Friday, December 9, 2011

La Planète Sauvage (Fantastic Planet) (1973)
FRANCE --- science fiction

Dir: René Laloux

Many films have juxtaposed a subjugated human race under the heels of some alien (or other creatures) rule to stress some social commentary about slavery, religion, or just simply social class systems in general. We've seen this conceit in a myriad of forms such as Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels", Edgar Rice Burrough's "John Carter of Mars" series of books, L. Ron Hubbard's "Battlefield Earth", or "Planet of the Apes". In the film "La Planète Sauvage" (Fantastic Planet) we are shown a similar visionary nightmare in the package of a science fiction tale on these dark aspects of humanity's greatest failings.

Based on the 1957 book "Oms en série" by French science fiction novelist Stefan Wul, the film follows a young human boy called an "Om" (french word "Hommes" that means "man") who is left orphaned after alien children accidentally kill his mother while playing with her. The aliens are called Draags, who are giant red-eyed blue-skinned beings with webbed ears, yet are highly civilized. Immediately after the boy is left alone crying, a Draag dignitary's young daughter, Tiva, finds him and adopts him as her personal pet. She eventually names him Terr. He observes the strange alien landscape, as he grows up confined to a specially created collar complete with a wristband controller belonging to Tiva. Tiva truly treats Terr as a favored pet, and even has him with her during her learning sessions through the use of an encyclopedic computerized headband which trains her by feeding information directly into her mind. When her parents begin to notice that Terr has been using the headband with and without Tiva, they ban her allowing him to be present while she is learning with it. However, as she begins to grow out of adolescence, Terr becomes more dependent on educating himself from the computer headband and ultimately escapes out on his own.

Terr drags the headband with him as he is out in the alien wilderness. He eventually meets up with an Om woman of the "savage" Oms. When Tiva tries to recall Terr through the collar, the woman help him get set free from it. She takes Terr to her tribe located in a tree and they instantly label him as a domesticated Om. When he observes that they too could use the information from the learning headband, some of the tribe of course outright disdain Terr's gift of Draag knowledge. Eventually learning of a "fantastic planet". They force him into a combat ritual, in which he prevails as the victor. The tribal elders allow Terr to join their tribe. Terr observes the Oms living condition and how they have adapted to life in Draag world. He even is introduced to a band of evil Om bandits who live in their own tree and steal of the Om tribe he has befriended.

Later some of the educated Oms uncovers the Draag plan to "de-Omised" their local village based on seeing some graffiti they were able to interpret. Terr takes it upon himself to warn the tribe of Om bandits, but they do not heed his warning, and their leader, an old woman, has him locked away. Soon after, the Draags do strike using gas pellets, killing a high majority of Oms. The old woman frees Terr, as they all narrowly escape with a remnant of the people. One of the Draags witness them escaping and goes after them crushing them like insects. The Oms fight back as they actually take down and kill the Draag. The old woman leads the remnant group out to a safe haven, namely an old rocket depot, and eventually Terr leads the very large tribe on a mission to the fantastic planet. After the death of one of their own, the Draags have another council meeting, and they are not far behind the Oms, as they discover the secret behind just what the fantastic planet is.

Although I certainly wouldn't recommend "Fantastic Planet" to just anyone, it is something interesting to watch. The film is animated in a slightly strange cutout animation style reminiscent of Terry Gilliam's interstitials in "Monty Python". There is also the unavoidable phallic and organic imagery throughout the film of the alien landscape, successfully creating an uneasy surreal atmosphere. Laloux collaborated with famed French artist/ writer Roland Topor for this feature length film. Personally, this film is far overdue for a live-action adaptation with the right director.