For those you that still are either living or recovering from the isolated life that COVID-19 brought upon our lives, I’m sure you have been aware that one of the more difficult things has been the finding something to occupy your time which would have previously been filled with things like talking to other humans or walking around Target aimlessly.
For me, I found solace in catching up on tons and tons of obscure movies that have been on my watch list for some time in hopes I will emerge from my virus cocoon a much more intelligent, well informed movie buff. Of course, those that read my movie reviews regularly will now that there are specific types of movies I tend to gravitate towards, and even if I was desperate for something to do, I wouldn’t really deviate far from these genres. So I actually have been spending tons of time watching older black/white movies, sci-fi, and animated features.
And it’s the animated features which I have found the most interesting to report on this website, given their similarities to the GotS’ business of reviewing and talking comic books. I mean what are animated movies except comic books put in motion, especially in regards to today’s entry which I think exemplifies the notion of delivering a particular artistic vision in regards to both the visual design of the cartoon as well as the storytelling. For me, it’s a movie that seems to exude that same European “indie” vibe that I got when I saw the trippy sci-fi drawings of Moebius in such comic books as The Incal.
So without further ado, let’s blast off in to the heady reaches of outer space and the inner mind with La Planète Sauvage aka Fantastic Planet!
La Planète Sauvage (Fantastic Planet)
Released in 1973, Fantastic Planet was an international co-production between film making companies from both France and Czechoslovakia. Arguably the most famous movie done by French director, René Laloux, it was nevertheless the 3rd in a series of films he collaborated on with the surrealist Roland Topor, including Dead Time (Les Temps Morts) in 1964 and The Snails (Les Escargots) in 1965. Interesting side note on the production is that it originally started in 1963 and took nearly 10 years to complete.
Based on the 1957 French science fiction novel Oms en série aka Oms Linked Together, the movie tells the story of a gigantic race of aliens called the Draags who long ago brought humans or “Oms” as they are called from Earth to their planet of Ygam. The Draags view humans as common animals similar to the way we feel about mice. Some are kept as pets using control harnesses, others are allowed to live wild in colonies to a certain extent. However, like mice or other “pests” in our culture, the Draags are not above using deadly gas or other means to exterminate large groups of humans whenever they feel they have become a nuisance to their society.
Into this strange world, we are introduced to a very young human boy whose mother is killed carelessly by a group of Draag children during a “play” session, similar to the way our own children might accidentally kill a bug. The orphan is taken in my a Draag girl named Twia who wants to keep him as her pet and after attaching a control collar names the young boy Terr. Terr learns a lot about the Draag culture through a telepathic teaching machine which Twia uses for her own studies, including the fact that the Draags are dependent on a form of mediation that allows them to leave their bodies like warped astral projection.
By the time Twia has grown to the point where she stops caring for Terr, he has become an incredibly intelligent young man. He escapes from captivity with Twia’s teaching machine and discovers a community of wild humans living in a near by Draag park. After proving his worth in a gladiatorial type contest, Terr convinces the rest of the humans to use the teaching machine as well to expand their intelligence.
Eventually, Terr is a leader among a pretty advanced little society among the park dwellers, until the Draags decide that the humans have become too evasive and take steps to kill the population. Terr leads his tribe to the safety of an abandoned rocket junkyard after overpowering a Draag and killing him. During the time at the junkyard, Terr’s tribe manages to build several scout ships and visit Ygam’s moon, which is called “The Fantastic Planet”.
There the humans discover that the Draags are using their telepathic abilities to mate using false bodies that are scattered across the Fantastic planet, and that it’s the lifeblood of their entire survival. Terr’s tribe starts destroying the false bodies which starts severely threatening Draag society to the point that they decide to sue for peace with the humans, recognizing them as equal lifeforms.
Terr and his descendants are allowed to build a second artificial moon around Ygam in which they can live as the film comes to a close.
Initial Thoughts and Reflections:
I think it goes without saying that this was truly one of the most trippy and bizarre movies I’ve seen in my entire life, and trust me, that’s quite an accomplishment when I’ve seen things like David Lynch’s Eraserhead. But even Lynch’s tale of a Kramer lookalike caring for an inhuman snake like baby can’t hold a candle to the fact that at one point in this movie a giant eyebrow monster in a tree shaped like a bird cage nearly eats a clown shoe wearing teenager lugging a pearl necklace across the surface of an alien planet.
