Review Date: August 12, 2005
Released by: Blue Underground
Release date: 9/30/2005
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.78:1 | 16x9: Yes
“So you think you got it all figured out
You're an expert in the field, without a doubt
But I know your methods inside and out
And I won't be takin' in by Fire and ice”
-Pat Benatar, Fire and Ice
Although referring in her song to the hot and cold duality of relationships, Benatar may as well have been talking about Ralph Bakshi’s 1983 commercial flop, Fire and Ice
. Ahead of its time, perhaps, since the film was released before Conan and He-Man infiltrated theaters and televisions throughout the conservative reign of Ronald Regan, the film is nevertheless a disappointment. Bakshi had the blessing and collaboration of pop fantasy artist and mastermind, Frank Frazetta, and he was working with the technologically ambitious Rotoscoping technology he had used to good effect with his rendition of The Lord of the Rings
. All signs pointed to success, but in the end something was missing. Join me as I journey through Fire and Ice
with Blue Underground’s new two-disc restoration of Bakshi’s elemental disappointment.
We are brought into Frank Frazzeta’s mythic vision of Fire and Ice
through a series of still pencil sketchings of the main characters of the film. Juliana is the ruler of ice, and together with her son, Nekron, they make a bid to take over the entire comic landscape. They’ve conquered several lands, and all that lies ahead is Firekeep, the land of fire. King Jarol presides over Firekeep, but his dealings with Juliana and Nekron get personal when Nekron has Jarol’s curvaceous daughter, Princess Teegra captured. As Nekron’s Neanderthal minions drag her away, Jarol sends off his only son on a journey to bring her back safely and restore peace to the land.
On his bid to takeover the world, Nekron destroyed many races, the last of which was Larn’s people. Orphaned from his culture, Larn is the proverbial Western outsider who must come and bring resolve to the conflicts among those of fire and ice. In his bid to leash vengeance on Nekron, he runs into Juliana, and is thrust in-between the two contrasting dynasties as he tries to protect her life. After a number of run-ins with beasts, minions and nature, they eventually end up in Nekron’s ice lair, where fates will finally collide with flame and chill.
A final character is thrown into the mix, as a mysterious man watches our epic unfold from afar. Darkwolf, clearly a take-off of one of Frazetti’s greatest characters and HorrorDVDs.com’s greatest forum posters, Death Dealer, sits on horseback sheathed in shadow. Is he the villain his dark shadows suggest, or are the shadows merely a cloak of an unlikely hero? As elemental as Larn’s face off with Nekron seems to be, Darkwolf lurks in the shadows, promising to stir up the finale with the uncertainty of his origins, a western drifter. Will Nekron freeze over the land, or will Juliana’s dream of all the elements, fire, water, earth and ice, all be able to coexist in a marvelous utopia? In the era of Captain Planet
, I’ll let you guess who prevails.
As a fan of both the chiseled precision of Frazetta’s mystical paintings and the adult fairytales of Bakshi’s earlier films, I appreciate and respect the combination of two of the twentieth century’s most influential pop artists. At the same time however, as a collector, I appreciate the beauty offered by originals. There is beauty in a reproduction of the Mona Lisa that you can buy on store corners, but there is nothing that equals the texture, detail, color and gloss of Da Vinci’s original. By the same token, Fire and Ice
feels less like a sprawling Frazetta painting or a graphic Bakshi parable as it does a pale reproduction. It may glimmer at times with some wonderful matte backgrounds or some brutal on-screen violence, but it ultimately seems like Bakshi and Frazetti watered down for the mass market.
Frazetta’s paintings were known for their amazing attention to detail, with every muscle and contour of the body chiseled to a hyper-realistic precision. As it is said in the documentary on the following disc, his paintings had the ability to breakdown the wall of the spectator and immerse the viewer in the world as if they were truly there. His paintings were erotic in the way they rendered women and men with such perfect curves and muscles. They seemed real and yet something larger than life, something fantastic. His brush never shied away from the darker side of man either, as many of his paintings, whether it be a man surrounded by snarling panthers or screams in the midst of death, embraced the tense emotions of fear and anguish.
Bakshi was similar in that many of his animated works were filled with adult subject matter, often to comment upon the times. Fritz’s promiscuity and excessive narcotic consumption in Fritz the Cat
was a potent and exaggerated commentary on the free-wheelin’ sixties, while Heavy Traffic
immersed itself unrepressed into the multicultural urban decay of American cities through way of prostitution, racism and gang wars. Fritz and Traffic were both X rated, and needed to be so, as any lighter take on free love and innercity malaise would seem preachy or shallow by comparison. Bakshi has a gritty and often dark conceptualization of the world, and his ideas play best when they are uninhibited by studio pressures or the need to cater to mass audiences.
