Wednesday, July 15, 2009

“Don’t hunt for death, boy. It finds us all soon enough.”

I became aware of this movie quite by accident. I was looking for a different animated movie from my childhood (which will be covered later) and in the process wound up looking up the works of Ralph Bakshi. Now, Bakshi’s name I remembered from the late 80s revival of Mighty Mouse (yeah, random thing to have stuck in your head), and decided to look up what else he did. 1983’s Fire and Ice, a collaboration between Bakshi and legendary barbarian painter Frank Frazetta, looked interesting. Indeed it was.

PlotWay back in caveman times, a powerful magician who can control ice (and glaciers) begins a southward invasion at the behest of his mother. Along the way, he steamrolls through a village, killing everyone in it save one survivor. As an additional part of the invasion, the evil mother has the fire kingdom’s princess kidnapped to be a bride for her son. As the two plotlines converge, a mysterious, silent figure observes everything. Caveman-killing, T&A, and ADVENTURE! ensue for the next 81 minutes.

Larn: Larn is pretty much your standard Hero. Orphaned by events in the beginning, he starts off trying to simply evade Nekron’s Cro-Magnon-like Sub-humans to stumbling upon the Princess, to trying to rescue her from Nekron. He’s handy with a spear here and there, and not all that dumb, so you don’t really mind him on the screen. Still, he’s pretty vanilla as far as heroes go.

Teegra: Um…Let me put it this way; she’s not doing anything for women’s empowerment in this film. The buxom, bikini-clad princess of Fire Keep, she gets captured five times in 80 minutes. Sure she escapes, but damn is this damsel in a lot of distress. She meets Larn on her first escape attempt and the two hit it off. There’s not a whole lot to the character, but she is lovingly drawn and animated and provides nonstop T&A. How she escapes from the Sub-humans the first time is hilarious in its intentional shamelessness (hint, water can be cold) In all honesty, I did not mind this in the least.

Nekron: The pale-skinned, white haired evil bastard behind the invasion. He can magically control a giant glacier, which is pretty hardcore. Probably the most interesting character, he’s a depraved villain who is pretty skinny in a world of muscle-bound barbarians, using magic and some cunning to achieve his goals. It is also heavily implied, though not outright stated that he’s not into girls, and is not impressed in the least by Teegra’s, um, womanly charms. He’s great fun to watch as he goes from glowering on his throne to violent outbursts.

Juliana: Nekron’s mom, and the most-dressed character in the film (which isn’t saying much). She’s the one who spurs Nekron on to invade the southern lands, but soon finds that her son isn’t completely willing to do everything exactly as she says.

Jarol & Taro: Jarol is the lord of Fire Keep and Teegra’s father. He has access to lava. Taro is his son (and Teegra’s brother) and he’s pretty dumb, losing his cool twice in the film.

Darkwolf: Now we’re talking. Darkwolf stands apart as one of the baddest asses of cinema badasses. Without exaggerating, he’s like Conan + the Terminator with a touch of Batman. Shrouded in mystery, he rides a black horse, wears a mask at all times, has a wicked-awesome axe and kills everything he fights. Everything. Darkwolf, clearly based on Frazetta’s painting of “the Death Dealer,” is the manliest man of all the men in the movie and gets shit done. Darkwolf is reason enough to watch this movie.

Visuals (Direction/Effects)
Let’s talk about Rotoscoping, shall we? It’s a method of animation, pioneered by Max Fleishcer Studios (the guy who did the original animated Superman shorts in the 40s), where live action is filmed, then drawn over by a guy in an animating studio, frame by meticulous frame. In some ways, it’s a bit like modern motion capture for CGI. The work involved, especially for a full-length movie, is staggering, but the results…Well, the results are a stunning form of western animation that has sadly fallen out of favor in favor of cheaper, faster computer animation. Ralph Bakshi is one of the accepted masters of that form and this is one of his masterpieces in the form. Saying this movie is beautifully animated is an understatement. Its fuckin’ amazing, if you’ll pardon my French. Also of interest for trivia buffs, two of the background painters for this movie were Thomas Kinkade and James Gurney. Yes, the “painter of light” and the guy who created Dinotopia did their first major work on a movie about barbarians killing cavemen.

I can’t ignore the action sequences. There is a lot of violence; the sub-humans get slaughtered in droves, not just by Darkwolf, but also by giant aquatic lizards, but blood and gore are minimal. The fights are brutal and above all, fast. “Ekstruh Drahmatik” slow motion is kept to a minimal, and for that I am eternally grateful.

WritingRalph Bakshi and Frank Frazetta collaborated on creating the characters/overall story, but the two actual scriptwriters are Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas, two surprisingly familiar names to comic book fans. Conway had a long run on Spider-Man, creating the Punisher and the classic “Death of Gwen Stacy” storyline as well as Firestorm over at DC. Thomas had a classic run on Marvel’s Avengers and wrote a bunch of Conan the Barbarian issues back in the 70s. Both have also done a lot of stuff scripting for television. How do they do here? Pretty well, for a sparse storyline. Its action oriented, so there are few if any major plot twists and most of the first half of the movie has minimal dialog. This is not Shakespeare or Citizen Kane. This is about cavemen killing each other to death, and the movie delivers that without any moments where the viewer’s face meets palm.

The score by William Kraft is mostly subdued, but the fanfare that opens the credits and caps big action sequences is rather catchy and gives off a suitable vibe of ADVENTURE!

ConclusionFire and Ice is a great cult film and a fantastic piece of animation. It is 81 minutes of fighting and jiggling, and does both of those very well. If it was live-action, it would probably have been forgotten among the endless tide of 80s Barbarian Movies that followed Conan. As it stands, it’s a great little indie animated film, and if Spike TV had half the huevos it claims, it would be running this film as often as other channels run Airplane!

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