Review: Fantastic Planet (1973)

Composer: Alain Goraguer

Label: DC Recordings  

Catalogue Nr.: DC33CD

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Back in the days when Disney ruled the animation genre with family-friendly musicals, only a handful of adult-oriented animation films were made that actually managed to become a decent success. René Laloux's film Fantastic Planet, a French-Czechoslovakian co-production and the special award winner of the Cannes Film Festival 1973, even was a tad more daunting as one of the first full length animated films to deal with science-fiction as well as highly social critic contents. On a faraway planet, a primitive population of humans called Oms exists in the shadow of the giant Draags who keep domestic Oms as pets while killing those Oms living in the wilderness like varmint. The story is focused on Om Terr, whose mother was killed by child Draags but he was rescued by a young Draag named Tewa who keeps him as a pet and let him participate on her educational psychic lessons. One day, Terr escapes with the device that makes those lessons possible and thus brings the Draag knowledge to the Oms in the wilderness which ultimately leads to a rebellion against the Draags. While the animation of the film is rather bleak, the fantasy that went into the design of the completely weird alien environment is stunning and since this is a French-Czechoslovakian movie it freely shows the naked truth... in every possible way! Needless to say this one is not for your kids except if you either want to send them to a psychiatrist or want to face some really delicate questions.

The score:

If the film's visuals were a result of high drug consume, its psychedelic score by French jazz arranger Alain Goraguer, which stands as one of the weirdest creations in film music history, most certainly was. Take the typically funky lounge music of the early 70's with its slap bass and atmospheric guitars and add a small orchestral ensemble, sound effects samples, Hammond organ, choir as well as theremin and you get a really weird crossover music that is best described as a filmmusic-Picasso. However, the weirdest aspect of this musical creation is that it works so hauntingly well in the film. The way Goraguer is using contemporary orchestrations is slightly comparable to Ron Grainer's score for The Omega Man (1971) while the combination of the various elements creates a more generic, psychedelic feeling. The album is focused on the more melodic parts consisting of two signature ideas while a lot of the more experimental cues that mainly deal with environmental sound design was left off.

The first main idea as introduced in "Générique" is rather simplistic and more a rhythmic figure for slap bass rather than a true melody but its signature effect is evident as the basis of the majority of the underscore. A nice quasi-love theme as heard in "Ten Et Tiwa Dorment" stands for the relationship between Tiwa and her pet Terr and mainly consists of flutes and female choir. A great film music moment in the film should be mentioned: In one scene, both Tiwa and Terr explore the nature during a special season on the planet when crystals are quickly growing on the surface. These crystals appear to be solid but they can easily be destroyed by whistling high tones. Of course both characters have a lot of fun while running through the crystals and whistling the love theme! Basically the entire material from the beginning when Terr grows up as Tiwa's pet contains the love theme in one way or the other. A bouncy variation of the theme comes with "The Bracelet", "Ten Et Tiwa" and "Maquillage De Tiwa". "Conseil De Draags" is a beautifully classical cue with harpsichord and flute underlining pictures of a human society that is long destroyed.

The love theme also represents the meditation of the Draags which elevates them into higher forms of existence. "Meditation Des Enfants" and the waltz version of the theme in "Les Fusées" all underline the mental abilities of the Draags. As Terr is leaving the safety of Tiwa's home and joins the wild oms, the music becomes more edgy and atonal, often with a faster pace than the relaxing stuff before. Some of these passages such as "La Cité De Hommes Libres", "Attaque De Robots" or "L'oiseau" are highly disturbing due to the effective use of the theremin, percussion effects and electronic samples. The opening idea is reprised as the Draags are whiping out the wild Oms accompanied by both "De-Hominisation" cues as well as "Mort De Draag" with a more subdued, almost elegiac variation on the slap bass figure for the mass murder. The resolution is scored with a reprise of the love theme as heard in "Les Hommes - La Grande Co-Existence" that was unused in the film.

 

RATING:

Score as heard in the film: 90%

Score as heard on CD: 60%

TOTAL: 75%

 

The presentation:

This album came out in 2000 and is essentially a re-issue of an old LP that came out by the time of the film's release. It contains the same 38 minutes of music with slightly improved sound quality. Liner notes are detailed with a biography of Goraguer and a couple of full page stills from some of the film's memorable visuals. As mentioned before, some of the more experimental passages were left off in favour of the more musical cues that are represented in random order and don't correspond to the chronological order from the film. Although this was certainly a wise decision, a little bit more of the unusual sound creations would have been welcomed. Anyways the album as it is lead to a much more accessible and satisfying listening experience.

Presentation by the Label: 71%

 

Summary:

Alain Goraguer's score for Fantastic Planet certainly belongs to the strangest creations that the world of film music has ever heard. You simply have to hear it to believe it. Who would expect that theremins, hammond organs, flutes, and contemporary elements of 70's funk and jazz can work together in such a homogeneous way and work on so many different levels. The film's weird visuals are perfectly supported by the strange music while the score will loose a lot of its impact when experienced on its own and will then be degraded to nothing more than alien lounge music. It strongly relies on the film just like the film relies on the score to be fully functional.

Review by Andreas Creutzburg

 

                   Tracklisting:

01. Deshominisation (II) (00:54)
02. Deshominisation (I) (03:50)
03. Générique (00:44)
04. Le Bracelet (01:27)
05. Ten Et Tiwa (01:46)
06. Maquillage De Tiwa (01:17)
07. Course De Ten (00:53)
08. Ten Et Medor (01:47)
09. Ten Et Tiwa Dorment (00:49)
10. Ten Est Assomé (00:45)
11. Abite (00:52)
12. Conseil Des Draags (00:56)
13. Les Hommes - La Grande Co-Existence (01:15)
14. La Femme (02:12)
15. Mira Et Ten (00:44)
16. Mort De Draag (00:52)
17. L'Oiseau (02:28)
18. La Cité Des Hommes Libres (00:51)
19. Attaque Des Robots (02:05)
20. La Longue Marche - Valse Des Statues (02:16)
21. Les Fusées (02:20)
22. Générique (02:07)
23. Strip Tease (02:24)
24. Méditation Des Enfants (01:33)
25. La Vieille Meurt (00:46)