“In 1,000 years, Gandahar was destroyed and all of its people killed. 1,000 years ago it will be saved and the inevitable avoided.” -The Deformed
“Gandahar,” is a french animated film created in 1988 and animated and directed by René Laloux. The film is based off the french Novel Les Hommes-machines contre Gandahar (“The Machine Men versus Gandahar”) by Jean-Pierre Andrevon a story I very much want to find an English translation to after watching this film. I watched it in French with English Subtitles, though I heard the English dub. is good. I just like to watch things in as close to the original as possible.
The film takes place on the planet Gandahar as the natives deal with a new threat of metal men who are destroying them. The primary protagonist is Sylvain sent from the Capital of Jasper on a mission from the Council of Women. It is from here the conflict unfolds.
Here is my assessment:
The Pros: The animation – The animation is fantastic. It flows, and the style is unique. I have not seen any animation like it before this, which makes me want to check out more of Laloux’s work. His work is colorful and surreal, almost like you are watching a dream take place.
The Factions of Gandahar – One thing that this movie did really well was creating unique cultures and people. Each of them is different and distinct and though they are inspired by tropes, end up being well rounded for a story that is essentially a sci. fi./fantasy fairy tale.
The People of Jasper – The people of the capital are ruled by The Council of Women who are lead by Ambisextra (what an awesome name!) The women do not wear shirts and let their breasts hang loose verses the men who are robed and in skin tight suits. It is is done in a non-sexual way too showing the alienness of the people. Also, Women Council’s leading is something that doesn’t happen enough, even in sci. fi.
The Deformed – Are you a group of mutants who have powers that allow them to destroy things with their mind. They were experiments by the natives and afterwords were cast out. Their distrust of the Capital is understandable for this reason…though they even help stop the Metal Men and become the rebels against the Metal Men. They are the ones who have a prophecy because of their powers that allowed them to glimpse the future. The prophecy is the one at the start, “In 1,000 years, Gandahar was destroyed and all of its people killed. 1,000 years ago it will be saved and the inevitable avoided.” It is this foresight that allows them to be such a threat to Metamorphosis and his Metal Men. Besides Ambisextra and Metamorphosis these guys were what kept me most interested in the film.
The Metal Men – Are ruled by Metamorphosis, a living brain (think Overmind from Starcraft) who wishes to live and does so by taking others energy and power and making them a part of it. The Metal Men carry parts of within them and have no sense of self. They are a great enemy faction being both like the Cybermen and the Borg but ruled by the Overmind. They are attacking from the future and the Door of Time that was built by Metamorphosis so he would have an infinite source of life to feed off of.
The characters – The characters are surprisingly deep and outside of the main character, pretty enjoyable to watch. Ambisextra is a badass leader and the head scientist who is Sylvain’s mentor is pretty cool too. He is the one who figures out how to kill Metamorphosis. Metamorphisis is great too…we see that he wants to die knowing that he will go bad, but only after he goes bad. He sends Sylvain in the past to do so. I kind of wish the movie had focused more on him. He drives the plot and is the most interesting person besides the members of the Deformed and Ambisextra. His death is pretty cool and reminds me of Hal’s death in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but more reflective than crazy.
The Message – The Message is pretty great, at first it seems like is going to go cop out, “Avatar,” “Fern Gully,” approach and make it nature verses tech…but it doesn’t since those who were changed end up being liberators and writing the wrongs (the Deformed) and though nature is used to fight, so is technology. The cultures are unique and more than simply tropes.
The key message is relationships though, just like the natives have gotten to the point of a give and take with nature while still being able to invent and live so do they eventually become in relationship with their rejected children the Deformed. It is the one who dominates and destroys and loses the caring that lead him to sending Sylvain in the future to destroy him. It is once all relationships are dead and tyranny reigns that Gandahar is destroyed, it is in relationship that the world thrives.
Okay: Sylvain – The main protagonist just isn’t all that interesting. He achieves his purpose of being our stand-in though. We see the world and characters through his eyes…I just wish we knew more about him besides his acceptance of the Deformed (we never see his people reject them which would have made his acceptance mean something), and his love with Arielle is sweet, but rushed. She exists primarily as a love interest and not much else.
The music – It is a mixture of techno and sci. fi. making it very 80’s but not very memorable. I wouldn’t seek out the music in this film.
I would recommend this film for anyone who enjoys sci. fi. and animated films. The animation is beautiful and the sci. fi. cultures and concepts are really well explored. The world is the strongest part of this story and Sylvain doesn’t hurt the story, even if he doesn’t help it. The message of relationship is key throughout and really important. The film feels like a Miyazaki film that way, but done with high sci. fi. It is for all these reasons listed above that it is now a favorite that I recommend.
My final score for this film is 9.5 / 10.