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Animation / Gandahar

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In a thousand years, Gandahar was destroyed. A thousand years ago, Gandahar will be saved.

Gandahar (known as Light Years in English) is a 1988 animated film by the master of French arthouse animation, René Laloux, based on Jean-Pierre Andrevon's French Science Fiction novel Les Hommes-machines contre Gandahar (The Machine-Men versus Gandahar).

In the distant future and on a distant planet, the people of Gandahar exist in peace and harmony with nature and each other. This blissful existence is interrupted when Gandahar is attacked by bizarre, man-machine enemies who capture civilians and take them through a portal encased in metal to be brainwashed. Queen Ambisextra and her loyal Council of Women choose Sylvain, a young warrior, to scout the cause of this. He travels the land in search of the cause with young beauty Airelle, eventually falling in love with her. Along the way, they meet mutants and the giant mutant brain Metamorphis.


The history of the movie is odd and star-studded. After the success of the equally bizarre Fantastic Planet, Laloux spent years trying to get the Gandahar project off the ground. He didn't succeed until a North Korean animation studio unexpectedly offered to animate his movie on the cheap. Harvey Weinstein picked up rights for the American release and had Isaac Asimov (yes, the Isaac Asimov) write an English translation. Definitely not a cartoon for the kiddies, Gandahar has been released in the "Masters of Cinema" series without any Region 1 DVD to date.


Gandahar contains examples of:

