Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Fire and Ice (1983)

Title: Fire and Ice (1983)

Director: Ralph Bakshi

Writers: Ralph Bakshi and Frank Frazetta


The recent passing of fantasy artist/legend Frank Frazetta this year (05/10/2010) was a sad day for me. Frank Frazetta was a major artistic influence on me during my younger years, and I remain a fervent admirer of his works. I used to stare at his paintings for hours and I constantly tried to imitate his style in my own art work, his art was a true inspiration, and still is. With his brush, his paints and his vivid imagination he was able to conjure up fantastical worlds of magic, monsters, warriors and beautiful women. His death was a great loss for the art world, and for champions of imagination everywhere. But what a great legacy he left behind! Fire and Ice, was the only time he directly participated in the production of a film. He designed the characters, helped write the script, and produced the film himself along with legendary producer/animator/artist Ralph Bakshi. This is one of the coolest things about this project: it united two of the best artists in their fields in one film. What was the result?

Frazetta's Death Dealer (one of his most recognized paintings) appears briefly in the film!

Fire and Ice tells the story of a kingdom in peril. Lord Nekron plans to conquer the world by spreading glaciers of ice through out the world with his magic. But the people who live in the kingdom of Fire Keep want nothing to do with that, in fact, when Lord Nekron gives them the opportunity to surrender to his power, they refuse and vow to fight to the death against the spreading of the cold. So, Lord Nekron sends his gorilla like henchmen to kidnap Teegra, the daughter of Lord Jerol, ruler of Fire Keep. They manage to do just that! Teegra manages to elude them, but she now faces and even greater danger: having to survive in the wild! She soon meets up with two barbaric adventurers, Larn and Darkwolf. Together, Larn and Darkwolf decide to go up against Lord Nekron and his plans to rule their world. Will they succeed in their gargantuan task?

Larn and Darkwolf both go up against evil Lord Nekron

Fire and Ice was directed by animation legend Ralph Bakshi, for those of you who don’t know who Ralph Bakshi is, well, let me put you up to date. Bakshi is the man responsible for many animated features that emerged during the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and even 90’s. He was responsible for the production of films like Fritz the Cat (1972), Heavy Traffic (1973), Wizards (1977), The Lord of the Rings (1978), American Pop (1981) and crossing over to the 90’s he was responsible for Cool World (1992) which starred a very young Brad Pitt. What made Bakshi’s particular brand of animation special was that he produced animated films for adults. His cartoons were not of the Saturday morning variety, though he managed to produce some of those as well. But his cinematic films focused on adult themes. His films have animated characters having sex, doing drugs, killing and showing some skin. Fire and Ice was no different, it’s an animated film filled with semi-naked chicks and gory axe battles. Bakshi was a pioneer in demonstrating that not all animation had to be for kids. Adults could have some fun with it as well.

Teegra must suddenly learn to survive in the Savage Land!

And a fun time it is. This is the type of movie that offers up a strange new world filled with giant lizards, flying dragons, magic battles, sword battles, skeleton witches, basically, in the world of Fire and Ice, anything can happen. It’s a whole fantasy world with infinite possibilities. Don’t know how many of you out there are comic readers, but Fire and Ice reminds me of a comic produced by Marvel Comics called KaZaar. It’s basically the same type of premise, a warrior surviving in a fantastical savage land populated by the most outlandish creatures. On Fire and Ice Teegra has to venture off into this Savage Land where she confronts nature running wild. Fire and Ice also has many similarities with Conan the Barbarian. This comes of as no surprise since Frazetta is familiar with the world of Conan, he actually painted many covers for Robert E. Howards Conan novels. So I’m pretty sure that with Fire and Ice, Frazetta and Bakshi simply wanted to do their own personal version of Conan the Barbarian, this is very evident in characters like Darkwolf who resemble Conan a whole lot.

Darkwolf about to go berserk!

The movie does have its set backs though. The animation uses a system called ‘Roto Scoping’. This is a kind of animation that is very similar in nature to the popular motion capture that is used a lot in todays computer animated films like Robert Zemecki’s Beowulf (2007). Essentially, what they do is they film actors performing their characters and then, the animators draw over their actions, basically copying the performance on to their drawings. The result is a very smooth kind of animation, since the animation is based on human movements, the animated characters move in a very natural way. This doesn’t change the fact that at times the animation is crude, very old school. I mean, these guys were working on a small budget, they were not Disney. What they did have was a very creative crew, and a very talented production team. I mean, Frank Frazetta himself did a lot on the conceptual level, giving the characters their look and attire. As a result, the characters seem like something that popped out of one of Frazetta’s paintings. A film filled with Bodacious babes in skimpy wardrobes and buff dudes with swords and axes.

