Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Movies of Moebius: Les Maîtres du temps (1982)

Les Maîtres du temps (also known as Masters of Time) seems like it should be great. It was directed by René Laloux and designed by Moebius. The two of them should have been able to create a visionary masterpiece of animation.

And the truth is, they did, if you adjust your expectations a little.

Although based on the 1958 novel The Orphan of Perdide by Stefan Wul, the plot is secondary to the visuals. It's mostly about a boy named Piel who is stranded on a planet and space pirate Jaffar is sent to go save him.

Or something. As much danger Piel seems to be in, Jaffar and evil exiled prince Matton, his sister Belle, and old friend Silbad spend a lot of time talking and more or less just kind of hanging out. There's little urgency in terms rescuing Piel. And weird stuff that has nothing to do with anything happens -- like a planet where everyone turns into faceless angels and Piel encounters strange creatures on the planet he's on. It goes absolutely nowhere fast, until a resolution comes out of nowhere.

But to want a plot from this movie is maybe asking a bit too much. It is, rightfully so, all about the trippy -- and usually beautiful -- visuals. Much time in spent deliberating over the freaky angel-like creatures and alien landscapes. Two childlike creatures named Yula and Jad have their share of screen time, discussing various philosophical concepts about living. The film's not about the ultimate goal of saving Piel -- it's about everything that leads us to there.

Still, this is the kind of movie you're either going to connect with or you're not. I don't think there's too much middle ground. If the odd and often complexly dazzling look of the movie and its purposeful pacing doesn't appeal to you, Les Maîtres du temps will probably just confuse you at best or bore you at worst.

I know both Moebius and Laloux were disappointed with the final product, but that actually makes me a little sad. The movie is far from perfect, but in many ways, its imperfections is its strength. A more straightforward film would not have been as interesting, even if it would've been more satisfying.

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