Ralph Bakshi is one of the unappreciated filmmakers who had a large influence on movies. When cartoons were though of as purely kiddie fare in the late 60's, Bakshi had different ideas and made a feature length animated movie based on R. Crumb's seminal character, Fritz the Cat. Released in 1972, Fritz the Cat was not just aimed at adults, kids could not see it. It garnered an X rating from the Motion Picture Association of America, but received a lot of acclaim when it was shown at
Bakshi went on to other projects and convinced the world that animation wasn't just for kids. For Wizards (1977), he re-discovered rotoscoping, an old technique dating back to the early days of film where the characters on live action film were painted over and animated. This created realistic movements and proportions and though Bakshi was criticized for rotoscoping scenes from Sergei Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky, the film became a cult classic. He was behind the animated Lord of the Rings movie, and in 1981 he released his best film, also rotoscoped, the woefully underrated American Pop. This is a classic movie just waiting to be discovered.
That brings us to Fire and Ice (1983). With the success of films like Conan the Barbarian (1982) and Beastmaster (1982), sword-and-sorcery movies were hot. Bakshi had a brilliant idea and teamed up with stellar artist Frank Frazetta to create a new fantasy film. Based on character designs by Frazetta and a script by comic scribes Roy Thomas (Conan the Barbarian, The Avengers) and Gerry Conway (Amazing Spider-Man) the film had a lot going for it, but is largly forgotten now. Happily, Blue Underground has released this important film of Bakshi's on Blu-ray, and a nice looking Blu-ray disc at that.
The plot is pretty simple and is explained in a voice over. The evil magician Nekron lives in the north and has the power to control a glacier, and is served by an army of sub-human ape-creatures. Pushing the glacier ever southward, Nekron and his army conquer village after village. The survivors flee to the
When Jarol refuses to surrender his kingdom to Nekron, the evil army kidnaps the good king's daughter, Teegra, who just happens to be wearing a skimpy silk bra and panties which she wears for the rest of the film. On her journey back to Nekron, Teegra manages to escape and meets Larn, a warrior who is the sole survivor of his village. She then gets captured again, escapes once more, get taken by a lesbian witch, re-kidnapped by the ape-man, brought before Nekron, escapes again, and frees the captured Larn. But as this is going on, Nekron's glacier and army have reached Fire Keep, and now it's a battle between fire and ice.
The story is obviously penned by comic book scribes. It has the same pacing and excitement level as a long comic book story. There are a lot of cliff-hangers and the battles are frequent, just like a Marvel comic. Unfortunately that only partially works in this film. While a battle every issue in a comic is expected, having one every 5-10 minutes in a movie is a bit much. The battles themselves are well done and fun to watch, it's just that they pop up way too frequently. A side effect of this is that it causes the rest of the plot to be a bit thin. There isn't any characterization and there aren't really any twists or plot developments after the opening narration save for the Teegra being kidnapped.
Even with the thin plot, the movie is enjoyable to watch because of the animation. They are able to do things with animation that wouldn't have been possible in a live action film when this was made. The undersea octopus creature and the battle with the giant lizard come to mind. Not to mention having a giant glacier move across the country side or having rivers of lava flow from giant craved heads. Yeah, these could have been done with miniatures, but it would have stood out when compared to the rest of the film. As it is, the movie is much richer because of the large scale visuals.
The most impressive thing about this movie is the fully painted backgrounds. They are absolutely gorgeous, really amazing looking. Since they didn't have to be animated over and over, more detail could be poured in the backgrounds and that's what they did. The forest scenes are rich with multiple shades of green and brown and wonderfully detailed moss covered trees. These are like still life paintings with action taking place in front of them. This attention to detail is one of the things that makes this such a unique film.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encoded disc presents the film with its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and looked very, very good. The colors were bright and solid and really helped to bring the movie to life. The lava flow at the end was brilliant orange and you could almost feel the heat coming off of it, while the forest scenes were filled with various shades of greens and browns. There wasn't any banding either. The level of detail was fine with the lines of the figures being tight. The print was nice too; there were only a couple of spots that showed up infrequently in the otherwise excellent source. On the digital side things were equally solid with no aliasing, something that often plagues animation, or blocking. Overall this is a very nice looking disc.
One of the odd choices that were made was to include both a DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack and a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track. I'm not sure why they put both on the disc. I viewed the film with the DTS-HD track and spot checked the Dolby one and both sounded very good, and equivalent, to me. The soundstage was used fully for this mix, throwing sounds of battle and the roar of various creatures to all corners of the room. There was a good amount of directionality too. The audio was clean and clear with no background noise or other common audio defects.
Blue Underground previously released this movie in 2005 as a two-disc limited edition and then again in 2008 on one disc. Unfortunately this Blu-ray includes only the bonus features found on the 2008 edition. It's missing the feature-length documentary on Frank Frazetta, Frazetta: Paintng with Fire. That's a real disappointment. I would have much preferred that they leave off one of the 7.1 audio tracks and include the docu even if it was only in 480p.
As it is this disc has some nice bonus material. The most interesting extra was the audio commentary by Ralph Bakshi himself along with Lance Laspina. Bakshi presents a lot of background information on the genesis of the project, along with highlights of his career. It's very interesting, especially for someone who appreciates Bakshi's work. Making of Fire and Ice (13 min.) has Bakshi relating what it took to get this film made and released, along with some great information on how rotoscoping is actually accomplished. There's a lot of duplication with the commentary track, but it's still worth watching.
Bakshi on Frazetta (8 min) has the director talking about the contributions that Frank Frazetta made to the film and discusses his art, Sean Hannon's Diary Notes (14 min) hah the actor who played Nekron reading the notes that he took while making the film.
The extras are wrapped up with a Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery (13 min), a reel of pictures with optional subtitles, and a copy of the theatrical trailer. All in all this was a very nice set of extras, I just wish the Frazetta docu was included too.
A visually impressive and beautiful film, Fire and Ice is rather unique especially in this day of computer animation. The story is simple and uncluttered, even the dialog is kept to a minimum, but the production overcomes those limitations with imagination and creativity. This Blu-ray disc looks and sounds very good too. Bakshi fans should run out and buy this immediately, and for animation and fantasy fans in general it comes recommended.
1) Gibson, Jon M.; McDonnell, Chris (2008). "Fritz the Cat". Unfiltered: The Complete Ralph Bakshi. Universe Publishing.
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.