Even though the film has been out for just shy of 35 years, I’d only been made particularly aware of it after interviewing H3rwig Maurer of New World Revolution & the Mankind Liberation Front. He’d mentioned it as one of his favorite movies, and while looking up the Amazon links for the review, I read the page, and thought it sounded really, really interesting. So I ended up getting it for Xistmas (thanks, Kaethe!), and watched it. And, well, the short answer — H3rwig, as he was in regards to The Filth, was right.
The plot of the film is that giant aliens known as alternately Draags or Traags (the former on the back of the DVD case, the latter on the subtitles of the film itself. The former was in the original novel.) have colonized and taken over many different planets in the universe, including Earth. The Draags have taken humans, or Oms, back to their home planet, where they’ve taken the role of rats — some as pets, others pests. The film follows one particular Om in particular, Terr, as he becomes a pet, gets knowledge, and then runs away — among lots of other stuff that’d get into spoiler territory.
It’s based on a French novella (referred to as a Czech novella on the back of the case), and a French-Czech production. The film was distributed in the US by Roger Corman, the B-movie auteur — sort of like how Troma was the original US distributor of My Neighbor Totoro. The animation reminds me of both Yellow Submarine in places as well as Terry Gilliam’s animations for Monty Python.
It’s a very slow-paced film; it’s short — only a little over 70 minutes — though it feels much longer. This is NOT a complaint, however; it’s never boring — only dreamlike. The film sucks you into its world and plays with time. The elasticity of time in the viewing experience is an outgrowth of how, in the film, a year for an Om is only a week of Draag time — the main action of the film takes place in only a short time for the Draags, but years for the Oms.
There are many different levels to the film; it works as an allegory for the cold war, an allegory for animal rights, allegory of technology versus nature, an illustration of the war between science and superstition, and, well, just a surreal, great film that works on the most surface level as well.
The DVD itself is pretty good; the subtitles contain some typos and errors (including the alternate spelling of “Draag”), but the print itself is cleaned up well. A bonus on the DVD is an earlier short of Rene Laloux and Roland Topor, “Les Escargots“, an amusing cartoon about giant snails eating France. One other bonus is a so-so music video by Sean Lennon that’s very loosely based on the feature; the song is pretty good, but the video itself is a bit lacking, partly because it’s just not nearly as visually stunning as the film (the live-action segment in the linked video is not included in the DVD version). There’s also an interview with the late director, Laloux. It’s a cool package for a cool and important film.