5 / 5 stars
The brilliant, albeit angry, author Harlan Ellison has often ranted about the difference between science fiction and sci-fi. According to Ellison, the term “sci-fi” denotes a dumbing down of the genre. This has become apparent in the recent rash of blockbuster “sci-fi” films that rehash and regurgitate great ideas in simplified form for younger audiences, concentrating more on special effects and action than characters and the depth of themes that actual science fiction can bring. In an effort to reintroduce adults to a “science fiction” film for them, the Quirky Queue is proud to feature the animated Fantastic Planet. This 1973 French and Czech collaborative effort takes us to a truly alien world and includes the mature cultural commentary and imagination that has been the hallmark of the best science fiction for over a century. (Click on the movie poster for the large version.)
Directed by Rene Laloux, based on the Stefan Wul novel, “Fantastic Planet,” (original French title “La Planete Sauvage,” literally “The Wild Planet”), is a wonderfully elegant, visually opulent movie steeped in psychedelic imagery, planting us
right in the middle of a world that is at once so bizarre, yet strangely familiar. Taking place on the planet Ygam, the film’s native people, giant blue humanoids (hi, Jim Cameron) called Traags, have long ago transported the last remnants of humanity, called Oms, to their planet where they are either treated as pets, or toyed with and exterminated as troublesome insects. The story follows one Om, Terr, who is adopted by a young Traag. During his life as a house pet, Terr slowly learns the language and technology of the Traags.
Eventually escaping to live with wild Oms, Terr becomes the center of a rebellion against the Traags, hoping to change the master and slave culture of the planet forever. Animator Roland Topor populates Ygam with imaginative creatures and plant life that add to the extraordinary and dangerous nature of this brilliantly created world. Even the lives of the Traags, which at times seem very similar to our own, are vastly different than almost anything imagined in film before or since, as they take part in group meditations which help them create a dream world unique from the universe in which they live.
There is so much oddness in Fantastic Planet that it borders on flat-out fantasy. But like any element of great science fiction, this curious world is able to tell us more about ourselves than many other fiction films grounded in realism. The lives of the Traags and Oms make us contemplate our own xenophobia. Add in themes of knowledge versus superstition, political power, and metaphysical existence and you have a movie thankfully aimed at us older folk.
This 1973 Cannes Film Festival Special Jury Prize winner is must viewing for any science fiction and/or animation fans, as well as those of you tired of the same old themes, effects and characters of today’s youth-oriented entries. When comparing Fantastic Planet to Avatar, the Star Wars prequels, The Terminator series and other recent “sci-fi” efforts, it’s easy to understand why Harlan Ellison is so upset.