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You need to watch the most surreal sci-fi movie on HBO Max ASAP

Thoughtful and beautifully animated, this ‘70s curio is well worth the trip.

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Pet people will tell you their pet is everything to them. Whether it’s a dog, a fish, or even a tarantula, they’ll say this bond is special, reciprocal, and, above all else, unbreakable. We speak for our animals as if we understand what’s going on inside their little brains — like they don’t have feelings of their own.

Now, what if we were the pets?

Fantastic Planet (or La Planète Sauvage), based on the book Oms en serié by Stefan Wul, asks this question in an otherworldly fashion. Written by René Laloux and Roland Topor, and directed by Laloux, this surreal animated sci-fi flick follows humans living on a planet called Ygam in the deep future. Ygam is dominated by giant, blue humanoids called Traags, who refer to humans as Oms and view them as animals and pets. While the Traags take a meditative approach to the humans, there are also wild Oms who are periodically slaughtered by the Traags to reign in the growing population.

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The story follows an Om named Terr who’s adopted by a Traag named Tiwa and brought into their world. Terr learns their ways, but once Tiwa grows and moves on from playing with toys, Terr escapes and joins a wild Om tribe.

Fantastic Planet is filled with incredible imagery that gets weirder by the minute. This becomes particularly apparent once Terr joins the wild Oms, and Laloux uses this moment to give us a spectacle of the unusual biodiversity of Ygam. Among the many bizarre lifeforms we see is an angry purple blob with an appendage nose balanced on columns of orange orbs inside a bio-cage. It cackles menacingly as a flying creature — which looks like a mix between a fish, tadpole, and the frilled dinosaur from Jurassic Park — swoops down and lands on one of the branch-like fingers of the blob’s nose arm. The blob laughs as it squeezes the flying fish, shakes the life out of it, and slams it to the ground. The blob doesn’t seem to do this for survival, but for pleasure.

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The Oms (a play on homme, French for man), are tiny and fragile in the hands of the Traags.

New World Pictures

Another standout is the culture of the wild Oms, particularly their mating ritual. Because days and nights are so long on Ygam, the Oms use the cover of night to reproduce. They all ingest a bioluminescent substance, the women strip naked, and the men chase them into the night, scattering about the world like fireflies. It makes for a beautiful visual, one free of dialogue that leaves the viewer to figure out what they’re witnessing.

But what this film best achieves isn’t its imaginative view of alien life or the contrasting cultures of the Traags and Oms. Its main achievement is in putting a spotlight on human nature stripped to its essentials. It asks us to ponder how we feel about the Traags’ treatment of the Oms and, by extension, reflect on how we treat non-human life on our own fantastic planet. It’s one of the weirdest and most beautiful movies I’ve ever seen and is a must-watch for any science fiction fan.

Fantastic Planet is streaming on HBO Max.

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