Correcting past mistakes

Market tuning misses original's intent

Published: Jul 13 2015, 01:01:am

Friday, July 15, 1988.
LIGHT YEARS (Gandahar). Written by Isaac Asimov. Based on an original French-language screen adaptation of Jean-Pierre Andrevon's novel Les hommes-machines contra Gandahar. Music by Jack Maeby, Bob Jewett, Jim Klein and Gabriel Yared. Directed by René Laloux. Running time: 79 minutes. (Original running time: 83 minutes.) Mature entertainment with the B.C. Classifier's warning: some violence and nudity.
BAMBI IS BACK. ORIGINALLY released in 1942 and currently [1988] enjoying a summer re-release, Disney's cartoon classic remains one of the all-time great animated features.
    Roger Rabbit is still going strong. One of the most ambitious animation efforts ever, it made a solid first impression when it opened [in June 1988] and continues to delight audiences.
    Family-friendly cartoons are a going concern. But, I hear you ask, what happened to adult animation, that attention-grabbing trend from the early 1970s?
    Ralph Bakshi, who pioneered the genre with his 1971 feature Fritz the Cat, has retrenched and retreated. He's currently producing a Mighty Mouse cartoon series for Saturday morning television.
      Italy's Bruno Bozzetto,  whose Allegro non Troppo (1976) was a sophisticated parody of Disney's Fantasia, is now directing live-action features. Canada's Gerald Potterton directed 1981's Heavy Metal for producer Ivan Reitman and hasn't been heard from since.
    One of the few adult animators who continues to soldier on is René Laloux, the French director who beguiled fantasy fans with his 1973 feature La planete sauvage (seen locally as The Fantastic Planet).
    Last year, Laloux went to Cannes with Gandahar, a science-fictional quest tale set on a Utopian world suddenly beset by invaders. To provide the dialogue for a re-edited English-language version, the picture's U.S. distributor called upon one of the genre's most famous writers, Isaac Asimov.
    The prolific Asimov produced a thoughtful, craftsmanlike screenplay. It was recorded using the voice talents of such skilled performers as Glenn Close, Christopher Plummer and Jennifer Grey.
    Renamed Light Years for the North American maket, it is rendered in an art style reminiscent of the French fantasy comics magazine Métal Hurlant.  It tells the story of Sylvain (the voice of John Shea), son of the Gandahar's Queen Ambisextra (Close)
    Sent forth to find out who is invading their land, he discovers a subterranean race of gentle, deformed mutants, an army of implacable black robots and Metamorphis (Plummer), a huge, self-sustaining brain with a sinister secret.
     He also finds a woman to love in the adventurous Airelle (Grey).
    Along the way, Sylvain discovers that Gahdahar's idyllic tranquility was bought at a price. The bio-genetic mistakes from his world's past now imperil its future.
    As in The Fantastic Planet, Laloux manages to bring together an interesting story with some imaginative overall design concepts. Here, his artistic collaborator is Philippe Cazaumayou, the French comic book artist and Métal Hurlant contributor known as Caza.
    Unlike The Fantastic Planet, which was animated in Jiri Trnka's Prague studios, Light Years' animation was farmed out to SEK, a Korean studio. As a result, the picture's many interesting ideas and inventive visual concepts are undercut by a stilted, Saturday Morning factory animation look.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1988. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: For more on the career of René Laloux, read the afterword to my review of his 1973 feature The Fantastic Planet. Only later did I become aware of the extent to which American distributor Miramax worked its will upon his 1988 feature Gandahar.  Under Harvey Weinstein's "direction," a nude scene suggesting intimacy between the Sylvain and Airelle characters disappeared from the film, and other sequences were re-edited. Sadly, most of composer Gabriel Yared's original score was not pleasing to Weinstein's ears, and so was replaced with new sounds supplied by Jack Maeby, Bob Jewett and Jim Klein. The good news is that the emergence of digital technology has made it possible for us to retrieve much of our cinema heritage once lost to us. On what would have been his 86th birthday (July 13), Laloux's original works are all out there to be found and enjoyed on our home-theatre screens.