Fantastic Planet (1973)

Among the great animated triumphs of the 1970’s sits René Laloux’s Fantastic Planet, a film well known among animation aficionados as a classic of surreal animation. Indeed, it’s not so much a piece of film as much as it is a work of art, and I think it was a work that was ahead of its time. Back in 1973, there were only a handful of animated sci-fi features, let alone of the kind that were mature enough to deal with heavy subjects such as authoritarianism, captivity and revolution, bundled in with the kind of utopian themes that you usually find in sci-fi from that point in time.

In this film, humans from Earth have been captured by blue giants called the Draag (who call the humans “Oms”), and brought to their planet of Ygam as pets which they dress up in garish costumes. The Draags have a technologically and apparently spiritually advanced society, and they live much longer than humans, but reproduce less. Not all humans are domesticated. Some humans live out in the wilderness, and the ones that do are considered savages, which the Draags regularly exterminate as their form of pest control.

The story focuses on a human named Terr, who since his infancy was raised in captivity by a young Draag named Tiwa, the daughter of a Draag leader named Master Sinh. He learns a great deal of Draag knowledge while living with her, but when she starts to grow distant from him, he runs away and steals the headphones that transmit knowledge to her mind. With his knowledge, which he spreads to the undomesticated humans, he leads his fellows to rebel against their Draag oppressors.

I think my main criticism with the story is that the film is rather short, running at only 72 minutes. That’s not necessarily bad, but with 20 more minutes I think the film could have explored more territory, but that’s not to say the writers did a very good job in 72 minutes. After all it’s undoubtedly a strong story. The film basic premise is essentially a variation of the David and Goliath archetype (in a Planet of the Apes sort of fashion), and built around that is a sophisticated, wonderfully bizarre tale of an advanced, yet self-absorbed society in danger of bringing about its own ruin.

The voice acting was pretty good, and the characters were very well-formed, though I think a longer runtime may have been better for character development. The main protagonist, however, is the most well-done character in the movie, which is no surprise considering that you get to see him from infancy to adulthood (it should be noted that humans seem to age faster than their alien captors). In a way, his intelligence and resourcefulness represents the potential of mankind, the potential that certain people in power don’t want people to display, and I think that’s part of the film’s message, that we have the power to bring about a better world for ourselves, but we have to make those in power see that we are be taken seriously.

Of course, Fantastic Planet is absolutely a visual treat, with its highly detailed, hand-drawn art style evoking a distinctly antique feel. The art style is something of a mixture of Terry Gilliam, Max Ernst (arguably), Salvador Dali, and other surrealist artists, and the result is simply magnificent. I find that the film has a kind of illustrative style, and there’s a scene that vindicates my point in which you see a montage of what look like rough, conceptual style sketches. I would say that this is as much a film for art students and budding illustrators as it is for cineasts. The film also had a great, progressive rock style music score, courtesy of Alain Goraguer.

On the whole, Fantastic Planet was a great film that desperately needs more exposure. It presented a vision of animation vastly different from what we’re used to today, one that emphasised the artistic potential of the medium and pushed the boundaries of what animated works were capable of. Where are such ground-breaking animations nowadays? Much has changed in over 40 years, but the classics of animation still endure, setting an example of the direction that animation should take.

  • Score: 88%
  • Grade: A
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