Fire and Ice
U.S.A. / 1983
Directed by Ralph Bakshi
Starring
Randy Norton
Cynthia Leake
Leo Gordon

Color / 81 Minutes / PG

Format: DVD (R0 - NTSC / 2-disc set)
Blue Underground
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Review by
Brian Lindsey
 
6
    10   10 = Highest Rating  
SNEAK PREVIEW | DVD Release Date: Aug. 30, 2005
As a kid growing up in the 1970s, whenever I visited the bookshop I invariably made a beeline to the sci-fi section and the paperback editions of novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard. A big part of their allure was the incredible cover art by renowned fantasy illustrator Frank Frazetta. What 12-year old boy wouldn't want to be one of those mighty-thewed warriors, savagely dealing death and destruction to all enemies human and inhuman who dared oppose him? What pubescent male wouldn't face down foes from a hundred different worlds just to win a smile from one of those impossibly voluptuous women? (Be they Martian princess or Hyborean dancing girl, these babes were stacked, jack: double-D breasts, big, muscular bubble butts and thighs that could crack a man's skull like an eggshell!) To tell the truth, Frazetta's unforgettable cover paintings were sometimes the best thing about these books... The stories inside often had a hard time living up to them.
    In the early '80s a resurgence in the popularity of sword and sorcery flicks prompted director Ralph Bakshi (Fritz the Cat, Wizards) to approach Frazetta about collaborating on an animated feature film. The project would not be an attempt to bring Frazetta's creations to the screen in a literal sense; the money just wasn't there for a huge Disney-sized team of animators. Instead Bakshi hoped to capture the spirit and flavor of the artist's work in a sort of "Frazetta comic book" that moved. With Fire and Ice he largely succeeded.
    Not that the by-the-numbers plot helps matters much. The story, alas, is merely one fantasy adventure cliché after another, despite having been written by two of Marvel Comics best scribes, Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway. You've got your stock evil sorcerer in this case called Nekron (who somewhat resembles Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melniboné) hell-bent on world domination. Nekron crushes cities who defy him with a titanic glacier he moves and expands across the land. Those not destroyed by the ice are massacred by Nekron's army of bestial subhumans. The last city-state to stand against him is Firekeep, ruled by the wise King Jarol. Jarol is willing to negotiate with Nekron although the wizard wants no part of it he rather enjoys all the killin' and slayin' and conquerin' stuff. ("I spit on peace!") But Nekron's mother, the equally evil sorceress Juliana, wants him to sire an heir. So she has Jarol's bodacious (and barely dressed) daughter, Princess Teegra, kidnapped. Fortunately this nubile noble finds a champion in Larn, a strapping young warrior who rescues her (time and again) from Juliana's soldiers as well as the occasional monster. Larn is the only survivor of his village and wants revenge on Nekron for the genocide of his people. He's still a bit of a greenhorn when it comes to this hero jazz, though, so luckily for him there's this super badass masked fighter named Darkwolf who helps him out of a couple of sticky situations. Darkwolf doesn't say much, but he eats Nekron's troops and anybody or anything else that gets in his way for breakfast. He too wants to kill the ice wizard in a bad way, for reasons that are never explained. Accordingly, Larn and Darkwolf team up with Jarol for an assault on Nekron's frozen palace (hail, ye Dragonriders of Firekeep!), to rescue Teegra and destroy their enemy before he enslaves the world.
    I've always admired the Rotoscope style of animation a pre-computer form of "motion capture" in which actors are filmed conventionally, their figures then traced onto animation cells by artists even if I haven't always enjoyed what was done with it. The technique is used to fine effect here, especially in the various chases and fight scenes. Creatures (wolves, an aquatic monster, pterodactyls) had to be created from scratch, however, as were the numerous background paintings. Ranging from lushly detailed to Saturday morning 'toon-level expediencies, it's amazing that these backgrounds were painted by just two artists all Bakshi could really afford, and who labored to crank out some 10 to 15 of them a day. The most inferior-looking aspects of the animation are the glacier and lava flow sequences, which open and close the film respectively. They're pretty cheesy, barely above the level of Thundarr the Barbarian.
    Warts and all, Fire and Ice can be a breezy little movie if you're willing to switch off your brain and be a kid again. It's breathlessly paced and brimming with action; there's truly never a dull moment. Today's kids should readily enjoy it. Dad may get a little embarrassed (for their sake) as Bakshi's camera lingers lustily over Teegra's nearly naked cartoon form, but despite the high body count the movie never gets too gory for the young 'uns. Onscreen killings are numerous but kept within the margins of the PG rating.
    So while the clichéd story may drag it down a few notches there are a lot worse ways to spend a Saturday afternoon. Nice to look at, Fire and Ice is dumb, sure, but relentlessly fun. It's just too bad the movie focused on that pony-tailed dullard, Larn, instead of Darkwolf. Darkwolf is cool. He's the embodiment of Frazetta's archetypal cover painting hero slicing off limbs and bashing in brains to emerge victorious atop a mountain of corpses.

Rescued from obscurity by Blue Underground, Fire and Ice comes to DVD in a marvelous two-disc edition (reviewed here) as well as a less expensive single disc incarnation the LE set comes packaged in a holographic slipcover case. Disc 1 presents the film via a nearly pristine anamorphic transfer (1.78:1 AR). An eye-poppingly vibrant color palette compliments razor sharp images, giving the show even more of that comic-book-come-to-life feel. Newly remastered 6.1 DTS, 5.1 Surround and Dolby 2.0 audio tracks are offered. (The latter two sound terrific; I'm not equipped to properly evaluate DTS.) In an unusual move for BU, subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish. Extras include a large still gallery and the theatrical trailer, plus three featurettes: The Making of 'Fire And Ice' (13 min.), a promotional piece from 1983 (taken from a videotape source, but quite watchable); Bakshi On Frazetta (8 min.), an interview segment with the Fire and Ice director about his collaboration with the celebrated artist; and Sean Hannon's Diary Notes (14 min.), in which the actor who played Nekron's Rotoscope 'double' reads passages from the journal entries he made during the film's live-action shoot. A commentary track with Ralph Bakshi, moderated by Lance Laspina (see below), rounds out the Disc 1 goodies. Naturally the discussion centers on the nuts and bolts technical aspects of the production, although Bakshi is quite the Brooklyn raconteur.
    Distinctive to the Limited Edition of Fire and Ice is the 93-minute documentary film contained on Disc 2: Frazetta: Painting with Fire (2003), which originally aired on The Sundance Channel. Among those interviewed are Monster Kid emeritus Forrest J Ackerman, Conan the Barbarian director John Milius, Ralph Bakshi, rocker Glenn Danzig, a number of prominent fantasy illustrators, art historians, Frazetta family members and childhood friends, and, of course, the man himself who has, in his twilight years, taken to drawing and painting again (with his left hand) after recovering from a series of debilitating strokes. A significant portion of the doc covers his childhood and personal life; we end with the opening of the Frank Frazetta Museum. Throughout we're shown copious examples of his paintings, sketches and illustrations from age 8 (when he was considered a child prodigy) to today. Painting With Fire is a terrific tribute to this influential artist and his inspiring work, and comes highly recommended if you have even the slightest interest in fantasy art. (A full-length audio commentary with producer Jeremy J. DiFiore and director Lance Laspina is included, but I haven't yet had a chance to listen to it.)
8/09/05
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