This year, four science fiction-loving booksellers will delve into Fantastic Planets, Forbidden Zones, and Lost Continents: The 100 Greatest Science-Fiction Films, the new book by film historian Douglas Brode. They’ll watch the movies, read Brode’s take, and tell you – point blank – how they feel about all of it.
#35 on Douglas Brode’s list of 100 Greatest Sci-Fi Films is Rene Laloux’s cutout stop-motion animated film:
Plot: On the planet Ygam, blue humanoid beings called Traags, are the dominant life form. Ohms (humans, or human-like creatures) live in the wild or are sometimes kept as pets. Young Tiwa rescues a baby Ohm when some Traag children torture his mother to death. She names him Terr and cares for him for many years. As he grows up he learns Traag knowledge through Tiwa’s educational device, and when she grows up too much to notice him anymore, he runs away and joins a tribe of wild Ohms.
Even though I had never watched Fantastic Planet before, what I felt while watching it the first time was an overwhelming sense of familiarity. I had seen these images before many times, of course. The film is referenced frequently, and the artwork is strikingly beautiful and strange. It’s near impossible to be a sci-fi fan in this age without having come across it. But there is something unique about this style of animation that transported me back somewhere in my mind, to a childhood where I was exposed to images & cinema I didn’t understand, but desperately wanted to. Back then everything was new, even stuff that was old, which I think is kind of an amazing feeling. And as old as this film is, I’ve still never really seen anything like it. It’s a combination of both high art and lowbrow art (cinema at the time not being considered high art, and still not in many circles), which in itself is a difficult combo to pull off. Its art direction is distinctly Eastern European, but its themes regarding class, powerlessness and victimization, as well as its mystic approach to some of its more esoteric ideas transcend any single school of thought. I was captivated by its dreamlike qualities while at the same time being awed by its anti-imperialist metaphor. In short, this movie is awesome.
Brode’s entry in the book about Fantastic Planet seems to be filling in the gaps of information surrounding the film, as opposed to discussing the film itself very much. He writes about Laloux and how he became involved with the Czech team that worked on the film, and then the influence Roland Topor, his partner on various films, had on him as a filmmaker. Brode has laid out fascinating tidbits surrounding the film that provide a deeper context for the film itself, but still requires you watch the film yourself to understand any of what he is talking about.
I Luv Video and Vulcan Video both carry Fantastic Planet. Other Laloux titles you may want to check out are Gandahar and Time Masters, both as beautiful and surreal, if not more so, than Fantastic Planet. It’s worth noting that all three films are based on French sci-fi novels. Fantastic Planet from Stephan Wul’s Oms en série (Oms Linked Together), Time Masters from Wul’s L’Orphelin de Perdide, and Gandahar from Jean-Pierre Andrevon’s Les Hommes-machines contre Gandahar (The Machine-Men versus Gandahar). All titles are, sadly, out of print.
The Criterion Collection will be releasing a restored version of the film, with new subtitle translations on DVD and Blu-ray on June 21st . Fantastic Planet has never before been released on Blu-ray. I have been informed I Luv Video anticipates receiving the Criterion version of this film.
If you have yet to pick up your copy of Douglas Brode’s
it is available in hardcover in our UT Press section.