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You Really Should Watch René Laloux’s ‘Fantastic Planet’
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Fantastic Planet

Hey you! Yeah, you. I’m talking to you. Come a little close ’cause I’ve got something to tell you that you absolutely must hear.

How was that 3:15 Sunday afternoon showing of Rio 2? Made ya want to slit your wrists and pour Tabasco on the wounds, am I right? Damn kids don’t want to see that though. I hardly blame you.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re thirsting for something radically different than the animated entertainment to which you’ve become accustomed. On second thought, don’t correct me because it’s the truth and you know it, and I’ve got the perfect movie for you to watch. You might love it, but the odds are greater that you will despise it and everything it stands for.

Either way you shall not forget Fantastic Planet.

Fantastic Planet

Based on the 1957 novel Oms en série by the late Pierre Pairault (writing as Stefan Wul), Fantastic Planet is set some time in the future on a planet ruled over by blue beings called Draags. The Draags have eyes as red as burning suns and receive all of their knowledge by way of headsets than transmit the information directly into their brains. The Oms (a plan on the French word hommes, the pluralized meaning of “man”) are a diminutive species of humanoids who are treated either as pets or pests by their giant blue masters.

Fantastic Planet

One such creature is taken in by a Draag child after his mother is killed in his infancy. The Draag child Tiva names her Om pet Terr and raises him as her own, against the stringent objection of her parents. Terr begins to learn the knowledge of the Draags when Tiva insists on keeping him close during her lessons. His intelligence increases and eventually escapes captivity only to fall in with a tribe of Oms who have managed to somehow stay alive all these years and develop their own society and religion. Meanwhile the Draags have had enough of the Oms and put in motion plans for a mass extermination using poison gas. Can these two radically different races learn to co-exist? And just what exactly the “fantastic planet” of Draag legend?

Fantastic Planet

A French-Czechoslovakian production, there is no film in existence quite like 1973’s Fantastic Planet (released in France as La Planète Sauvage). Though its story of warring races bonding in strange ways as each attempts to dominate or destroy the other has been told countless times the late French filmmaker René Laloux‘s full-length debut feature is distinguished from its spiritual brethren through its imitable and timeless style. The project was completely animated over a period of five years in the style of the French surrealist writer and artist Roland Topor (the author of the novel The Tenant, which Roman Polanski made into a film in 1976), and the animation was mostly done in Czechoslovakia. At one point Laloux was almost removed from his position as director and replaced by his character graphics designer Josef Kábrt when the predominantly Czech production staff took great issue with Laloux’s vision for the film. Under threat of having his project interfered with by the ruling Communist government production was relocated to Paris.

Despite the production woes, Fantastic Planet was completed as Laloux wanted and was awarded the Grand Prix at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival (where it was also in contention for the Palme d’Or). Roger Corman’s New World Pictures released the film in December of that same year here in the U.S. and it became a cult classic due in no small part to its entrancing animation, politically satirical storyline, and an intoxicating acid jazz soundtrack composed by French jazz pianist and arranger Alain Goraguer. Goraguer has composed the soundtracks for other thirty feature films and shorts prior to working on Fantastic Planet. His contributions to the film help provide it with an unmistakable voice in the dialogue-free scenes (of which there are many) and can be listened to independently of Laloux’s images while evoking the haunting imagery. Plus, it makes amazing chill music. In the years following the release of Fantastic Planet, Goraguer composed music for a ton of French porn films under the pseudonym Paul Vernon, many of which starred Brigitte Lahaie.

The characters and relationships are only given enough development to ensure their functionality within the larger storyline, thus ensuring that we rarely get to connect or empathize with any of the crucial players in Fantastic Planet, save for Terr. The pacing can also drag at times but this never becomes a problem because Laloux is constantly bombarding the viewer with intriguing concepts and imagery and the film runs a lean 72 minutes. So it’s best to approach the film as a non-linear feast of provocative sights and sounds. Planet has had a minor impact on pop culture; hip hip artist Madlib considers the film a personal favorite and has sampled its visuals and the Goraguer soundtrack on his albums, while one scene made a brief appearance in Tarsem Singh’s 2000 debut feature The Cell.

Laloux died of a heart attack on March 14, 2004, but not before making two more cult favorite animated features: 1982’s Time Masters, also based on a novel by Stefan Wul only this time the director worked side-by-side with another visionary artist, the late Jean “Moebius” Giraud, who co-wrote the script with Laloux and provided original designs for the animators; and 1988’s Gandahar, released in the U.S. as Light Years with an English-dubbed soundtrack featuring the voice talents of Glenn Close, Christopher Plummer, Bridget Fonda, and Penn and Teller.

Fantastic Planet

Fantastic Planet is available only on DVD in the U.S., but across the Atlantic the U.K.-based company Eureka has issued a sweet Region B Blu-ray edition featuring a solid 1080p high-definition transfer of the film and several essential supplements including a 2003 documentary about Laloux, five short films by the director, the alternate U.S. audio track (featuring Rocky Horror Picture Show star Barry Bostwick as the narrator), and the complete Goraguer soundtrack. I highly recommend you give this film a chance if you desire something more intellectually-stimulating in your animated cinema. The rewards will be greater than you could have ever imagined.

Trailer

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