25 September 2010

La Planète Sauvage (Fantastic Planet)

It's hard to think of a more surreal, alien approach to a story about aliens than this. It opens in media res on a silent, terrified human holding an infant and racing away from nightmarish, dangerous things (animals? plants? geometric oddities?) on an endless plain. She thinks she finds safety in the high ground, but a massive blue finger prods her roughly back down the hill. She races up again, looking to be safe, but the finger prods her once more. This continues, a sort of inverse Sisyphus, until the finger grows bored. It lifts the woman into the air, high high into the air, and drops her. She tumbles and dies. The baby is alone and scared. We pull back to reveal the hand belongs to a strange blue creature (a Traag) that looks like Dr. Manhattan bred with a humanoid fish. The story then shifts perspective to these massive, psychic mysterious creatures, and a child named Tiwa who adopts the baby. We watch for a while as she dresses it up in preposterous humiliating outfits, but the baby is a tiny pet, no bigger than a hamster. The baby doesn't know any other way of life.

Traag time moves slower than Om (homme, or human) time, which gives the story a really novel arc as Terr (the baby, whose name is apparently short for terrible but also evokes the word Terre, the French word for Earth) grows into a boy and eventually a man, while Tiwa and the other Traags don't age much at all. In typical future-dystopian fashion Terr escapes and lives among the wild Oms (living in the park!), and his unique skills (knowledge and education) first cause strife within the group but eventually turn the tides and help them win the war. Of course, things are much, much stranger than that when you watch it.

Apart from a surprisingly abrupt conclusion (and some cheating narration throughout which is mostly forgivable), Fantastic Planet is an inspired story. It belongs in the same camp as classic science fiction like Dune and Solaris. It's maybe the smarter, artsier cousin of Planet of the Apes or The Matrix. I'd actually have liked to see them go further with many aspects (I had this same reaction to another kindred spirit: TRON) but overall, I'm totally impressed.

I could go on about the animation style and the music -- both feel dated but perfectly suited to the piece -- but I feel I've run on long enough. Suffice to say it's a great film, maybe a genius one. If you've never seen Fantastic Planet but you like science fiction -- I mean real science fiction, not just robots and aliens being used as a delivery system for explosions and chase scenes -- I think you owe it to yourself to see this film.

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