Yeah, you can’t make this stuff up. It’s like The Beatles Yellow Submarine movie turned up to 11, in that it’s awash in psychedelic imagery like some sort of bad acid trip. And the movie is chalked full of stuff like this, almost daring you to just to turn it off at times for just pushing just too many boundaries and stretching your suspension of disbelief to the near breaking point.
I thought that would be near impossible for a science fiction film given that most people already have a buy in before the movie starts that they are going to see imaginative ideas that push the notions of realism. That goes double for a cartoon, because we aren’t dealing with flesh and blood actors, so again you are willing to swallow quite a bit of fanciful fiction.
However, this movie goes so far off the deep end that you actually stop watching it as much for the plot, but instead just looking at as almost like a freak show. An artistic freak show mind you, but a still it became to me a movie in which I continued watching it just to see what insane concept they were going to wheel out next.
I mean on the surface this is a movie about the cruelty and injustice of one creature against another. In fact, the movie is so broad in the way it presents this notion that the struggle between the Draags and the humans can be interpreted as a social commentary on any number of things from racism and intolerance between people to the brutality humans have perpetrated against other animals.
By also making the story be about a role reversal in that humans are the victims instead of the aggressors, it does raise the level of empathy that you have for folks like Terr, even when his has his tribe pretty much murder a Draag passerby in cold blood in order to make good their escape after the park is gas bombed.
However for every moment that delivers that strong social justice type allegorical message, there’s like 4 more that are just weird for weird sake. It’s like the genuine story takes a backseat to the surrealism at times, and the imagery mixed with the new age Prog rock soundtrack is enough to drive the normal viewer more than a little bit batty.
But it’s like watching some Salvadore Dali avant garde piece where a guy drags a piano across a ballroom filled the remains with a dead donkey or a music video for a 25 minute Pink Floyd instrumental where kids in gas masks get ground up into sausages. Fantastic Planet makes no bones about it’s purpose: To challenge the viewer’s intellect through trippy metaphorical symbolism. That might not be for everyone though, and the heavy handedness with which this movie pummels the viewer could be seen as being pretentious and over the top at times.
Still though, some of the images in this movie are strikingly effective to the point that they take on a stark eerie quality which makes it difficult to look away. I know that’s why I watched it until the end. Well that and it’s only 71 minutes…
Final Grade: C
For all I said above about it being bizarre for it’s own sake at times, I honestly can’t say that I hated watching Fantastic Planet. As I mentioned in the opening, one of the definite things you can’t fault this movie for is the art direction and style. Like some European comic books, this movie has a unique animation style that’s all its own.
In fact, the closest thing I feel I could equate it to is some of the Terry Gilliam shorts on Monty Python’s Flying Circus, in that it seems at parts absurd, put also very classical. There’s also a strong sexual tone to all the drawings, with numerous exposed body parts, and a preoccupation with the physical act. Plus, I don’t know if it’s a benefit or not, but the animation was very choppy at times, like the characters were cut out of some book and pasted down on paper before being filed.
Still the style works for this story and I never felt it was a detriment. Even if there were scenes where the young men strap killer worms to their chests in order to exude dominance, it never felt overtly silly, and I give full credit to the art team in helping avoid that.
The story too when it was given a chance to actually be told was fairly interesting sci-fi. I liked the concept of a god like race playing dice with the lives of humans like we were nothing more than pet gerbils, and that role reversal was both humbling and thought provoking more often than not.
Plus I liked the notion of the telepathic teaching machines and how they were illustrated on film as well as the entire explanation of the Draag culture. In particular I dug the notion that the mental projection had become almost like a drug to them, similar to the way the fears that pornography would have a self destructive influence on own one sexual well being.
Still though, in the end, I will most likely never watch this movie again, unless it would be in the capacity of showing someone else how crazy it is. It’s just too bizarre to be palatable for multiple viewings, and that really does hurt its overall grade.
Again, I totally get what this movie is setting out to do. It wants to be thought provoking. It wants to be socially relevant and provide a warning to us as a species about the ugly way we deal with both our fellow humans but also our planet in general. It also wants to celebrate ambition and creativity and delivering something outside the box.
But as a result of the decision to emphasize being “different” above the rest of its goals , it also becomes somewhat unwatchable for most people. Therefore, unfortunately, Fantastic Planet will remain fairly obscure with its more socially conscious messaging being lost on the minds of most people who can’t get past the fact that there is a creepy looking eyebrow face monster…