Fantastic Planet is a film so alien, yet so frighteningly familiar, that the act of watching it is a kind of transgressive experience. Its style and images are unlike anything my generation has to reference it against, and yet its themes and fears are woven into the fabric of every society. A bizarre collaboration between Czech and French filmmakers (and released in the US by Roger Corman), Fantastic Planet is both particular to its time and applicable to any. Although the film was based on the Soviet Occupation of the Czech Republic, its fears– of oppression, conflict, misunderstanding, genocide– are unfortunately universal.
The film takes place on said fantastic planet (sometimes ‘wild’ planet or ‘savage’ planet) where an alien race know as Draags are the dominant species, and human beings (known as Oms, a play on the French hommes, meaning ‘man’) are tiny pests that are, at best, kept as pets by Draag children and, at worst, exterminated in large numbers. An orphaned Om (whose mother is accidentally killed by a group of innocent Om children) is taken as a pet and named Terr (a play on the French terre, meaning ‘Earth’). Terr’s owner inadvertently transfers knowledge to her pet while she is receiving her education via a headset that transmits it directly into her brain. Terr escapes with the headset and encounters a group of wild Oms, where his knowledge is looked upon as a threat by the ruling class of wizards. Meanwhile, the Draags have begun to ramp up their exterminations, and unless the Oms can pull themselves together, they face being wiped out entirely.
The Draags aren’t the only threat the Oms face, as the creatures of the planet both feed off them and murder them for no reason. The planet itself is hostile and frighteningly gorgeous, and while the film’s writing and political commentary is acute and sharp, it is the imagery that lives beyond the frame. Surreal, bizarre and unimaginably beautiful, the hand-drawn illustrations far surpass even the most memorable computer-generated animation. Watching Fantastic Planet is a hypnotic, occasionally upsetting experience, that best epitomizes what film can do– it interrogates and it transforms.
Britta R. Moline 1/21/12