Battle for Terra (2009)

Rated PG. Our ratings: V- 3; L- 1; S/N -1. Running time: 1 hour 25 min.

See, the LORD your God has given the land to
you; go up, take possession, as the LORD, the God
of your ancestors, has promised you; do not fear
or be dismayed.
Deut 1:21

If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 12:18-21 (Prov 25:21-23)

Giddy, Marla and Jim sneak aboard the human s mother ship.
2009 Lionsgate Films

I loved the early 1950s sci-fi film The Day the Earth Stood Still because of its reversal of the theme of earthlings vs. aliens. In this sumptuously animated film director Aristomenis Tsirbas and screenwriter Evan Spiliotopoulos cast the humans as the Terror From Outer Space and the aliens as the victims. Traveling in a huge mother ship, the human survivors of a nuclear war that destroyed their old home come upon a new planet inhabited by tad pole-like creatures Their scout fighters shoot up the city, and they seize a hostage. His name is Roven (Dennis Quaid). He happens to be the father of our heroine, Marla, whom we see at the beginning of the film is sort of a female Luke when she leads her more cautious friend in venturing into dangerous places while exploring the region around their city in their two flying machines..

During the attack Marla captures a wounded human officer, Lieutenant Jim Stanton (Luke Wilson), even though he had led the attack on her city. Tending to his wounds and preventing her friend from turning him in, Marla and Jim agree to work together in getting him back to his mother ship and to setting her father free. This proves to be an almost insurmountable task because a debate is raging on both sides of the conflict. General Hemmer (Brian Cox) argues before the Council that they use their Terraformer right away. This elaborate machine for transforming the planetary atmosphere will make Terra habitable for humans but poisonous for Terrians.

The civilian officials hold out that there must be another way, but then are shunted aside when the General seizes power, and the battle begins. Back at Marla’s city the leaders of her people also are debating the use of violence, some saying, “There must be an alternative.” This film, with its gorgeous animation, should appeal to both children and adults, with the little robot Giddy (voiced by David Cross) especially appealing to the former. Adults concerned with peacemaking issues will find plenty to talk about with young viewers.

For Reflection/Discussion

1. Were you surprised by the reversal of roles in the film—humans being more villainous than the aliens? Compare the human’s actions when they arrive on the new planet with those of the first Europeans who came to the Americas. Some good films for comparison: Terence Malik’s The New World and Disney’s Pocahontas. (How is Marla similar to the Native American princess?)

2. How do we see the Europeans’ attitude of divine right of conquest bolstered by such Biblical passages as the one in Deuteronomy?

3. Why do you think we often have resorted to violence first thing when confronted by the strange or unknown? How much does fear play a part in this?

4. Though the humans are the aggressors, is the Terrian society held up as a Utopian civilization? What signs do we see that it is conformist and tinged with superstition? And how had they prepared for the day when their peaceful society might be threatened?

5. There are those on both sides in the film maintaining that there must be an alternative to violence in dealing with enemies: what about in our own? How has Judaism and Christianity been used to foster war, and yet, how also does it offer resources for peacemakers? (Note that in the passage from Romans Paul is quoting Proverbs.)