Directed by René Laloux
Growing up I used to spend a lot of time in front of the T.V. especially late at night. Late one night, sometime in the ’80s, I was watching an odd show on the USA Network called Night Flight. Night Flight started late in the night and ran to the early morning on Friday and Saturday nights. It featured contemporary musical performances, interviews with filmmakers and artists, documentaries, B movies, and just some of the strangest programming to ever be broadcast on late-night television. That night it broadcast an animated film called Fantastic Planet. As it began to play I sat fixated on the illuminated convex screen as this surreal animation overtook my optical senses. I had never experienced an animated film like this. It was fascinating.
The film begins with an infant being held in the arm of its mother. The mother is loosely clothed in rags alluding to a primitive existence. She runs frantically with her baby in her arms as she evades large menacing hands that toy with her. Getting knocked down several times she loses hold of her child as a large hand picks her up and drops her from a great height to her death. The scene cuts to three humanoid alien creatures known as Draags, the dominant lifeforms of this world. The three Draags are just children playing with a species they call Oms, humans. The three adolescent Draags flee as they see, Master Sinh, a key Draag leader, and his daughter Tiwa approach. Tiwa hears the cries of the orphaned infant and takes it home as her pet. She names her new pet Terr.
Terr grows up quickly as one year to the Oms is only one week to the Draags. To control Terr and all domestic Oms from going astray, special collars worn around their necks forcible drags them back to their master when activated by a remote control device worn on the master’s wrist.
Tiwa is kind and treats Terr well. She dresses him up in fancy clothes and plays with him in his Om-size playset. She takes him out of the house to play with other domesticated Oms. She cares dearly for Terr and never lets him leave her side.
One day, while Tiwa with Terr on her lap, as usual, is using a headphone learning device that implants knowledge directly into the brain, Terr is unexpectedly implanted with the same knowledge. A little at a time each day Terr learns the knowledge of the Draags.
Time passes and Terr is a young man and Tiwa a teenager. Tiwa has reached the age to attend her first mediation session. Mediation is a large part of the Draag life, where the mediating Draag’s essence becomes encapsulated in a spherical bubble that floats off into the sky. Knowing that the house would be empty Terr seizes the moment and runs away with the Draag learning device. He soon comes across a wild female Om who removes his collar and takes him to a place of safety among other wild Oms at the edge of a park in a great tree.
Terr lives among these wild Oms, sharing his knowledge and learning device of the Draags. Terr experiences the pleasures of being free while the Oms in the community gain knowledge from the headphones. With the knowledge to read Draag script, a scout reads a notification on a wall that the park is getting de-Ominized soon. The Draag’s way of controlling the wild Oms population who breed faster and in greater numbers than the Draags. Terr valiantly warns an uneducated tribe of Oms who live in a log within the park on the eve of the de-Ominization. His warning is not heeded and is held captive. Not until the Draags de-Ominizating discs that expel poisonous gas roll into the log that Terr is believed and freed. Those lucky enough to flee meet up with Terr’s tribe outside the boundaries of the park.
Two Draags who are passing by the park see the group of escaped Oms and stomp on the vermin as if they were ants. The Oms fight back and using ropes attached to bone grappling hooks, pull down one of the Draags and kill it with a thousand tiny cuts with their small weapons. In shock at the Oms use of violence, the Draag council enacts stricter measures on domestic Oms and increases de-Ominization of wild Oms.
Terr and the others travel to an abandoned space rocket facility to hide from the Draags death machines. They spend their time miniaturizing the Draags technology and building space rockets of their own. When finished they travel to the orbiting moon known as the Fantastic Planet. Upon arriving they discover the land filled with giant-sized headless naked males and female statues. For what purpose they are unsure until the floating meditation sphere of the Draag’s floats down from the sky and take its place on the headless forms. The statues come to life and embrace each other in dance. The Oms realize this is how the Draag species reproduces. Terrified of being trampled by these embraced dancing statues, the Oms fire an energy beam shattering statue after statue. With each statue destroyed the accompanying spheres wander aimlessly in the sky, while their meditating host break from their trance blinded and confused.
