Main cast: David Belle (The Prisoner), Cyrille Diabate (The Guard), Jean-Michel Martial (The Commander), Jean Yves Berteloot (Molan Drood), Guy Amram (Trez Trapoon), Patrice Delmont (Cryogenically Frozen Man)
Director: Guillaume Lubrano
The third episode of the Métal Hurlant Chronicles is actually two shorter stories bundled into one episode. The common theme in these two shorter stories seems to be freedom from some kind of imprisonment, often with bittersweet results.
In Red Light, we have a prisoner in a distant planet. He shares in a first person monologue that his people were once in a longstanding civil war, until folks from a different planet came down and offered them a technological solution to win the war. His people of course took the offer, only to realize too late that the newcomers also offered the same solution to their enemies. The two factions nearly wiped out one another, and the newcomers had a very easy time shortly after in swooping in and taking over the planet. Surviving natives such as himself were rounded up and toss in prisons such as this one.
There is a red light always bathing his cell, continuously causing him great distress. He can’t eat or sleep properly, and he vows that, even as he knows that he would die in this prison, he would first see a different color before he breathes his last. Maybe he would break out just to see the sky… And one day, he has his chance. But what awaits him out there?
The ending of this one is predictable, but I have to admit, the twist is pretty good. In the red light, our protagonist looks human, but once he makes it outside, it becomes apparent from his coloration that he’s actually not human, but a member of another humanoid species. And the people that manage the prison – the conquerors of the planet – turn out to be humans. This is a short episode that is basically a sequence of running along red-lit corridors and fighting prison guards, but it is short enough to keep things interesting without drawing itself out for too long, and it ends just about right to make me go, “Hmm! That’s actually pretty good!”
And then we move on to Cold Hard Facts. It is 2312 and the population of Earth has hit 37 billion, causing the planet to turn into basically one large urban metropolis spanning one end to another. In Los Angeles, folks discover someone in a very ancient cryogenic tank, still alive. They eventually revived him and cured him of the disease that led the people of his time to put him in a cryogenic state, only to decide that he won’t able to adapt to the new world or contribute in any way to society – his memory is impaired and his only ability, it seems, is to draw. Therefore, there is no place in this world for him.
This is the shorter episode, but it’s more in line with those arty-farty deep-thoughts sci-fi stories that people love to write in order to demonstrate the sad state of urbanity or something like that. The man they revived is Walt Disney, and his sketches are that of Mickey Mouse. Alas, the brave new world sees no value in creativity, so he’d be killed, and his organs would be harvested. The whole episode is about underscoring what a disturbing, cold world it would be when people see zero value in creativity and imagination, and focus only on material gains. This is something that has been said and done many times before in science fiction, but I have to admit, the way this episode is executed strikes a chord in me. I feel unexpectedly distressed by the time this episode ends, wishing that something can be done to make things right. Therefore, I suppose this episode has done its job well.
Red Light/Cold Hard Facts has easily the simplest stories and execution in all the episodes so far, but it manages to be also the most successful one to date in hitting me in the gut. There may be hope yet in this series.