Watching Time Masters (or Les Maîtres du Temps to give it it's real name) is an interesting experience. Having seen the film only once before (many years ago!) and remembering some very vivid imagery it was with great anticipation that I placed the disc in the drawer. Had time made the film seem better than it actually was?
Time Masters is directed by Rene Laloux - whose most famous film is probably Fantastic Planet (La Planète Sauvage), with most of the animated designs coming from the pen of renowned French graphics artist Jean Giraud (otherwise known as Moebius) who later went on to work on conceptual sketches for The Fifth Element, The Abyss and Willow. The film was based on the novel L'Orphelin de Perdide written by Stefan Wul.
Opening on Perdide, a desolate planet, we meet Piel and his father Claude. Escaping from an unknown foe, Claude and Piel are involved in a nasty accident leaving Claude dead and his son stranded along on a planet populated by a variety of different creatures. Meanwhile, Jaffar, a Han Solo-like smuggler is transporting Prince Matton who has fled his home world with much of the public treasury and is being hunted by security forces. Receiving a distress call from Claude, Jaffar changes course to head towards Perdide stopping on the way to pick up Silbad - an old man who had visited Perdide and knows much of its environment.
Matton, obviously being less than pleased with this decision encourages Piel to walk into a lake with the intention of drowning the child and removing the need to head for Perdide. However his plan is cut short and he is taken into custody from which he later escapes and takes refuge on a planet.
Les Maîtres du Temps is a race against time to get to Perdide before anything happens to Piel. However, unlike other films of this ilk there isn't really a lot of tension built up. There is however a big revelation/twist at the end of the film that may leave you open-mouthed!
The animation is primitive - only a slight step up from Saturday morning kids TV, however the designs do look impressive when they're not moving. The planet Perdide looks suitably alien with strange plants and creatures setting the scene quite nicely. The story is competently woven together with good direction from Laloux - the running time of 79 minutes speeds by quite quickly and while the film doesn't quite match up to La Planète Sauvage, it's still worthwhile in its own right.
Unfortunately, the DVD doesn't really impress in any area. First up there are NO extras and the menu is limited to one static page of chapter stops. Things don't get too much better as far as the picture and sound go either as we will now see.
The source material itself isn't particularly noteworthy with noticeable print damage and other artefacts. There are scenes where the picture is blurry - this is also down to the print used. The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 4:3. I haven't been able to find out what the original ratio was, but I'm fairly sure this wasn't it as there is some very noticeable cropping on a number of scenes - faces cut in half when facing the camera, full length shots of the spaceship which are either cropped or stretch to the far edges of the frame. The picture in general looks fairly cramped.
There is also a lot of grain - it's difficult to tell whether this is the print or the transfer. I'm inclined to think it's an equal measure of both.
We have the original mono French soundtrack. Thankfully this seems to have held up a little better than the picture although it's still a little harsh. Dialogue is clear for the most part - although on one or two occasions it seems to drop off and is barely audible. The soundtrack is serviceable at best.
There isn't any other soundtrack on the disc so the subtitle-haters amongst you had better look elsewhere. This is a shame as the film could appeal to quite a wide audience. We should be thankful that things weren't the other way around with just a dubbed English track, but I don't see any reason why both couldn't have been included.
The subtitles are in English and are a literal translation. They're pretty good and flow quite well - some thought has obviously been put in as things make perfect sense throughout!
Thankfully, the film was just as good as I remembered. However it doesn't quite match up to some recent anime titles from Japan in terms of scope and presentation. As far as French animation goes, this is a good example although I do recommend investigating the Anchor Bay release of Fantastic Planet as well - I'm planning to get a hold of this for review shortly.
The Image Entertainment release of Time Masters is lacklustre at best. However, I don't see any better releases being put together any time soon so as things stand this is your best option if you want to see some good French animation and some early (ish) designs from Giraud whose influence is obvious throughout.
Don't get your hopes up too much and you won't be too disappointed.
Colin Polonowski has reviewed the Region 0 release of Time Masters (Les Maîtres du Temps). A lacklustre DVD in anyones book, but the film is a good piece of French animation that shows some