Les Maîtres du temps [FR 1982]

Info: I embedded the full movie below (English dub version).

International title: Time Masters

THE PLOT

After an accident on the planet Perdide, the young boy Piel lost his father and is all alone in a hostile environment. Piel only has an egg-shaped transmitter to hold contact with the other crew members. The captain, Jaffar, immediately starts a rescue mission and fetches Silbad, an old friend of his, who is familiar with the environment on Perdide. However, another crew member, Prince Matton, has stolen cargo, which is why he tries to sabotage the mission, to escape police custody. Things really get complicated when Jaffar and Matton are trapped on another hostile planet, Gamma 10, and need to fight their way back to the spaceship.

WHAT I LIKE

Les Maîtres du temps has a remarkably unique art style – the spaceships, the machinery, and the strange planets all share a recognizable and visionary style. For one, the level of detail in some still frames (e.g., the spaceships) is amazing. But the locations also feels organic, e.g. when the crew visits Silbad’s place or the creature design on Gamma 10. This eerie atmosphere is further supported by the wonderful synth score that mostly features electronic and ambient sounds. And although the beginning is a bit rough, the plot is also intriguing, featuring some thrilling scenes (e.g., on Gamma 10), but also some more somber or even funny moments, e.g. Piel’s interaction with the bird-like creature. The twist ending is emotionally touching and still works, even if it makes use of a time travel theme/trope, which in 2020 is probably more well-known than in the early 1980s.

WHAT I DON’T LIKE

Although the general art direction is pretty fascinating, which is why many still frames look amazing, the animation quality is often crude. Emotional dialogues are sometimes not as gripping, as the faces are all too often only fixed images, and character movements are generally choppy, which makes the characters look wooden. Plot-wise, the lack of exposition – or general background information, for that matter – may put some viewers off. Most characters are not properly introduced and the viewer rarely gets more information about the locations. Even though the latter may add to the ominous and strange atmosphere of the universe, the lack of background information and the somewhat rushed ending can also be frustrating. Lastly, although the movie was initially promoted as a children’s movie, due to animation in the 1980s being foremost for younger audiences, many elements of the plot, especially the central twist are probably hard to understand for most children.

THE VERDICT

Les Maîtres du temps (international title: Time Masters) is an animated science fiction movie about a rescue mission of a young boy, lost on a hostile and strange planet. The movie features a wonderfully unique art direction that is used to create a strange but fascinatingly atmospheric universe – even if the animation quality for movements and characters’ facial expressions are of a noticeably lower quality. The ominous 1980s synth score also efficiently brings the hostile locations to life. Plot-wise the movie lacks a thorough exposition and the ending may seem rushed to some viewers – but the central ideas are intriguing and the main plot twist is still believable and emotionally touching. Overall, Les Maîtres du temps is a wonderful example of how an imaginative art direction can create a thrilling science fiction epic.

Overall 8/10

INTERESTING FACTS

Les Maîtres du temps was a collaboration between the French animation director René Laloux (e.g., Fantastic Planet [1973] and Gandahar [1987]) and French animator Jean Giraud, better known as Moebius. It is an adaptation of the novel “L’Orphelin de Perdide” (“The Orphan of Perdide”) by Stefan Wul – who also wrote the novel which Fantastic Planet [1973] was based on. Moebius was famous for his fantastical concept art, having contributed to the unreleased Dune adaptation of Alejandro Jodorowsky (cp. Jodorowsky’s Dune [2013]), as well as Alien [1979], Tron [1982], The Fifth Element [1997], and The Abyss [1989].

 – There are numerous differences between the movie and the original novel: names have been changed (e.g., Piel was also named Claude and Jaffar was called Max); Prince Matton doesn’t die a hero on Gamma 10 protecting Jaffar, but rather while on a flight attempt; Gamma 10 doesn’t have a hive mind, but simply a giant monster; there are no floating homunculi in the novel; and the origin of the time travel was changed.

– While the novel is named “The Orphan of Perdide”, the original movie title was “Traps/Trappings of the Future”.

 – Initial Hungarian reviews criticized the art direction while defending the animation quality – probably because the movie was mostly animated in Hungary. However, director Marcell Jankovics (e.g., Az Ember Trédiája), stated that Pannónia Film Studios were really lacking in expertise on movements and facial expressions at the time.

– The movie, as well as the original novel, elaborate on the twin paradox, as proposed by Paul Langevin in 1911, based on Einstein’s theory of relativity. Whereas in the movie, there are time masters who can manipulate time itself, the travel at light speed was the origin of time dilation in the novel.

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