Fire Keep during the night

There’s not much of a story to grasp save for the evil Lord Nekron wanting to turn everything into ice, and kidnapping the good kings daughter. It is simply a story of good vs. evil. In one hand we have the fighters, the warriors representing the oppressed vs. the despotic ruler who wants to take over their land. The symbolisms in the film go with the title of the film. The cold ruler, who doesn’t think about his loyal subjects, he only thinks of himself. He spreads the cold because that’s essentially what happens with an evil ruler, his heart has to be cold as ice to do some of the things they do when they become power hungry. The good guys live in Fire Keep, cause they are the good guys, the oppressed, who want to keep the fire of humanity alive. So this movie basically has the cold of evil vs. the warmth of humanity going at each other. But that’s about as deep as this movie will go, to me Fire and Ice is more “style over substance” type of deal, which is fine, cause this kind of movie we watch for escapism, to see worlds, creatures and fantasy taken as far as it will go, it’s the kind of movie you watch to escape your regular boring life. It’s purpose to amuse you with its imagination.

Lovers of fantasy, and sword and sorcery films will love Fire and Ice. Comic book fans will devour it, because essentially that’s what this movie is, one big flashy, colorful comic book come to life, don’t look for anything deeper than that and you should be fine. But it’s also a film that you can appreciate from an artistic point of view, the effort put in by these guys in painstakingly drawing this movie frame by frame is something to be admired in my book.

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5


Unknown said...

great post, I'm a fan of Fire and Ice!

Franco Macabro said...

Glad you enjoyed the post Jay, thanks for commenting!

Im gonna try and review a couple more Ralph Bakshi movies in the next couple of weeks, so be on the look out for that!

I also reviewed Heavy Metal a couple of weeks ago, loved that one as well.

Unknown said...

Count me as a fan of this film too. Blue Underground release an absolutely fantastic special edition of this film awhile back. I think that my only complaint about this film is that they didn't go far enough with the violence, etc. like CONAN THE BARBARIAN. As a result, it feels a bit restrained but I still love the look and feel of it - as you say, style over substance. Nothing wrong with that if done well.

I look forward to you tackling more Bakshi films in the future.

BTW, did you ever seen any of the ep. of the Spider-Man cartoon he did back in the 1960s? Now, that is some trippy stuff and really very cool for its time... hell, it still holds up, IMO.

Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

I havent seen this one, but I enjoyed your review Franco, and will endeavour to track a copy down.

Franco Macabro said...

@J.D.: Thats a great word to describe Bakshi's films! Trippy!
Ive seen the previews for a couple of them (like Fritz the Cat) and they got that New York undeground 60's vibe feel to them, love that!

Cool World has some trippy visuals, but I havent seen that one in a while, cant really remember if its any good or not, I will be checking that one out next I think!

Agree, the Blue Underground DVD is excellent, its got tons of behind the scenes extras, interviews with Bakshi himself, a lot of Frazetta's sketches for the film, plus a lot of footage of the actors who formed a part of the roto scoping techniques. Its funny, the actress who played Teegra wasnt as voluptous as her animated counterpart which shows you how they exagerated things when it came down to the actual animation.

Shaun: Cool man, hope you enjoy it!

Fritz "Doc" Freakenstein said...

It was refreshing to read a mostly positive review of the Bakshi-Frazetta collaboration, even after all these years. As should be expected, the mainstream critics of the time loathed Fire and Ice for its obvious flaws: Simplistic good v. Evil storyline, bare-bone characterization bordering on parochial and blatant visual sensuality pandering to adolescent fantasies. As fans of Frazetta, Bakshi and the classic heroic fantasy literature that they based Fire and Ice on, this is precisely why we love it! I saw this film at the theater in 1983, then watched the awful VHS video copy of it and even watched it on the premium cable channels a few times; but refused to buy a copy until it was presented in a format that would do it justice. Finally, in 2005, Blue Underground released a beautiful 2-disc DVD copy of Fire and Ice, which I bought and have enjoyed viewing many times. What makes this DVD release even better is that it comes with a full documentary of Frank Frazetta, with lengthy interviews with him. I can’t recommend this DVD enough. Of course, this same set of features was released on blu-ray last year, so if you have a HD blu-ray player, do buy that. Watching Fire and Ice is like staring at moving Frazetta painting and it transports you to another world better than any other live action film ever could. Thanks for the review, Francisco. I too love most (American Pop is just dull) of Bakshi’s animated film’s , but Fire and Ice and Lord of the Rings are his legacy masterpieces.

Franco Macabro said...

Thanks for the kind words Doc, the thing with Fire and Ice is that its made for a select audience. Only a true lover of fantasy art, comic books and animation will love it.

While some considered Fire and Ice a film that is trying to favor adolescent fantasies, they really dont understand what Fantasy Art is all about. Fantasy art has to have scantly clad women, barbarians, magic, and everything that Fire and Ice did give us, its just that some people dont understand that.

I do feel that given the wonderful world it presented us, it could have taken things even further and gone even more fantastic, at times it feels a bit restrained, but this is just me nit picking, I loved the hell out of it.

I will be purchasing that double disc dvd of the film, its well worth the price of admission. I enjoyed the interviews with Bakshi as well, he speaks about his time with Frazetta and how cool it was to collaborate with him on this one.

I found the stories about the animators being frustrated because they felt they were nowhere nearly as good as Frazetta, they were intimidated by him! Shows that even then he was already a living legend.

Justin Kapr said...

Absolutely LOVE this cartoon!

Justin Kapr said...

I love the fact that you post reviews on the same movies I rave about! Well-done!

Unknown said...

One of my favorites.


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