Eureka's new Blu-ray is encoded via MPEG-4 and the resulting 1080p transfer of Laloux's 1.66:1 image is often breathtaking. You aren't going to completely eradicate the signs of its early 70's vintage - and, arguably, if you succeeded in doing that, you would have completely altered the vital look and texture of the film - but this transfer is crisp, vibrant, colourful and as cleanly detailed as it could be. Little contrast wavers are unavoidable, as are tiny little flecks and nicks dotted about the otherwise robust picture. Occasionally, there is a strip of bluish, over-exposed film at one or the other outer edge of the frame, but when it occurs it is brief and easily overlooked.
Colours are as bold as they can be given the desired palette and the age of the print. Browns, greens and yellows tend to be earthy and are often the province of the Oms. The brighter and deeper the colour, the more Draag-fixated it will be. The snooker-ball eyes of the Draags glow an impressive red, and their blue sheen is smooth and consistent. By far the most variety of hue is to be found in the landscapes and the settings, which take in all manner of design. So, the film is rapturous to behold, but this is not like Disney's highly distinctive capturing and taming of rainbows. If anything, the image appears far more textured, more “weathered”, as a result, even though the overall picture remains decidedly flat.
There's nothing impenetrable offered by the black levels, but I have no doubt that they are almost certainly the strongest that they can look, and provide the what is a mostly bright image with some fine shadows and atmosphere when necessary. You only have to look at the darker rings around the Draag eyes to see the clean edges and the depth compared to the surrounding blue skin and red pupils. Contrast, away from the fluctuations that come with the age of the print, is good, providing the image with well-delineated lighter and darker elements . This is not the type of material to go scrutinising fine detail in. But the thing is, I have absolutely no doubt that everything Topor and the other animators put into this film is present and correct here. The details lie in the shadings, the subtle textures on faces, on the terrain and within the vast machinery. Broad strokes, yes, but the disc doesn't miss a thing. Occasionally the animation seems a touch jerky, but this is down to the style and the photography and is not a fault of the transfer which is dreamy and organic.
The transfer exhibits no glaring edge enhancement, no distracting aliasing or banding, and boasts an authentic grain texture throughout. There might be a touch of more fizzy noise here and there, but what's that between Oms? This is a very strong and dependable transfer from Eureka that certainly shows the film off to the best.
Interestingly, Eureka have supplied the disc with two alternate soundtracks, both rendered in clean and hiss-free DTS-HD MA 2.0. The first track is, without doubt, the one that you should listen to ... mainly. This is the original French language option that the film was recorded in. The second track is the rarely heard US dub mix, which is certainly a fine option, if only because the educational voice of the Draag headphones sounds like the female voice that introduces us to John Carpenter's 1997 maximum security penitentiary of Manhattan Island in Escape From New York.
In both cases, the dialogue is very clean and sharp. The French track, in fact, is deceptively loud when it comes to the voices. Not an error in the mix, I should add, but rather a crucial factor in determining the sheer faithfulness of this clean and dynamic reproduction when it comes our French cousins forthright verbiage. Having said that, I still found myself turning the volume down a touch when some of the Draag council voices rose in heated exchange.
Bombast is largely absent - despite those imposing Draag voices - and fine detail is often dealt a cool hand that sort of blankets it from standing out. The shattering of the crystal weeds, for example, is conducted via a high-pitched whistle from Tiwa, but neither the whistle nor the crackling shards comes over with anything but rudimentary detail. Various sound effects, however, can be disconcertingly vivid, so be on your toes during some audio-strobing. Needless to say, Alain Goraguer's score has a warmth and depth to it that comes over well and suffuses the otherwise limited soundscape with its avant-garde and woozy presentation. There are times when it comes to resemble a more flipped-out incarnation of the electronic score for the classic Forbidden Planet that Louis and Bebe Barron, which is probably very apt.
Both audio tracks are clean and free from background hiss, crackle or drop-out. Overall, Eureka have done as well with the audio transfers as they have for the video counterpart.
Eureka come up trumps with a great package to help fans max-out on the weird psychedelia of the Gallic animator. Not only do we get a fabulous 56-page illustrated booklet featuring essays and interviews, but we get the full 25-track score from Alain Goraguer - sadly not on a separate CD, which would have been far more preferable - as well as five short films from Laloux that basically chart his career all the way around his gargantuan production of Fantastic Planet, and a fine half-hour documentary from Florence Dauman that seeks to explore his life, legacy and outstanding contribution to filmmaking.
The five shorts are all animated and in French with English subtitles, except for the famously surreal Les escargots, from 1965, which is without dialogue.
The documentary (again in French with English subs) hails from 2003 in which we hear about how he met with Topor and how the events of his life shaped the style of his films, with his predilection for surrealism and schizophrenic framework narratives.
Les dents du singe (1960) - Laloux's first film, Monkey's Teeth, was apparently the result of the director's experiences in a very forward-thinking psychiatric hospital in which the inmates were encouraged to be creative. Indeed, they were the ones who provided the drawings, with the overall scenario something of a collaborative endeavour. (14 mins)
Les temps morts (1964) - Dead Times is a strange and dark little piece that concerns itself with murder, war-time atrocity and man's morbid fascination with death. Roland Topor collaborated with Laloux for the first time on this short, providing black-and-white drawings to sit alongside disturbing documentary footage. (10 mins)
Les escargots (1965) - The Snails is wacky and surreal tale about a farmer who is plagued by giant snails as he tries to coax his ailing cabbages and carrots to life. Again, Laloux teamed up with Topor. This one went on to win a bevy of awards, and the success of which was what prompted him to make a full-length animated film - and Fantastic Planet was born out of this. (12 mins)
Comment Wang-Fo fut sauve (1987) - How Wang-Fo Was Saved is the ravishingly depicted Oriental fable about a famous artist whose gift for making his paintings so beautiful that it makes you scorn reality becomes a curse when he incurs the wrath of the emperor. Awesome. (15 mins)
La prisonniere (1988) - The Captive is about two orphans who escape from war and destruction to a bizarre city where noise is considered chaos and the guardian of silence rule ... literally trying to keep the peace. (7 mins)
This is a wonderful collection of material that is challenging, experimental, haunting and amusing. It is well worth your time and effort discovering the ideas and themes that Laloux explores so eloquently.
Eureka pull out all the stops with a terrific presentation of this unlikely but highly acclaimed SF offering. The animation is sublime and hypnotic, the story as fascinating for the things it doesn't reveal as for the things it does. Overflowing with ideas both thematic and visual, Fantastic Planet taps into humanity's ceaseless obsession with intolerance, slavery and genocide, gives the heady stew a surrealist stir and then serves it all up with those quintessential spices of the devoutly fantastique. Cute without being saccharine, violent with being shocking, Laloux's film is a spellbinding exercise in the otherworldly. His love of psychedelia and schizophrenic narrative structure is prevalent and forms a winning combination. Dream up any of those fabulous SF book jackets or illustrations from Weird or Astounding Tales and ramp up their mesmerising invention tenfold and you begin approach the splendour of Fantastic Planet.
A great transfer is complemented with a fine set of extras that dive into the mind of the film's creator and show us some other examples of his eclectic oeuvre. A comprehensive booklet rounds out an enthralling package.
Part Pierre Boulle, part Terry Gilliam, Fantastic Planet is a rare sensory and cerebral treat in an age when spectacle often comes at the expense of originality and intelligence. Fantastic by name and certainly fantastic by nature, Eureka's new hi-def release comes very highly recommended.
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