Fantastic Planet

Lawrence Russell

Fantastic Planet (1973) dir. Rene Laloux writ. Roland Topor and Laloux (based on the novel The Savage Planet by Stefan Wul) cine. Lobomir Rejthan and Boris Baromykin graphic design Roland Topor graphics: Joseph Kabrt (characters), Joseph Vania (backgrounds) music Alain Goragner

"Our planet Yon possesses a single satellite, Fantastic Planet. We utilize this uninhabited planet for meditation. Yon is divided into several ouvas. Two of the ouvas, Strohm and Yaht are natural and symmetrical...."

This peculiar work is frequently dismissed by North American viewers as primitive, lacking the technical sophistication of fluid movement animation and integrated foreground/background isometrics. Yet this allegory of human regression and rebirth which uses the speculative fiction convention of symbolism by scale (the human Oms are the pets of the giant transcendentalist Drogs) demonstrates a psychological sophistication and art tradition that moves beyond the infantile animations of Disney and the American method.

The Oms have self-destructed on their planet Terra and are now in a Stone-Age state on the planet Yon. The domesticated Oms live in the Park, the wild (outlaw) Oms live beyond the walls in the forest. The status quo is quickly established in the opening sequence, where a giant blue finger flicks an Om woman and her baby down the slope like a bug. The woman is killed and her baby is later discovered by two strolling Drogs, Tiva and her father, a member of the Drog ruling cabal. Like the Pharaoh's daughter finding and adopting the infant Moses, Tiva takes the baby home and inadvertently educates it during her subliminal Info lessons.

It's a world of continual irony, based upon a reversal of fortune as elementary as that in Planet of the Apes, but in this instance showing human development in polar opposites: where we have come from (the wild Oms) and where we expect to evolve (the mystical Drogs). The human experience is expressed in both master and slave, thus the expected historical progression of revolt, war and political settlement occurs.

While there are many amazing scenes and graphic whimsies along the way, the climax on the Fantastic Planet itself is the most interesting. Escaping "Omization" (gas extermination), two Om rocketships make it to the satellite that orbits Yon and find giant headless torsos standing like the forgotten effigies of a lost civilization on a Daliesque plain. This is the "Fantastic Planet", a conjunction for Drogs everywhere in their galaxy, a place for mating and reproduction. Drog youth navigate to this rutting field of the demi-gods in glass spheres that float like spore bubbles and attach themselves to the shoulders of a statue of the appropriate gender. The statues then begin to dance in pairs, a ritual that allows these astral beings the necessary physicality for reproduction and the continuation of their species.

In danger of being crushed, the two Om ships open fire with their ray guns and wipe out the mating couples... causing a parallel chaos back on Yon, where the Drog elders are in telepathic contact. Faced with disaster, they immediately open negotiations with the Oms and peace follows, based upon a New Order: an artificial satellite (state) called Terra (in honour of their ancestral planet) is launched and henceforth both cultures are free to progress in harmony but with independent spiritual sky-cults.

"...contrary to what one may think, the needs of graphics do not necessarily correspond to the needs of movement... consequently the American school ties drawing to animation... the European school to graphic imagery... Americans a taste for curved lines, quick movement and comedy, as well as an emphasis on character. In Europe, the emphasis on graphics favored the straight line, slow movement, fantasy and a lesser emphasis on the psychology of individual characters." (Rene Laloux)

This reinvention of the Egyptian/Israelite mythology (combined with the more recent experience of the European Jew with the Nazis) uses the color blue as a symbolism for the astral consciousness for the Drogs and their sky-cult allegiance to the Fantastic Planet. While the micro world of the Oms is scaled to the organic topography of root tunnels and plant forests, it is also as bizarre as the interior of the human body, with roving creatures that resemble organs, and where red is the color of fear.

The graphics are obviously drawn from the tradition of gallery painting, compositions structured in terms of stasis, two-dimensional space, and the symbolist artifice of the surrealists. The sub-text is driven by history and politics, the text by dream and expressionism.

© LR '77/'99


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