Les Maîtres du Temps

Les Maîtres du Temps (Time Masters) (1982)

Les Maîtres du Temps (Time Masters) first published by Film4

SummaryRené Laloux and Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud animate this episodic SF rescue story for children. 

Review: “To get to Perdide, we’ll have to land on Devil’s Ball, and then go to Gamma 10. We’ll have to wait for the passage of the Blue Comet. By keeping within its magnetic field, we’ll be able to approach Perdide.”

So says chivalrous captain Jaffar (voiced by Jean Valmont) to his space passengers, the fugitives Prince Matton (Yves-Marie Maurin) and Princess Belle (Monique Thierry), near the beginning of René Laloux‘s Les Maîtres du Temps (or Time Masters), charting each step of their subsequent adventure as they race against time to rescue the little boy Piel (Frédéric LeGros) from the planet Perdide, where he has been left alone after his parents were killed by the local Hornets. Jaffar’s only links to Piel are a powerful radio device that the boy imagines to be a polyphonous pet named Mike, and drunken old Silbad (Michel Elias) whose murky past has left him with an intimate knowledge of the topography (and peculiar dangers) of Perdide. 

It is just as well that viewers have been provided with so explicit a map, as the film meanders from one episode to the next with a digressive desultoriness that is almost as astonishing as the alien landscapes through which the adventurers wander. There are on-board betrayals, two telepathic ‘gnomes’ as stowaways, an assortment of colourful extra-terrestrial encounters, a motley crew of space pirates, a daring deception perpetrated upon the militaristic Interplanetary Reform Alliance – and finally, a paradoxical twist ending which seems more like an arbitrary appendage than a satisfying dénouement to all that has preceded. 

The creative minds behind Les Maîtres du Temps were a dream ticket for French animated science fantasy of the time. Director Laloux’s first animated feature Fantastic Planet (1973) had justly acquired a cult status for its psychedelic inventiveness, and on this follow-up feature, similarly drawn from a novel by Stefan Wuls, Laloux was joined by Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, a celebrated illustrator of SF graphic novels who had contributed to the conceptual design of the films Alien (1977), Heavy Metal (1981), and Blade Runner (1982), as well as Alejandro Jodorowsky‘s abandoned Dune project. 

Unfortunately, however, Les Maître du Temps proves to be Laloux’s most disappointing film. Part of the problem is its status, unique in Laloux’s œuvre, as a children’s film. All of the aliens in Fantastic Planet were strange, and some were disturbingly cruel, but none displayed the cloying levels of cuteness on display here – something that France’s pioneering animators might better have left to the Disney corporation. The same goes for the two excruciating song sequences included here.

Essentially a derivative SF yarn, Les Maître du Temps is heavily inflected with the anti-authoritarian space operatics of Star Wars (1977), but with a plot too choppily episodic and with characters too flat to match the narrative cohesion of George Lucas’ blockbuster. Worst of all, the time-travelling conundrums which Laloux would later handle so masterfully in his final feature Gandahar (1988) here seem tacked on as a mere afterthought to justify the film’s title. Even the slick Eighties animation seems not so much classic as dated, although the film certainly has its fair share of memorable imagery. 

Verdict: There is plenty of eye candy on offer here, but the film’s meandering incoherence suggests that it is the script which really needs rescuing.

© Anton Bitel