The Oscar Project
I can’t believe we are about 1/3 of the way through this challenge already. I don’t know about you, but I am so glad I have been given the push to watch some of the films on my list this year, especially the ones I’ve been putting off for a while.
This week we are watching an Animated Film and this was the first time in the challenge that I watched something I had already seen. Granted, I only watched this film for the first time back in January, but I had to watch it a second time in preparation for writing this post to refresh my memory on it. The film in question is the 1973 surrealist science fiction film, Fantastic Planet. The original French title is La planète sauvage which more accurately translates to The Wild Planet, which I actually prefer.
I originally watched this on a recommendation from someone in a movie roulette group I’m in on Discord. Each week we get a category from the organizer along with a randomized member to give a recommendation to in that category. We then also recommend a movie to someone else, watch our recommended film, and provide a rating. The idea is to watch films you’ve never seen and expand your horizons in film watching. I’m in two of these groups and several of the films I’ve watched from these recommendations have been fantastic. Unfortunately, there are some duds as well, but that’s all part of the fun.
The other piece of bonus information I got in viewing the film on physical media was an insert in the package that had the text of an essay about the film written by Michael Brooke. The essay “Fantastic Planet: Gambous Amalga” provided additional insight into the creation of the film and is still available to read on the Criterion website. When I first watched the film, I wrote that the simple animation helped me focus on the story, but what I hadn’t realized at the time was the actual method of animation used. As Brooke notes in his essay:
“the film’s real strengths lie in Topor’s bizarre designs and the way that character designer Josef Kábrt, background designer Josef Váňa, and their animators brought them uncannily to life by the simple but very effective method of combining paper cutouts and in-camera dissolves, the better to preserve Topor’s characteristic crosshatched drawing style while keeping the budget as low as possible.”
Understanding that the images we see on the screen are actually little pieces of paper drawings that have been cut out and then manipulated to give the illusion of motion only increases my appreciation of the technical abilities put into the film. At the same time, it also frustrates me that much more that such a cool method of animation was used when the story could have been even stronger.
The last thing I have to mention might seem a little prudish, but it annoyed me even more in my second viewing than it did the first. Throughout the film, the characters, specifically the females, show more skin than we would ever seen in a traditional American animated film. The alien Draags wear outfits that seem like they intentionally highlight the breasts and nipples of the females, and the Om (human) females mostly wear loose garments that expose their breasts in many scenes. After watching the Laloux’s short films noted above, I can tell that this is not unique to Fantastic Planet, but something we see throughout his work.
Now, I don’t have a problem with seeing those things on screen, and there are plenty of films out there with female (and male) private parts on full view, but this film almost seemed to include them just for the shock value of including them. Brooke writes in the aforementioned essay that “film is perfectly suitable for children, who’ll most likely be equally unfazed by that and the Oms’ casual nudity: it’s parents who’ll be squirming uneasily in their seats,” but I would politely disagree. It’s actually not the Om nudity that gets me as that’s more natural. It’s the Draag nudity and the fact that we often get closeups of the young Draag Tiwa holding her Om Terr in her hand, with a very large and prominent nipple in the background. I don’t have a problem with it, but I also don’t think it is necessary and it certainly doesn’t do anything to advance the story. For me, especially watching the film a second time and knowing it was there, it was incredibly distracting.
In the end, I’m glad I rewatched this film and gave it another shot. I would increase my overall rating for the film from the 6 I gave it in January to a 7. After watching some of Laloux’s other work and reading a bit more about him and the film, I am interested to see some of his other work. If you’re looking for a surrealist escape from reality, especially one that might be enhanced by watching in a chemically altered state, this is one to consider.
I'm just a film buff who wants to watch great movies. Where else to find the best, than the list of those nominated by the Academy each year?