Review: Time Masters (Les Maitres Du Temps)

On the planet Perdide, Claude escapes a swarm of killer Hornets along with his five year old son Piel, after the swarm attacked their home and left Claude’s wife dead. A crash of their vehicle left Claude trapped and seriously injured, so he sends a distress call using a special microphone to his friend Jaffar, giving the microphone to Piel and telling him to run into the Dolongs, the mystical forest of the planet, to be protected from the Hornets. When Jaffar receives the message, he decided to detour from his original destination to travel to Perdide, picking up an old friend Silbad to help reach the planet. Already on board are Prince Matton and Princess Belle, deposed from their own planet and plan to live on a new planet, but despite Prince Matton’s refusal, they both offer to help rescue Piel, all of the people aboard communicating with Piel via the microphone. Although the Dolongs might protect Piel from the Hornets, there are other dangers so the crew have to hurry to rescue him before the worst comes.

In the late 1970s, French Director of animated advertisements and short films, Rene Laloux, was approached by French comic magazine Metal Hurlant after the success of his first feature length production, La Planette Sauvage (Fantastic Planet) for a new film project. As Laloux adapted a Stephen Wul novel for Fantastic Planet, he wanted to adapt another one. He originally wanted to do a set of ten animated TV films, all directed by him but under a different team of illustrators, and the adaptation of The Orphan of Perdide was going to be the first episode. After modifications to the original storyline and some name changes, production was on the way with French illustrator Moebius assigned for the design and artwork. Due to financial difficulties and struggle to sell the idea to TV Networks, it was decided that the episode idea was scrapped and the newly titled Les Maitres du Temps would be a feature length film, and because of the now limited budget, the animation would be finished off in Hungary. The film had good success in France, and was picked up by the BBC for English speaking audiences, although both Laloux and Moebius have never been satisfied with the final product.

For an early 1980s the animation is pretty good, being certainly comparable in quality to Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and other early attempts at human animation outside of Disney. Moebius’ creativity definitely shines with the unique looking spaceships, environments and creatures, although the character designs feel dated, especially with the 1970s hair styles and 1960s clothing. The animation does lack in some areas, with scenes where literally nothing happens for minutes or where characters lack any movement, which was probably the effect of outsourcing to Hungary. The effects are also quite limited so there is a real show of how good the animation can be, although one highlight would be the early look at 3D like animation that appears at the end.

Initially I didn’t like the music, with its opening theme sounding like a heavy synth track from a generic sci-fi, it didn’t help that most of the music in this film features synthesisers. Eventually the music later on gets more memorable and great to listen to on its own, which is a shame because unlike other French films this is one of the few classics that doesn’t have an official soundtrack release, although that might be because there are very few tracks in total anyway. Most of the film has either synthesiser produced sound effects for creatures or the space systems, which could represent the void atmosphere of space but it also left out opportunity to add emotion or an atmosphere to the more intense scenes in the film.

Since I don’t really have that much experience in French voice acting, it’s difficult to give an opinion of it. However it is very easy to listen to and doesn’t have any points where it’s annoying or out of place. The main cast fit their roles well, with notable examples being the bumbling, uplifting and wise personality of Michel Elias as Silbad and the sly and defiant tone of Yves-Marie as Prince Matton. The English dub is hard to come by, being aired in the UK in the 1980 and 1991 with no video release, although bootleg copies and video files exist on the internet. For this reason I haven’t actually seen the English version beyond a few clips that have been uploaded on Youtube. However what I can say is that some of the voices are entertaining such as Silbad but overall the cast sound very rehearsed in their lines. It’s like they try too hard to make their cast like the original cast, instead of trying to put in their own spin and style that would fit an English audience. If you want to see the full film in English, it will be very hard so only do it for extreme curiosity.

The story is an interesting Sci-Fi film, though it’s structured hastily and ends up feeling incomplete. It has interesting characters and creatures that don’t have much development or screen-time, the Planet Perdide does have some colourful as well as interesting Geography, but not much is explored and some of the supposed dangers that Piel could face against don’t get shown that much. By the end of the film I was trying to think back on what was shown in this Universe and all I ended up finding was that there was a lot of stuff, but we only got an introduction before stuff happened and they leave. The most development we get in the film is Piel, Silbad, Jaffar and the planet Perdide, and even then there wasn’t much to understand. Although I rarely criticise films for not following the actual story, this is probably my first ever exception as the story might be more fleshed out and better developed, and the restrictions in development of the film reduced the amount they could adapt. The only real pain with this film is the title characters, the Time Masters, because having them be the title of the film and one of the first things mentioned in the film’s trailer, immediately indicates that this film will have time travel. Time Travel alone can make a Sci-Fi film as needlessly complicated, although this one makes the whole time travel part very straightforward as they are depicted as a group of elder creatures with the ability to transport objects the size as planets through time, which seems interesting to explore if it wasn’t for one minute issue. As the audience, we aren’t introduced to anything time travel related until the last 15 minutes of the movie, and the Time Masters themselves don’t appear until the last five minutes. What makes this more annoying is that the only reason they exist in this film is to explain this film’s twist, which is good but gets more predictable the closer they come to revealing it.

Les Maitres Du Temps is an artistic and visually appealing animated film, and it might be one of the best works of the late artist Moebius. Everything else on the other hand is good but is lacking, such as the soundtrack and casting performance. It’s definitely something to look at and good to beef up your DVD collection, but I wouldn’t imagine seeing it more than once in a while.

Les Maitres Du Temps is available from Eureka and Image Entertainment. An English dub that was produced and formally owned by BBC until they lost the rights in 2008, has never been officially released although copies are floating around if you know where to look. The original novel, titled “L’Orphelin de Perdide” (translated: The Orphan of Perdide), written by Stefan Wul, is available in French but does not have an English translation as far as I have looked.