  • Abnormal Ammo: Sylvain’s gun doesn’t fire bullets. It fires seeds, which grow into large thorny plants the instant they hit something. A direct hit leaves the target impaled by multiple thorns if not torn apart.
  • Adaptation Relationship Overhaul: A minor one, but in the english dub of the film, Queen Ambisextra is stated to be Sylvain's mother.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: During his final, dying moments, future Metamorphis briefly lapses back into sanity, begging Sylvain and others not to leave him.
  • Alien Sky: Sort of. There is no sun during daytime (except for one short scene, implying it's very low on the horizon and thus often out of view), while the night sky is decorated by Gandahar's three shining moons.
  • Amazing Technicolor Population: Lots of blue people.
  • Animal Eye Spy: The tiny one-eyed mirror birds seem to serve as little organic security cameras.
  • Anti-Villain: Present day Metamorphis. While he initially comes off as harsh and there's initial misunderstanding between him and Sylvain, he shows no ill will towards Gandaharians, can be polite and helpful, and is perplexed by the Metal Men's worship of him. Once he discovers their origin, he doesn't hesitate to assist Sylvain in destroying his future self.
  • Author Tract: Anvil dropped about why totalitarianism is bad.
  • Barbie Doll Anatomy: Completely averted, although some scenes change it in the English dub; but even in the original, there's not that much to see.
  • The Beautiful Elite: Gandahar is full of them.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Played with.
  • Big Bad: Metamorphis from the future.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: Seen all over in the mutant badlands.
  • Body Horror: The petrified gandaharians are being transported to the future where they are being drained dry of life, leaving only their decayed bodies behind.
  • Bowdlerization: The English dub is hated by most fans for cutting out and editing more objectionable parts of the movie. However, René Laloux thought that the translation was done well and never minded any of the changes.
  • Brain in a Jar: The Metamorphis is an extremely large one, but the building it's in still looks similar to a jar.
  • Brain Monster: The principal antagonist of the film is a giant brain, made by the people of the utopian city of Gandahar as a prototype organic computer. When the superbrain didn't work out as planned, it was dumped in the ocean and forgotten. Interestingly, when the heroes first encounter this giant brain, it seems docile, and even gives the heroes the tool for its own destruction.
  • Cephalothorax: Maxum, one of the Deformed who gets the most focus. He has no neck and no distinct head, but his face is on the front of his torso, making him resemble one of the folkloric Blemmyae.
  • The Chosen One: Sylvain.
  • Conqueror from the Future: The Metal Men are invading Gandahar from a thousand years in the future. They petrify their victims and transport them to the future so that the Metamorphis, the Metal Men’s creator, can sustain itself by draining the Gandaharians of their cells.
  • Convenient Coma: Basically, Metamorphis's "stasis" can be likened to it.
  • Crapsack World: Future Gandahar has been converted into a sterile, soulless City Planet inhabited by Metamorphis and his Metal Men, and it's implied this transformation has affected the planet so badly that there are chunks of it floating about in the sky. The only organic life present are captured Gandaharians who are waiting to be drained of their cells by Metamorphis, and a handful of Deformed who oppose him.
  • Create Your Own Villain: The Gandaharians of the past had created Metamorphis as a sort of biocomputer, but left him on an island and forgotten about him. Then he became a threat to their existence.
  • Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: Sylvain makes an educated guess with Gandaharians getting kidnapped and more Metal Men appearing that this is the case. He isn't far off, but the Gandaharians aren't used directly, nor are the Metal Men technically made of metal.
  • Did They or Didn't They?: In both the original and the censored English dub. The original has a shot of Sylvain taking his shirt off and then later completely naked as he's snuggling up to Airelle (who's also completely naked) while she talks about how the circumstances have brought them together and she's fallen in love with him, but the English dub cuts this and simply goes to the next morning with him and her both walking around shirtless. Even in the original, this leaves some question of whether there's a Sexy Discretion Shot in there or not, since their "bed" didn't have any sheets (and they'd need to snuggle up to each other to stay warm), Airelle didn't start out wearing very much, Sylvain's shirt had suffered some Clothing Damage, and the people of Gandahar in general seem to spend a lot of their time naked anyway. Nothing more is clarified about the nature of their relationship in either version.
  • Dub Name Change: The English dub renamed les Transformés (the Transformed) to the Deformed, le Métamorphe (the Metamorph) to the Metamorphis, and l’océan Excentrique (the Eccentric Ocean) to the Circumscribing Ocean.
  • Dying as Yourself: Metamorphis comes to his senses in his last moments.
  • False Utopia: While the present Gandahar is as close to a utopia as it can get, pieces of exposition tell that they had a long way to get there, getting rid of everything they view as imperfect. Then the fact that they didn't give a thought about any outsiders resulted in the place becoming very unsafe.
  • Fanservice: Some of the rather weird artsy French sort...
  • Fantastic Underclass: The Deformed are actually rejected Gandaharians who were forced into exile due to mutations, and formed a tribe alike to Magical Native American. Sylvain assumed they are the enemy he seeks, since all knowledge about them seems to be lost.
  • Finger Firearms: The Metal Men have petrifying energy weapons built into their index fingers.
