist, who shows the Atlanteanshow to revive their long-forgotten machines. Fortunately, they were equippedwith copper-top batteries and still run.

There are some lovely visual moments in the film. However,the film tries to achieve the look of Japanese anime’ and unfortunately,mostly only manages to look decades out of date. The animation for the trailer(with the letter A rising out of the sea) is far better than the movie itself. A fun film but it could have been far better. Hint to Disney animators:you tried for a retro look in Fantasia II in the Rhapsody in Bluesequence and it came out with all the visual appeal of Huckleberry Hound.You're trying for a "look" here, and it doesn't work. Forget"look." Stick to stateof the art. 

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

I saw this mostly because of the computer effects. This isthe first movie to attempt wholly computer-rendered humans, and if it doesn’tget entirely there, it comes remarkably close.

It’s 2065, 38 years after the earth was invaded by themysterious Phantoms, energy beings that are largely invisible and that kill alllife on contact. That means they’re coming in 2027, at which time I’ll be 80years old and won’t care much. Sucks to be you, though.

The heroine, Aki, is searching for energy forms(“spirits”) that can be combined to neutralize the Phantoms. How exactly sheknows this is fuzzy at best. Rent the video game, I guess, if you wantbackground information. She crosses paths with a military patrol featuring the ruggedcaptain (he and Aki were An Item at one time, apparently), the big kind blacksergeant, the wisecracking kid and the tough as nails female trooper, plus thekid from Brooklyn who’s too young to die. Sorry, wrong movie again.

Aki keeps having dreams, and eventually realizes she’scommunicating with the Phantoms and seeing the end of their world. A chunk of itis blown away and hits the earth, carrying the spirits of alien beings with it.These are the Phantoms.

As if invisible lethal energy beings aren’t enough of achallenge, there’s an evil general who wants to blow the Phantoms away with asuper laser, despite warnings that he will only make the Phantoms stronger. Tosell his concept to the Council, he disrupts one sector of the shield aroundwhat’s left of New York, allowing Phantoms to invade. The plan is to causejust enough havoc to convince the Council of the need to exterminate thePhantoms (as if killing off almost all life on earth wasn't enough), but the Phantoms get loose and nearly everyone in New York dies. Catskeeps running, however.

The ending is unforgivably sappy. The general reaches hisorbiting laser and predictably overloads it and blows it up, but not beforezapping the meteor crater where the Phantoms originally arrived. Unfortunately,Aki and the captain are there looking for the eighth and last spirit at thetime. They get it. Aki can now neutralize Phantoms. So her lover, the captain,grasps her hand and touches the Phantoms. The energy flows out of her, throughhim, and annihilates the Phantoms, but the captain gives his life in theprocess.

Even given the garbled mythology of the story, this makesno sense whatever. If Aki contains the energy to neutralize the Phantoms, whydoesn’t she just do it herself? If the energy flows out of her and through thecaptain, why isn’t he protected?

The animation really is spectacular. The visualization ofthe details of 2065 technology and the appearance of the Phantoms are as good asthe human renderings. Unfortunately the characters have the blocky, generic lookof video game characters. Only Dr. Sid, Aki’s elderly mentor, comes across asa real individual. You literally forget he’s computer-generated. But thetroopers and the general are pretty stilted. One of the most disappointingmoments to me came when I saw the voice credits. Jane, the hardened femaletrooper, is lifeless and cliched, but her voice was done by Peri Gilpin (Roz on Frazier.) Peri Gilpin has about as much in the way of looks and personality asany actress, but it goes completely to waste in the film.

Titan A.E. 

This film was criticized mostly because the rather flat animation of thecharacters contrasted with the much more elaborate backdrops. On thewhole it's actually a pretty good picture. I didn't think the backdropswere all that spectacular, although there were a few very good scenes. 

32nd-century Earth is under attack by the Drej, a race of pure energybeings. We're told several times that they are afraid of what we mightbecome, but never more than that. Evacuation ships flee, and we see asmall boy saying farewell to his father before boarding an evacuationship. Dad, it turns out, is flying the Titan, a huge ship that can laterbe the salvation of the human race. What, no crew? It's the size of anaircraft carrier and the salvation of the human race, and it has nocrew? 