The Draags not knowing how to fight the Oms sue for peace. The movie ends with a celestial shot of Ygam the home of the Draags. Orbiting Ygam is the Fantastic Planet where the meditation orbs travel to dance on the headless statues and a new artificial planet called Terr home of the Oms.
Fantastic Planet or La Planète sauvage premiered at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival winning the Grand Prix special jury prize. This French-Czechoslovakian cut-out stop-motion animated film directed by René Laloux is based on the 1957 French science fiction novel “Oms en série” by Stefan Wul. “Oms en série” was translated into English in 2010 by Creation Oneiro. Unfortunately, the book is out of print and expensive to purchase. Based on reviews found on Goodreads.com the book does not shed any new light on the characters or setting that isn’t shown in the film. Though Fantastic Planet played in American theaters in 1973 its most known for its appearance on the USA Networks show Night Flight. In 1996 the movie was released on VHS. The movie today can be found on DVD, Blue-ray, and on Amazon Prime Video. In 2016 Rolling Stone ranked Fantastic Planet the 36th greatest animated movie ever.
Using in Gaming
The world of the Fantastic Planet is surreal and psychedelic, as is its flora and fauna. There are several elements that could be used in a sci-fi RPG as well as the setting itself. The film does not name these creatures, though they may have names in the novel. For our gaming purposes, I’ve created names for the following. Feel free to substitute your own.
This strange creature part plant part animal looks like it’s trapped in a cage. Its longest appendage branches out like a limb of a tree, tempting a flying species to perch upon it. When one does it grasps and shakes its prey to death, leaving the corpses to decay at its base to enrich the soil with which it feeds on through its root system. After each death, the Shaker Trap sinisterly chuckles with joy.
This breed of oversized snail extrudes a hard silky thread. When gathered in packs of 10 or more they protect themselves by weaving their threads on a creature and encasing them in a hardened shell. If properly cared for and trained, a group of Tailor Snails can weave a flexible, and durable casing on a person’s body much like armor. The casing provides strong protection, but cannot be removed without destruction. Only a skilled craftsman with the proper knowledge can cut away the casing to produce removable body armor.
This gargantuan winged creature features a large round serrated mouth that bores into the earth looking for underground tunnels. Once it locates an underground passage it extrudes its sticky tongue like an ant-eater causing anything that comes into contact with it to adhere to it. Breaking free of the glutinous grave requires outside aid and great strength. Rescuers must act quickly to free those trapped before the creature retracts its tongue and begins to digest its meal.
Blue Grub Bitters
These blue-skinned Grub Bitters with large elongated mouths and razor-sharp teeth are a favorite fighting beast in tribal contests. Each Grub Bitters is strapped to the chest of the participants in a fashion that does not allow the user the use of their arms. The two fight using the mouths of their Grub Bitters until only one stands. Unfortunately for the Grub Bitters no matter the loser or victor both are slain after the combat.
Early in the morning as the sun begins to rise Dew Crystals begin to form. These large crystalline formations quickly adhere, envelop, and suffocate the unsuspecting victims. The dense crystalline structure is too tough to break with force alone. Only those with the knowledge and talent to whistle at the proper pitch can shatter the Dew Crystals.
There are a lot of strange animated films that came out in the 1970s. Thanks to the internet more of these obscure films are readily available to us. If it wasn’t for the program director of Night Flight I may have never seen or heard of this film. If this is your first time hearing of this film I highly suggest you watch it or at least watch the theatrical trailer available on Youtube. Its style of animation and science fiction-themed story is truly unique. Even after 40+ years it still holds up very well.
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3 Comments Add yours
This is the first time I’ve heard of this. I might have to rent it on Amazon Prime in the near future. That and Wizards (1977).
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If you still have a VCR you can borrow my copy.
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50 years later it’s nice to look back and see how old sophisticated animation could achieve such things for films like Fantastic Planet that today’s CGI probably couldn’t. That says much about times when human imagination was the most predominating source of creativity in our SF. Thank you for this article and Happy 50th for Fantastic Planet.
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