Les Maîtres du temps, or Time Masters, is a 1982 animated film hailing from France and Hungary. It’s in French, but there are English dubs available – the film appears to be quite the obscure number, but for us it has immense nostalgic value as we watched this a lot as kids circa 1990. Quite why, we don’t know, as it’s disturbing, although not quite on the soul destroying level of Watership Down.
Over the years, we rediscovered it a couple of times, kept forgetting its name, but over the weekend had a lengthy research session to finally get its name stuck in our brains. We relived the madness in what is a highly surreal, often dark and uncompromising, synth-pop extravaganza. It’s about as ’80s as it gets, but the bizarre world the viewer is absorbed in features some still mightily impressive artistic set-pieces.
Directed by René Laloux (1929-2004), it was adapted from the 1958 fantasy novel
L’Orphelin de Perdide by Stefan Wul. This writer was actually a full time dentist, but in his spare time he penned warped sci-fi works. It’s not too uncommon in France, apparently, as absurdity-peddling philosopher Albert Camus also doubled up as a goalkeeper.
Right, plot time. Okay. A young lad called Piel is stranded on the planet Perdide after his ship is attacked by a bunch of angry space hornets. His father’s friend, Jaffar, establishes contact with Piel and, from there, there’s a pitched race across space to get to Perdide and save the young lad. Why? Well, the planet is a pretty hostile place! Just look at those space hornets (and note the English dub, here).
The surreal science fiction setting is what makes the film stand out. That thumping synth soundtrack aside, there’s a matter-of-fact nature to the film that will be enthralling (but disturbing) for kids. Piel is left pretty battered by the belligerent wildlife, but the creature he does befriend – a four legged beast called Wah-Wah – is wiped out in a distressing, sudden scene involving killer tentacles. Having looked this scene up on YouTube, it’s clear it haunted many a young mind from the response in the comments section.
Whilst Jaffar pilots the ship Double Triangle 22 across space to get to him. Along the way they head for Silbad for information, as he’d lived on the planet. This old guy, later in the film, dies – we particularly remember this as kids. When you watch cartoons, it’s not often for a character to snuff it – it had a resounding impact on us at the time.
The film is dark and disturbing, but does feature impressive animation and some interesting science fiction elements. As a curiosity, it’s an interesting, obscure gem. It’s a very ’80s film, but if you geek out over European cinema, or animation, then it’s definitely one to watch. Is this a film for kids? Well, there are some harsh life lessons in there, but they may well be enthralled by it as we were – you be the judge of that, with your wee ones.
Hey, you can even watch this weird one in its entirety over on YouTube! This is the English dubbed version, so you’ll be able to enjoy the posh British accents within. As we’ve mentioned, some folks might find it a bit disturbing, so watch it at your discretion. Time Masters has a cult following, so get it watched it you want to dazzle your friends with some film buff knowledge.