Fantastic Planet

Year: 1973
Production Co: Argos Films
Director: René Laloux
Writer: René Laloux

This is what science fiction was like before Star Wars – mind bending, strongly allegorical, presented in forms that were way outside the mainstream (as animation was in those days) and usually very, very weird.

I'm not sure if the writer/director of this visual gem (evidently a co-production between a French filmmaker and a Soviet-era Czechoslovakian crew) was overtly talking about our relationship to animals, but the dynamic between the giant blue humanoid Draags and the human-like Om is strongly reminiscent of our own experience with 'lower' life forms.

It might just be the opening sequence, which depicts a terrified woman with a baby running every which way while giant blue hands torment her, flicking her down a hill repeatedly and throwing sharp objects into the ground around her to block her path until she eventually drops dead of fear and exhaustion.

Only then do we realise the blue hands belong to three Draag children who've been teasing the woman no differently than three human kids would torture a beetle out of sheer bloody minded curiosity.

But unlike the cruel monsters they seem, the Draags are a sensitive and vastly intelligent race on a distant planet running a peaceful society of political analysis and spiritual enlightenment to solve their problems. The tiny human Om are their indentured slaves, controlled with tiny electronic collars that restrict their movement.

Young Draag girl Tiwa, passing with her father after the other children kill the woman, asks if she can keep the stranded baby and raise it as her pet. She does so but Terr, as she calls him, grows up closer to Draag culture than most Om.

After listening in on the special headset that delivers Tiwa's study lessons about everything the Draag know, he learns how the Om might defeat them. Despite his relatively happy life with Tiwa, he lets an Om girl draw him away to a nearby group in the wild dedicated to joining the Om clans together to rise up against the Draags. Terr finds himself in an abandoned Draag rocket factory and with his new knowledge, the Om start to build rockets to escape to the nearby planet where they assume the Drags don't go.

The paper cut-out animation style is one of the standouts of the film. It was no doubt because of the moviemaking technology available at the time in such a region of the world, but the result is a visual style as distinctive as Japanese anime on screen.

But it's the design of the Draag planet that will really impress you. If you're an architecture or design student you'll be in Valhalla, the Draag buildings and local landscape a Dali-like nightmare of outlandish shapes. Trees and rock formations look like slicing knives and angry beetles, seashells and musical instruments. The otherworldly beasts that inhabit the Draag and Om planet are Lovecraftian and Freudian objects of terror as they hunt, forage and feed.

On top of all that, the off-kilter folk/disco soundtrack, like a pioneering Russian DJ copied music from the West but couldn't get it quite right, only adds to the sense of oddity.

The aesthetic is probably influenced in some part by Barbarella and the other sci-fi movies and motifs that came out of the hippie era, but wherever it's from and whatever the intention, it would be just as at home projected on the walls of a funky nightclub during a rave party than watched for the story.

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