Gandahar is a utopian world of rare beauty and tranquility, the result of extensive mutation and genetic experimentation. But the perfect peace is shattered when a mysterious evil force invades this idyllic serenity, turning people into stone with petrifying rays. The Council of Women hold court and decide to send Sylvain, son of Queen Ambisextra, on a mission to destroy the enemy. Together with the beautiful and adventurous Arielle, the enemy that Sylvain eventually discovers very far from his home is the ultimate failure of Gandaharian scientific experimentation. It is a giant brain known as the Metamorphis, which has created an indestructible army of metal men to destroy Gandahar. Sylvain must battle the Metamorphis, but not until 1000 years in the future.
Directed by: René Laloux
. Starring: Pierre-Marie Escourrou
, Catherine Chevallier
, Georges Wilson
, Anny Duperey
, Jean-Pierre Ducos
, Christine Paris
, Zaira Benbabis
, Claude Degliame
, Olivier Cruveiller
, Jean-Pierre Jorris
, Dominique Maurin
, Jean-Jacques Scheffer
, Jean Saudray
. Music by: Gabriel Yared
The Harvey Weinstein-edited, American version of Rene Laloux's ambitious 1988 feature "Gandahar" is a lavish, mostly satisfying animated spectacle. It suspends Isaac Asimov's scifi philosophy, Cold-War politics and psychedelic, Daliesque imagery with conventional plotting that keeps the story clicking along briskly with an accessible, user-friendly approach. Having not seen the pre-Weistein version, it is frustrating to wonder how much of Laloux's original intent was lost in Weistein's decidedly Americanized cut, but what remains is an intelligent, fresh and well-layered fantasy romp.
Weinstein seemed to hold "Star Wars" as a reference point, as he wielded the classical, Campbellian hero structure to ground its complex visual designs in familiar storytelling. These designs immediately plunge the viewer into the peaceful alien civilization of Gandahar, a beautiful blue world inhabited by intelligent creatures who enjoy a blissful political harmony. Gandahar is so peaceful, in fact, that its leaders completely neglect technological advancement due to a universal contentedness in the progress of the civilization. Inevitably, the peace is threatened when mysterious, unidentified rays are reported in nearby areas, causing Gandahar's leaders to send their young, precocious prince Sylvain to investigate the possible alien threat.
After coming into contact with the grotesquely deformed remaining members of a previous civilization, Sylvain learns of an army of metallic soldiers who are operated by an enormous brain called the Metamorphosis. They pull their resources together and fight the army using their wits, giving way to a third act that puts its building ideas into a fine focus while also delivering the expectedly rousing action goods.
"Gandahar" grounds its thesis in the fact that a civilization's strength lies in a fully integrated sense of past, present and future. The historical connections are obvious, as the film cleverly points out the inherent weakness of domineering political powers that combine brute force and radicalism in order to eradicate truths demonstrated by history and tradition. As a political statement, the film works incredibly well, as its blend of scifi philosophy and politics fit together naturally - reminding one that great mythology is traditionally political.
As an auteur piece, however, it's hard to ignore an overall lack of sheer, artistic wonder. Weinstein's (or whoever's) familiar structuring balances the film's many layers elegantly, but there is a definite artistic compromise present that will likely be disappointing to fans of Laloux's "Fantastic Planet." Much of the movie has a Disney-like simplification of its world and logic that prevents it from fully captivating the viewer with its whimsical absurdities. "Fantastic Planet" is spellbinding because it treats its viewer like a visiting alien, never over-explaining or belaboring its genuinely bizarre imagery and focusing mainly on an amazingly distanced, otherworldly mood -' one which would have been suffocated by a driving, centralized plot. In this way, "Gandahar" disappoints in its overall familiarity, favoring traditional story tropes over bold originality.
To a viewer looking for a multifaceted, accessible science fiction fantasy, however, the film is a treat. With so many balls in the air, it understandably picked a straightforward approach and is able to satisfy a wide variety of viewers. It's just unfortunate that such an approach is what separated a good film from a potentially great film.
Review by Nick Dets from the Internet Movie Database.