Fantastic Planet

I distinctly remember seeing this film in the old East Grinstead cinema, probably as the B-movie to some more major film. The trouble is, it was released in 1973, which would have made me about 2 years old at the time, so perhaps it was a re-release I saw, or it just took a while to reach these shores from France, where it was originally released as La Planète sauvage.

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The reason it stuck in my memory was that I wasn’t feeling too well at the time, having something of a stomach upset, and I had to leave the cinema when there was scene of two alien Draags sucking little particles of food from a big yellow cloud, which made me feel queasy! Since then, every so often I’ve wondered just what was that film with that scene in? (Also what was the B-movie which had no dialogue, just a long battle between two medieval knights, one all in black?) And then along came the answer, released on DVD.

Fantastic Planet is a French animation created by director René Laloux and French/Polish artist/writer Roland Topor (whose novel, The Tenant, has just been re-released with an intro by a favourite author of mine, Thomas Ligotti — funny how these things connect). It’s fantasy/SF with an obvious sixties psychedelic feel, not to mention an unintentional hint of Monty Python, as, at the start, we see a woman running in fear through a sparse forest before being toyed with and captured by an enormous blue hand. The blue hand proves to be that of a Draag, the native giant race of this planet, who imported human beings (called Oms — hommes in French, geddit?) as pets, only to find them escaping into the wild and breeding like rabbits. As a result, every three years there has to be a de-omming by a series of nightmare devices, like the sticky spheres in the pic below.

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The first half of the film follows a young Om as he grows up pet to a female Graak child, being dressed up in ridiculous clothes and subjected to various unintentional cruelties, till he escapes, taking with him one of the Draags’ automatic learning devices. He is found by a group of wild humans who use the learning device in their battle for freedom, culminating in a rocket journey to the “Savage Planet” which orbits the Draags’ home planet, and which the Draags visit regularly via meditation.

Along the way, there’s some pretty trippy visuals, including a scene of four Draags entering a meditative state where first their clothes change colours, then their bodies transmute into abstract shapes. The Draags’ planet is full of animate vegetation and creatures that prey on the Oms, lapping them up with sticky tongues like the ants they are, giving the setting a real Bosch-like feeling. The soundtrack (playable in isolation on the DVD) is rather typical of the era, aiming to transport you to another planet with its ethereal, oohy vocals and heavily chorused organs, but regularly dumping you firmly in the sixties when it brings in a funky wah-wah guitar or (worst of all) a rather clichéd sax solo for the moment when one of the Om females does a strip-tease as part of the wild humans’ religious rites.

Interesting to see it again after all this time, though.

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