  • Future Me Scares Me: Metamorphis realizes the Metal Men come from his insane future self and orders Sylvain to kill him 1,000 years hence, as he can't do it himself.
  • Gentle Giant: The giant crabs which protect Jasper are shown playing with Gandaharian children in one scene.
  • Giant Enemy Crab: Enormous crablike creatures protect the city of Jasper.
  • Giant Flyer: Sylvain rides on the back of a giant flying arthropod on two separate occasions. On the first occasion, his mount is attacked and killed by a pair of enormous predatory birds.
  • Golem: Implied to be the true nature of Metal Men. As Sylvain notes while inspecting a dismantled Metal Man, they are completely hollow, having no circuitry or endoskeleton, being powered solely by a small organic tissue sample which came from future Metamorphis.
  • Hair Wings: Queen Ambisextra stands out from the rest of Gandaharians with this.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: The Metal Men are vulnerable to their own weapons. The Deformed take advantage of this by arming themselves with discarded Metal Men hands, using the machines' own finger-guns against them.
  • In Case You Forgot Who Wrote It: Marketing for the English dub called it "Isaac Asimov's Light Years" since he translated it, although certainly didn't write it.
  • Individuality Is Illegal: A Metal Men officer makes a speech with this as their primary motive against Gandahar, accusing them of becoming The Hedonist.
  • Matriarchy: Society is ruled by Queen Ambisextra and her Council of Women, though a male scientist Blaminhor seems to hold a rather high position.
  • Mecha-Mooks: The Men of Metal.
  • Million Mook March: The Metal Men are often shown marching in serried ranks that stretch to the horizon.
  • Monster Is a Mommy: A huge reptilian beast frees Sylvain and Airelle from the Metal Men's transport... and proceeds to fuss over them as if they were her hatchlings.
  • Multiple Head Case: Several of the Deformed have extra heads. Their leader has five, and at least two of them have different voices and personalities from the main head.
  • Mutants: The Deformed that Sylvain encounters are results of Gandaharian science that they don't want to aknowledge of.
  • Nipple and Dimed: Averted in the original, hard. According to Laloux the North Korean animators had to be shown certain French magazines to draw all of the women, since law there restricts such resources harshly.
  • Occult Blue Eyes: The eyes of the Deformed glow bright blue whenever they use their psychic powers.
  • Prophecy Twist: The third line of the riddle/prophecy at the top of the page is: And what can't be avoided will be. This can be read two ways. First, that "what can't be avoided will be [avoided]," such as the total destruction of Gandahar. Second, that "what can't be avoided will be," such as Gandahar still being invaded, getting thoroughly kicked in the teeth in the process, and maybe the leadership of the Deformed getting killed off in the future.
  • Red and Black and Evil All Over: The genocidal Metal Men are jet black robots with red “eyes”.
  • Scenery Porn: Bizarre but beautiful alien worlds lovingly explored through the animation.
  • Science Is Bad: The Gandarians live In Harmony with Nature and work with Organic Technology, while the Metal Men act like souless androids and are slowly converting the planet into an Industrial World. Each time past Gandarians were shown using sciense it didn't end well.
  • Screw Destiny: Metamorphis' plan for Sylvain involves this.
  • Slowly Slipping Into Evil: Even though Metamorphis is aware he'll become an unhinged Evil Overlord in the future, he hasn't managed to avoid this in 1000 years.
  • Tag Line: "The Light Years" in the original French title, which was taken for the American dub's title instead of Gandahar.
  • Taken for Granite: The enemy's energy weapons petrifies the humans it hits. They can do the same to the Gandaharians' giant crab guardians but it takes a lot more concentrated fire and effort to petrify a single one.
  • Time Travel: The Metal Men come from the future, through a gate that they also use to send their prisoners to their time to sustain their society.
  • Time-Travel Tense Trouble: "In a thousand years, Gandahar was destroyed. A thousand years ago, Gandahar will be saved." It Makes Sense in Context.
  • Villainous Breakdown: As he erupts into glowing mass of flesh, future Metamorphis alternates between barking orders at his Metal Men to destroy the time portal and prevent Sylvain and Gandaharians from escaping, and begging the latter not to abandon him in a monotone but terrified manner.
  • Weather Manipulation: The Deformed can pool their Psychic Powers to create a thunderstorm. They use this ability to drive off the Metal Men attacking their desert home, though doing so leaves them drained and weakened.
  • We Have Become Complacent: Gandahar's leaders diccuss that they've lived in utopia for such a long time, they completely lack any means of resistance against potential aggressors. While Gandaharian came up with traps that take out a lot of Metal Men, this can only stall for time for the majority to evacuate.
    "We have lived in peace so long, we've neglected the possiblity of evil and we may have forgotten how to fight it."
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • We don't see most of The Deformed escaping from the future. Maybe the leaders got killed off-screen, but we see some who were nearby that got away.
    • It's also never shown or explained what happened to present time Metamorphis after everyone returned home, as there's still a looming threat of him going insane and destroying Gandahar in the future.
  • You No Take Candle: The mutants said everything in both the past and future tenses (example: "was will be" instead of "is"). The trope is played with because the mutants are trying to tell the main character that he's going to be doing some time traveling. In the English version, they are also terrified of the present, so they fall back on the prophecy and find solace in the past-future.