The entire legacy of the Science-Fiction genre in film has been spotty at best, but has always (at least in most cases) had the propensity to inspire imagination and wonder. However as the capacity for digital animation and computer generation increases, less and less seems to be left to the imagination. At the risk of sounding a little pretentious, today’s Sci-Fi films seem to focus solely on the entertainment factor, with more and more attention focused on special effects and surefire box-office blowouts, while generally neglecting originality, creativity and thought-provoking themes.
While the latter is not necessarily a bad thing and indeed produces a greater entertainment value, it just does not seem to evoke the same kind of effect that older, more classic Sci-Fi films had, particularly one of my all-time favorite movies: Fantastic Planet.
Winner of the 1973 Cannes Film Festival Award, Fantastic Planet (also known by its original title La Planète Sauvage) was originally inspired by the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia, featuring themes such as that of oppression and the fight for equality. However the latter is not readily apparent amid all of the wonderfully original Sci-Fi elements, psychedelic animations and the equally far-out soundtrack (which has its own album LP for purchase, by the way). Fantastic Planet takes its viewers on a carefully crafted, thought-provoking trip where humans (AKA “Oms”) have been brought from Earth to be domesticated pets on a planet called Ygam, inhabited by giant blue beings called Draags.
In a very simple synopsis, with as few spoilers as possible:
The film follows the growth and life of Terr, a human, who is rescued after his mother dies by a prominent Draag political figure, Master Sinh, and his daughter Tiwa. After growing to be a young man, Terr escapes into the wild with a Draag educational device that imparts information directly into the brain of its user so that the information will never be forgotten. While on the run, Terr encounters wild humans and quickly discovers that due to the humans’ rapid reproduction (human years are about a week in Draag years), a campaign has been started to control the human population in the wild. Simultaneously, Ter has introduced the wild humans to the education device, emphasizing the theme that knowledge is power. The rapid absorption of knowledge allows the humans to exemplify their intelligence, cunning, and will to survive. This eventually leads to the discovery of a vulnerability in the Draags which the humans exploit in order to defend themselves and survive.
While the plot of the film is compelling, it is the details which really resonated with me when I first watched it, for example how director René Laloux incorporates the drawings of mental patients into the environments of an alien world. It simply inspires imagination through originality, like an Arthur C. Clarke or Isaac Asimov novel does.
Anyone interested in watching Fantastic Planet can do so on Youtube. The run time is only one hour and eleven minutes, and it is in English, rather than French with subtitles (I recommend the latter if possible). Enjoy!