Sunday, January 14, 2007

Gandahar (1988)

Gandahar (René Laloux, 1988)
a.k.a. Light Years

Gandahar is probably the closest René Laloux ever came in replicating the level of sophistication he gave alien civilizations in The Fantastic Planet (1973). He opens the film with an overview of a seaside community: blue skinned humanoids living life in utter simplicity. Laloux presents the planet of Gandahar as a utopian paradise where everything is in joyful order; nature and civilization coincide like connecting puzzle pieces (a plant gives birth to a pet, the pet is then taken care of by a female Gandaharian by breastfeeding it). The supposed peace is disrupted when laser rays start targeting the peaceful Gandaharians, turning them into stone.

Laloux cuts to the capital of Gandahar, Jasper. Beneath the carved bust of a female Gandaharian, the council of elders is debating on who to send to uncover the mysterious enemies of Gandahar. Sylvain is chosen; and is sent to the vast ocean to learn more about Gandahar's attackers, an army of metal men. On the way, he discovers an underground civilization of deformed Gandaharians (botched experiments of Jasper who were completely forgotten), and an oversized brain (again, another botched experiment of Jasper thrown to the sea when it was getting too big to destroy).

It's an interesting concept, sprawling in its seemingly unlimited area of creation; which is perfect for the highly imaginative Laloux. Laloux eats up the concept, and populates the alien world with a civilization that becomes too advanced (probably not industrially; but the scientific experimentations to turn nature into a tool for advancement cannot relate Gandahar as naturally perfect), too selfish and perfectionist (the deformed Gandaharias have turned into a mere tall tale; and instead of turning them into a distinct class, Gandahar has totally forgotten them (class structures cannot exist in a Utopian society)), and too complacent that it is almost powerless to any external struggle. The plot relies on time travel for its movement; Sylvain seems to be the chosen one to enact the prophecy but the prophecy's cyclical syntax connotes an impetus for salvation. I suggest that the sudden appearance of the Gandaharian dinosaur-like creature that saves Sylvain and love interest Airelle from their egg-shaped cell as the impetus; Sylvain thought that the dinosaur as extinct; I thought that the dinosaur is one of those Gandaharian creatures that have escaped Gandahar's god-like machinations and is therefore the proper turning point (it being pure from Gandahar's "sins against nature") that could enact the cyclical prophecy and in turn save Gandahar.

Gandahar is released in the United States as Light Years. The plot remains relatively unchanged except that the script was revised by Isaac Asimov, the music is modified to include generic sci-fi melodics and sound effects, the director's credit shamelessly grabbed by Harvey Weinstein. Asimov's translation turns Laloux's film into an unexciting talkfest; Asimov delights in several voice-over narrations, suggests a maternal relation between the Gandaharian queen Ambisextra and Sylvain, lightens the romantic angle between Sylvain and Airelle. Asimov's screenplay is also riddled with hyphaluting wordplay, which somehow lessens the natural transition of Laloux's original film --- the result is a disorienting flow, a boringly sexless characterization, and an inevitably less enjoyable film. Harvey Weinstein does employ several actors and actresses to provide voice talents for the characters (Glenn Close as Ambisextra, Christopher Plummer as Metamorphis the evil oversized brain). However, the delivery remains flat; presumably because of Asimov's distancing semantics.

Seeing both versions, I cannot deny that Laloux's final feature film is indeed a worthy feature; still miles away from his masterpiece The Fantastic Planet, but definitely up and above Time Masters (1982). Even with Weinstein's mutated Light Years, you can still observe Laloux's undeniable artistry and imagination in cooking up an alien civilization complete with its social and governmental structures, and biological make-up.

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