Time Masters – Rene Laloux – 1982

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1982’s Time Masters marked the collaboration of two artistic giants, Jean Giraud and Rene Laloux. Giraud had been lauded for his work in Heavy Metal and his design work in Alien, and Laloux had made what is considered a masterpiece of science fiction, Fantastic Planet. Together these gentlemen, (along with novelist Stefan Wul who also wrote the novel Fantastic Planet was based on), would craft a stellar science-fiction children’s tale that is both thoughtful and heart warming. It is also crazy weird and tons of fun!

The film begins with a child stranded on a hostile planet with nothing left to his aid but a communicator. This radio allows him contact to his father’s friend Jaffar, many galaxies away. Piel, the child, does not understand how this contact works but the people on Jaffar’s ship are challenged with helping a kid survive on a hostile planet from a trillion miles away.

The planet Piel lands on is amazingly designed. The swaying and swooping plants are colorful and otherworldly. His alien experience is ours and the originality of the designs begs for our response to such an environment. Worse/better, our proxy on this other world is an innocent child, so our investment level is high. We worry about his welfare on this dangerous planet. The planet is called Perdide, or Perdition.

Jaffar must stop on the way and wait for some planetary alignment before he can continue after Piel. On the planet he stops lives an old man with vast personal knowledge of Perdide. This Old Man offers to help the folks find the boy.

Jaffar is on his ship with his lady friend, the old man, and a stowaway prince who ripped off his kingdom and paid Jaffar for a ticket to anywhere.  Also, there are these amazing characters that are gnomes, little robot looking fairies that fly around and get drunk on the emotions of others. I love the idea of super-empath gnomes and these guys are beautifully articulate and provide much of the comic relief in a Guildenstern and Rosencrantz sort of way.

A word about the planet Jaffar stops on. It’s practically Naboo from the Star Wars new trilogy. The designs here, the waterfront temple stuff, it is all here. Even the watercraft is the same. I’m just saying, Giraud does great work here that GL ripped off.

Back on the ship, the old man has taken up the mic and his helping Piel through the woods. He directs him to drink some mildly sedative berry juice and plays him a banjo song! The design of this scene is cool as well, as the old man sits on a glass floor with fish swimming around underneath while he picks and grins. As Jaffar presses him about the safety of the berry juice the old man tells him, “Believe me, I know from experience!”

Piel meets a funny creature and yells into its butt. The Suessian centaur picks up Piel and puts it astride it and they march through the forest. But before long Piel and his new friend are separated. He is alone again when the shitty prince begins to guide him to the lake and tell him to swim to the middle of the lake in an attempt to drown the kid. I guess this dickhole thinks that if the kid is dead they won’t go to Perdide anymore, but Jaffar catches him and throws his ass in the brig. Then after a long argument about the nature of values and concepts the gnomes decide to release the doomed prince to the one of the weirdest planets ever.  Gamma 10.

See, the gnomes shot Ol’ Princey down to Gamma 10 sure that he would be destroyed by the incredible psychic presence they felt and defined as “Pure Thought”. Only Jaffar thought the Prince was escaping so he chased after him like a fool. The subtext here is rich and I believe it to read that self-righteous actions lead to dangerous grounds of ideology. The inhabitants of Gamma 10 are faceless white Angels who preach unity and sameness. They take capture Jaffar and the prince and take them inside a crazy hive temple thing to feed them to a blob of protoplasm, that “thought” the gnomes were so fearful of.

The prince sacrifices himself and the gnomes help Jaffar escape. It is interesting that the film redeems the evil prince and even promotes self-sacrifice, two notions associated with Christianity, however he uses them as a mode of battle against same-thinking or autonomy. I like to think of Time Masters as the anti-Avatar. Allow me to elaborate.

In Avatar, those cat-giants plug their braids into the ground and animals creating a seamless organic network. Cameron creates an organic analog for what is technological autonomy. Social Networking becomes the hive mind, and Avatar cleverly disguises that “plug-me-in” mentality as something organic. On Gamma 10, once the prince defeats the blob of pure thought, all of those plugged in revert from blank faced angels into a host of alien and human individuals. One film represents a value of individuality over a vacuous host, and another preaches unity and oneness in a glamorous and sexy way.

Overtly satirical aside aside, the plot returns to our lost little boy, Piel. Piel is confronted by a legion of hornet creatures larger than a man. They attack and sting him.

Meanwhile the most stunning revelation of all has come. The old man has died as they arrive at the planet where they are to rescue Piel. The Time Masters purchased the planet. Their unique ability allows them to throw planets back in time and have them be developed and habitable for when they move in. Just as Piel would be killed a man rescues him. He lives a full life and has become the Old Man! The Old Man is Piel! No wonder he could help the kid with such personal knowledge of Perdide! It was he, talking to himself!

I’m not sure about the science of the movie, but the heart is more than in the right place. Great characters, great locations and design and a great adventure make up what I consider Rene Laloux’s masterpiece. Great for kids from 8 to 80!

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