Monday, September 9, 2013

Fantastic Planet (1973) Review

Fantastic Planet film poster
Fantastic Planet Traag and Om
Fantastic Planet creature
Fantastic Planet Traag mind
Purchase from Amazon: DVD - VHS

+Stunning Visuals
+Great Soundtrack
-Low production values
-Poor plot execution

Other films by Rene Laloux: Time Masters, Light Years
Similar films: Planet of the Apes, Wizards

Director: Rene Laloux
Stars: Jean Topart, Jean Valmont
Genre: Science Fiction

Based on a novella by Stefan Wul, Fantastic Planet (originally La plan├Ęte sauvage) is an animated science fiction film from France, featuring gorgeous artwork and designs. 

The story is essentially an abridged version of the novella (which has only recently been translated into English and is worth a read), set in the future and taking place on an alien planet called Ygam, on which the master race is a species called Traag, which are essentially just giant blue humanoids. The Traags keep Oms, which is their word for humans, as pets and see the Oms as nothing more than unintelligent animals. What they didn't expect is that the Oms are evolving and learning extremely quickly and threaten their position as the master race of Ygam. 

The premise is certainly an interesting one, but it never quite matches the depth that the novella had (not that the novella was particularly "deep"). The story is poorly paced, the characters are undeveloped, and the ending is far too sudden. But this is not the sort of film that is watched for its plot. 

What Fantastic Planet is known for, and indeed most praised for, are its visuals. It's certainly an interesting style, calling to mind animation from Yellow Submarine to Monty Python's Flying Circus. The artwork is surreal, grotesque, bizarre, and above all fantastic, with mystical landscapes and imaginative character/creature design. The imagery is the work of surrealist author-painter Roland Topor (who film buffs may know as Renfield from Herzog's Nosferatu). To anyone familiar with Topor's art (if not, do a quick Google search of his name) it is evident that no one else could have produced such impressive designs. 

Accompanying the wonderful visuals is an equally wonderful soundtrack, filled with jazzy psychedelic space rock tunes, which match the film's style perfectly, building a weird otherworldly atmosphere and evoking feelings which I can only imagine are similar to that of a hallucinogenic trip. The score was composed by Alain Goraguer, and it is certainly some of his finest work. 

While the art is great, the actual animation is somewhat crude. This is certainly due to the low-budget. The production values here are certainly not much. The animation is crude, the voice acting is amateur (both English and French), and due to this a world so imaginative and fantastical occasionally feels empty and hollow, like a golden chest with nothing in it. What they did with the budget is admirable, but unfortunately it does take a bit away from the film. I sometimes feel like looking at stills from this film is more enjoyable than actually watching it. 

What Fantastic Planet lacks in story, character, and production, it attempts to make up for with visuals and sound. To some extent it achieves this, certainly creating an interesting look and experience, but it still falls short of being completely satisfying and leaves much to be desired. An interesting premise but a poorly executed plot. Beautiful artwork but lackluster animation. Great soundtrack but bad voice acting. 

Fantastic Planet is perhaps worth seeing once, just for the cool designs and enjoyable soundtrack, but it certainly didn't leave me very impressed. What it did well only made me sadder to see the missed potential. I can't imagine myself re-watching this anytime soon. 

2/5 stars

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