A few months ago while wondering what to watch with a friend of mine, he suggested La planète sauvage. I hadn’t even heard of it before, which made me wonder how many mind-blowing old animations, films and books I haven’t discovered yet. I had to know more. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was agreeing to but I trusted my friend’s judgement (as he doesn’t normally appreciate animations as much as I do), and thank the heavens I did.
Fantastic Planet (as it is translated in English, though the literal translation is The Wild/Savage Planet) is a 1973 sci-fi film – a cutout stop motion animation – based on the 1957 novel Oms en série by French writer Stefan Wul.
The story takes place in the distant future on the planet Ygam, home of the giant blue humanoid Draags, a technologically and spiritually advanced society. They have brought human beings (called Oms, from the French word for human ‘homme‘) from Earth, considering them to be animals and keeping some of them as pets. Others live in the alien wilderness and, like any pest, their population is kept under control by the Draags.
An Om mother is teased to death by three Draag children and her baby is found by a key Draag leader, Master Sinh, and his daughter Tiva, who names him Terr and keeps him as a pet. She is affectionate and careful not to hurt him, though like any pet she is instructed to keep him disciplined, else he’d be taken away from her.
So the baby Om is given a collar. We dive deeper and deeper into the increasingly strange world the Draags inhabit, following Tiva and Terr. She brings him to education sessions – the Draags have special headphones which transmit knowledge telepathically, directly into their minds. A defect in Terr’s collar opens him up to that transmission as well, so he receives knowledge Oms normally wouldn’t.
As Tiva grows into her teens Terr is already a young man (Draags have a much longer lifespan and don’t reproduce as much as humans do). She performs her first Draag meditation, which allows them to communicate and travel with their minds – an absolutely mind-blowing bit of animation.
By that time Terr has already acquired a sufficient amount of Draag knowledge to steal a pair of headphones and run away into the wilderness…Now, this is one of those moments where I want to continue, but I don’t want to spoil the story, so I’ll leave it at that.
The surreal psychedelic imagery (created by writer and artist Roland Topor, production designer and co-writer) is what makes Fantastic Planet so recognisable and scarily captivating – at times you want to look away but you just… can’t, it’s transfixing.
Apart from its visual appeal, this film, or the relationship between the Draags and Oms which changes as the story unfolds, can be seen as an allegory of the relationships between us humans and between humans and animals, it could be related to themes of racism and speciesism as well as class division. The ending of the film (as well as the events that lead to it) carries a hopeful moral – violence suddenly stops, both Draags and Oms realise there is nothing to be gained from mutual destruction. Peace prevails…
But there is so much more (don’t think just because you’ve read this you know how the film really ends, there’s so much more to it than just this aspect of the plot)! It’s astonishing that the story was conceived in 1957, and it was animated in ’73 – the vision of such a world, such a future, is (even today with our ‘advanced technology and knowledge’) an extraordinary example of science fiction. A timeless feature, which makes you rethink and reevaluate all you think you know about human nature, the nature of society and the nature of relationships between yourself and others.
If you haven’t seen it, rectify the situation as soon as possible – better to see it and not like it than not see it and miss out on such an outstanding film.