|Available at Amazon.com|
In 1983 legendary animation director Ralph Bakshi collaborated with equally legendary illustrator/painter Frank Frazetta for the movie Fire and Ice. Bakshi was known for making controversial cartoons aimed at adults, such as Fritz the Cat and Wizards, and Frazetta was probably most well known for his covers for reprinted volumes of Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories. In fact, Frazetta is the person who created the definitive image of the Cimmerian which influenced the look and feel of the movie Conan the Barbarian, the Marvel produced Conan comics, and the more recent Conan comics published by Dark Horse. In Fire and Ice, Bakshi and Frazetta came together to make a visually arresting animated feature that was amazing during its time, but doesn’t hold up as well twenty-five years later.
In 1983, animation features for adults were nearly unheard of in the United States. The common view, which is still held by many today in this country, was that cartoons were for kids. This attitude has changed largely due to the influence of Japanese animation imported to the U.S. So, in the early Eighties, a production like Fire and Ice was extremely rare, and this fact is probably what led to its becoming a cult classic.
The plot is pretty straightforward. Nekron is dark sorcerer prince of a land of snow and glaciers. Using dark magics, he pushes the ice further and further south, paving the way for his army of subhumans to rape, pillage, and conquer. Standing in his way is King Jarol, the ruler of Fire Keep, which is built around a volcano. In a bid to force King Jarol to surrender, Nekron has his daughter, Teegra, kidnapped. She manages to escape and along the way meets Larn, the last survivor of a village destroyed by Nekron’s forces, and Darkwolf, a fierce warrior who’s kind of a like a caveman version of Batman who fights with an ax.
This is a pretty standard fantasy, and really there isn’t much to set Fire and Ice apart from any other dime novel fantasy except for the raw sexuality in the characters, which is not surprising given that sexuality is one of the hallmarks of Frazetta’s art. All of the women are scantily clad and voluptuous. Unfortunately, though, that’s about all there is to the female characters. The lead, Teegra, is pretty much useless and largely depends on Larn to save her. She tries a few times to escape, but most of her attempts are clumsy or downright laughable, such as her trying to cut her chains with a stone knife. In fact, her only successful attempt was when she used her sexuality to distract the subhumans.
And the other women do not fare any better. They are all witches and manipulators without any redeeming qualities whatsoever. They are two dimensional both in reality and personality, which makes this a rather sexist cartoon.
However, the only reason the male characters come off better than the women is because they are effective fighters. In terms of personality, Larn, Darkwolf, and the rest are just as flat. The only character who even seems to have a smidgen more personality was Nekron, and part of that may be because he reminds me a lot of Michael Moorcock’s character, Elric.
The men also possess a certain level of raw sexuality, too. Larn might as well be naked considering how little his loincloth actually covers, and Nekron has an almost disturbingly fey air about him.
So, in terms of plot and character, there isn’t much going for the movie, and I’m sorry to say that the animation doesn’t do much better. Bakshi’s crew used a technique called Rotoscoping for the animation. Essentially they shot each scene with live actors and made drawings based on each frame of film; this made this animation extremely life-like in most cases, but there were a few times when a scene lacked a sense of fluidity to the characters’ movements. At first I thought this was because I was judging it by modern standards, such as the works of Hayao Miyazaki, but I realized that even compared to the early works of Disney–Snow White, The Sword in the Stone–that it doesn’t quite hold up. Certainly the animation is much more realistic and less cartoony, but in terms of movement it just feels a little off.
Blue Underground has done a great job of cleaning up this movie. The feature is presented in 1.78:1 Widescreen aspect ratio, and it looks just as good—perhaps even better—as it did in the theaters. The sound is also of excellent quality being 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround EX. The dialogue, music, and sound effects all came through very well and there was even directionality to the tracks.
Audio Commentary with Producer/Director Ralph Bakshi
The Making of Fire and Ice (running time: 13:00) – This featurette was taken from the original VHS copy owned by Ralph Bakshi and thus the audio and video quality is diminished. Still, this was an interesting piece and it was fun watching footage of the actors performing the scenes that would later be Rotoscoped.
Bakshi on Frazetta (running time: 8:00) – Bakshi tends to ramble in this featurette, but it’s clear how much he liked and respected Frazetta.
Sean Hannon’s Diary Notes (running time: 14:00) – Hannon played Nekron during the three day shoot and he kept a surprisingly detailed diary of his experience. In this featurette Hannon reads aloud from excerpts of that diary and there were quite a few funny and interesting moments including that Darkwolf began as the famous Frazetta character, Death Dealer, but was later changed, and that there were scenes cut from the script that indicate that Darkwolf is Nekron’s father.
Behind-the-Scene Still Gallery (running time: 13:00) – This was a thirteen minute slide show played to the movie’s score. There was an option to turn on descriptive text, but for some reason it did not work.
Theatrical Trailer (running time: 1:29)
Frazetta: Painting with Fire (running time: 1:32:18) – Disk two is devoted entirely to this documentary about Frazetta, and honestly, it’s almost worth buying this edition for it alone. It’s a fascinating insight into the life and work of one of Fantasy’s greatest artists, and there are some great people who talk about Frazetta, including Bernie Wrightson and Neal Adams. There’s an optional commentary track with Director Lance Laspina and Producer Jeremy J. DiFiore, which seems a little odd to me considering this is a documentary.
Fire and Ice holds an important place in film history for several reasons—its realistic style, mature content, and the fact that this is the only animated film directly based on the art of Frank Frazetta—but unfortunately it doesn’t hold up well against the test of time. Those interested in Bakshi, Frazetta, or the history of American animation may want to check this out. Mildly recommended.
Blue Underground presents Fire and Ice. Directed by Ralph Bakshi. Starring Randy Norton, Cynthia Leake, Steve Sandor, and Sean Hannon. Written by Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway. Running time: 81 minutes. Rated PG. Released on DVD: July 29, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.