I once owned a VHS copy of Fantastic Planet that had been abandoned in the basement of an old Portland home, cluttered with signs of musician life. There is something very appealing about this film to musicians, myself included. We tend to seek unique visual experience in line with our musical pallet as well as mystical themes in line with our philosophies. We also love great soundtracks.
This 1973 Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize winner has found its cult niche among the musical, the weird, the hip, and lovers of animation. It closed out Northwest Film Center’s Kaleidoscope Visions: Animated Classics series this Friday night. This screening included the original French language with English subtitles.
Several years ago, I tried to watch the video but fell asleep to it within thirty minutes. This happened on two separate occasions. With a run time of 72 minutes, it goes by fast however. I am happy to say that this time I enjoyed it without drowsiness. I was totally engaged and loved exploring the vision of Rene Laloux: this bizarre ecosystem at once desert and rainforest–if not pure quantum reality–in which fantastic animals prey upon each other in all kinds of strange scenarios.
The soundtrack by Alain Goraguer punctuates dramatic scenes with funky, jazzy, proto-electronic sounds and sparse string sections. The big screen helps bring the planet of the Draag people to life, whom are gigantic compared to humans, and that kind of scale becomes visually important.
The allegoric presentation of an advanced alien society (Draags) who domesticate humans as pets (Oms) much like we do with mice–considering them vermin and tools for scientific research–is two parts poetic imagery, one part narrative. The story follows one Om that escapes his owner, bringing technology to a tribe of wild Oms who are also developing their own society alongside the Draags.
There is a lot to discover watching this film for the first time. Spoiler alert: I am giving away the ending in this review. Ironically, I had just edited the wikipedia entry in order to eliminate details in the plot section, including the ending. You should actually discover these yourself by watching it. I mean it, just immerse yourself in the psychedelic reality. The story is easy to follow; many breaks are taken simply to illuminate how strange the world is.
The allegory of this film points in the direction of The Cold War foremost, then civil rights and to a lesser extent, animal rights. As non-domesticated Oms learn how to organize, read, write, and innovate technology, a resistance develops against the Draags. Once the Oms learn how to target and destroy crucial infrastructure to the Draag civilization, a peace negotiation is forced. Few wanted to see it come to that against the U.S.S.R. and films like this reinforced that call for resolution.
I found an interesting parallel forty years later: Israel and Palestine. At the end of the film, it is of great consequence that the Oms learn how to build and launch rockets. The recent ceasefire was the result of Hamas relentlessly firing rockets at Israel, to force them to the negotiation table. On a civil rights tip, concerning the hardships imposed upon Palestinians by Israel–who are viewed unfavorably in Israel to say the least—there is an opportunity to contemplate how our most privileged ethnic groups manage to maintain that prowess at the expense of different ethnic groups.
But if you do not want to get in to that, its is simply a visual feast. The papercut animation style—eventually popularized by South Park—may not have the same dazzle of contemporary animation, but it is still awesome. Many moments seem to be lifted directly from some heavyweight LSD experiences. The way that Draags communicate, meditate, and commune on a psychic plane, living in peace amongst each other, is the most that we can possibly ask humans to evolve in to. And I wonder, is it possible that these Draags were humans early on in their genetic evolution? In other words, what are we becoming as a species?
By 1973, NASA had accomplished nine manned missions to the Moon, including seven landings. Had funding been maintained, Americans would be on Mars by 2013 if not sooner. This was the assumption back then: colonization asap. It follows that French filmmakers sought to adapt an advanced projection of that scenario from the 1957 Stefan Wul novel—released the same year as Sputnik 1—entitled Oms Linked Together. It also follows that generations would be born out there. There is no telling how a civilization might split with interplanetary commuting.
I am not trying to say any of this is actually about Mars or NASA. What I suggest is that the West wildly imagined our future per the success of space flight and our generation gets to enjoy the artifacts while observing the real thing taking place.