Sixteen years later (A.E. = After Earth), the boy is a lone human on a salvage ship full ofaliens. The Drej come looking for him, but he's rescued by two humans.Seems he's got a genetically encoded map in his hand that tells thelocation of the Titan. The two humans are his father's old second incommand and a young Japanese woman. The boy is hostile, embitteredbecause he believes his father abandoned him, but hey, it beats beingkilled by the Drej. 

The map leads them first to an alien world populated by flying aliensand aquatic trees with huge hydrogen globes, one of the most impressivescenes in the film. The Drej attack and capture the boy and girl. Theyjettison the girl but keep the boy. If they hate humans that much, youwonder why they don't just toss her into space, but they launch her offin a pod. The boy escapes, but not before the Drej copy the map.The girl turns up in an alien slave market but her two sidekicks rescueher. 

They put in at a Drifter Colony, a ramshackle assemblage of spacehabitats where most human survivors live, and there the boy and girloverhear the captain describing his plans to find the Titan for theDrej. He figures humanity is a lost cause, and he might as well get themost out of it. His cover blown, the captain takes off, leaving the boyand girl stranded. But the boy knows a thing or two about space salvage,and he recruits help to refit an old junked spaceship. 

The Titan, it turns out, is hidden in a vast cloud of drifting giant icecrystals orbiting a nebula. The boy and girl get there just ahead of theturncoat captain, who tries to stop them. The batteries of the Titan arerun down and don't have enough power to start the ship, but the boyrealizes that if he can just close the circuit breakers, he can tap theDrej energy weapons when they fire. But, wouldn't you know it, onesticks. The boy has to go out to fix it and the Drej attack. He's pinnedunder a wrecked ship but the turncoat captain has a change of heart,frees him, and gives his life to save the ship. We discover that hostileenergy beings make a great energy source. 

The Titan, it turns out, hasthe power to create a whole new planet, which it does by condensing thenebula (see Star Trek, Wrath of Khan for technical specs.) The Titan isstocked with DNA from every terrestrial species, as well. On first discoveringthe DNA library, the boy, whohas lived for years among aliens, somehow knows what a bottle-noseddolphin is. The creation of the new planet is another impressive scene,and the ice crystals rain in to create oceans for the new planet. We endwith drifter colonies coming in to settle New Earth. 

If the Drej hate humans that much, why don't they finish the job bydestroying the defenseless drifter colonies? Are we to believe there areno uninhabited Earth-like planets to settle, without having to createone? If the Titan got safely away, how did the boy's father die? Whydidn't they simply use it immediately to create a new planet instead ofhoarding it all those years? And what's to stop the Drej from destroyingNew Earth as well? 

The drifting ice crystals are not all that implausible. I could imaginea very cold cloud of water vapor in space doing that, but if thecrystals are as close together as they are in the film, they'd grindthemselves to powder very quickly. 

The big scientific problems in the film are planetary physics. You justcan't blow a planet to smithereens from within. Long before you pump inthat much energy, you'd have melted it. One world is shown orbited by alarge moon with a cleft extending nearly to its center. Planets areround because of their gravity, and a moon that big could not support acleft that deep - gravity would simply pull the moon inward to close itup. And New Earth is red hot as it forms, but cool enough to inhabitshortly afterward. That's a bit of a problem in thermodynamics. Thequestion of how exactly the new planet came to have an oxygen atmosphereis also unanswered.Still, it's a fun film. There's lot's of action, some very cool visualmoments, and a nice ending.

Finding Nemo

There's precious little science in the film, the story of a fatherfish trying to find his son, who has been captured and placed in an aquarium. Asfar as anyone knows, fish can't communicate complex thoughts, plot escapes, feelemotions, and all the other anthropomorphic things the characters in the filmdo. Ellen de Generes steals the show as the voice of a scatterbrained fish withno short-term memory.

The science is in the making of the film. Underwater scenes had longbeen regarded as one of the hardest things to animate convincingly. In the daysof hand-drawn animation cels, bubbles were used to remind viewers that the sceneis under water (see the Arabian Dance in the Nutcracker segment ofDisney's Fantasia for an example). Pixar technicians identified some ofthe key attributes of underwater scenes:

The next underwater animated film will improve on this film, but it's a veryimpressive technical achievement.


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Created 07 November, 2002,  Last Update 24 May 2020

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