Thus, Fire and Ice
, with its PG rating and rather flat animation scheme, fails the capture the best of both Bakshi and Frazetta. When the action stops on a painting of the horizon, the movie registers with a potency similar to a Frazetta painting. But for the most part, Fire and Ice
is filled with flat and untextured cell animation, where real actors have been traced, but the complexities of their emotions and their bodies remain unrecorded. The depth of a Frazetta was in the detail, and in failing to illustrate the characters with anything more than solid colors and brushstrokes, Bakshi fails to capture the intricacy of a true Frazetta original. Granted, the budget and technologies available to Bakshi were limited, but I’d never want to see a couple indie filmmakers make Gone With the Wind
in their basement, either. There are some things that shouldn’t be touched unless one has the means to do it justice, Fire and Ice
being one of them.
The other main problem with the film are its aims at children, something totally against the Bakshi of old. There is wall to wall violence throughout the film, yet nary a drop of blood or a shot of gore. In this graphic and visceral fantasy world, the locations suggest a barbarity of a pack of wolves devouring their pray. And yet Bakshi keeps things clean, too clean, hinting at vices better left shown. Teegra, with her buxom Frazetta frame, is as much a tease as the violence, with her curves always outlining her skimpy outfits, but never fully shown. In a Frazetta painting she would be naked, unmasked and unashamed in her strength and beauty, but in Fire and Ice
she remains some flirtatious priss. When she is captured by impulsive and perverted Neanderthals, to have them merely leer at her passively is a total cheat. In those times they would have attacked her or at the very least mistreat her. But no, in this sanitized fantasy world, they merely look. Had this film proceeded with the unflinching eye of an early Bakshi, it would have registered on a much more convincing and realistic level. As a result, the catering to larger audiences makes great opportunities seem blasé in execution.
That is not to say that the film is without merit, for there are many commendable moments. Bakshi is able to capture the intensity of the moment through some stunning slow motion scenes, a technique as underused in animation then as it is today. As Nekron’s minions storm Teegra’s palace, there is a sort of tragic beauty as they ravage the room of the heroine in distress. Also notable is one of the most phallic openings ever in a children’s movie, where Nekron overtakes a city with his mounts of ice. As he sexually twitches and thrives on his thrown, icebergs shoot up from the ground, each one more erect than the last. As he reaches the climax of his takeover, he gives a final thrust as the iceberg explodes into a semen-like spray of ice shards all over his victims. It is definitely not a moment of subtlety, but a moment of excess that Bakshi does best. If only the rest of the film proceeded with the unhinged perversity of its opening it would have been far more memorable.
As it stands though, Fire and Ice
is entertaining enough as an action film, but in watering down the best of both Frazetta and Bakshi, it leaves little to remember. Too routine to be memorable, too shoddily drawn to be beautiful, and too clean to be shocking, there is little of the film that actually lingers. Going back to the Benatar quote, it is a film by two experts of the field, without a doubt, but it is without the methods of these great artists we know inside and out. I was moderately entertained, sure, but I was never takin’ in by Fire and Ice
Blue Underground presents Bakshi’s film in a fiery new 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The first thing that is noticeable is just how vivid the colors look after all these years. While the animation may not have been entirely detailed, the color scheme was always an active one, with huge painted backgrounds with lengthy horizons and active skies. This transfer does surprising justice to the vivid color palette, and the restoration is especially impressive when you look at the clips from the film presented in the various extras throughout the two discs. The ice of the disc is the flurry of blemishes on the print throughout, however. The transfer is far from pristine, and there are several specs and scratches present throughout, at times noticeable and even distracting. The defects are never huge, but the constant speckling nonetheless takes away from a film that relies on solid colors and clear animation images. Still, what the Blue has done to the colors here is commendable, even if the print could be a lot cleaner.
Just as the enhanced colors were an eye opener for the visuals, the remastered sound here is a nice treat to the ears. Presented in 6.1 DTS-ES and Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, the track sounds surprisingly full and very clear. Although it starts off somewhat restricted to the front channels, it opens up to the backs later on and the rest of the film is filled with background ambience. Sword clinging, wolf growling and feet pattering move around the channels, and all sound sharp without sounding gimmicky. The score comes through forcefully but never overwhelms the audio. It isn’t an overly aggressive track, by any means, but it does make surprisingly good use of the home theater setup with its limited audio resources.
Whether you get the two-disc or the single disc release, you are in for a real treat. Blue Undergound has combined together a number of insightful yet different extras for this fine release. On the first disc the big extra is an audio commentary with Ralph Bakshi, which is moderated by Lance Luaspina, the director of Frazetta: Painting With Fire
on the second disc. Bakshi, a spirited little Brooklyn boy, has a great energy to his speech, and is often very funny to listen to. When Laspina asks him to talk about Frazetta’s thyroid condition, Bakshi jokingly avoids the question, responding with a cackle, “fuck off, it’s none of your business!” He is unrestrained throughout, and Laspina does a good job of focusing questions to keep Bakshi talking and keep him on track. Listen all the way through, and you will find the best moments are right at the end, when Bakshi gives a heartfelt argument for the future of standard animation practice in traditional filmmaking.
Next up is the surprisingly superb “The Making of Fire and Ice
”, a behind-the-scenes look at the picture made by Bakshi’s son during the time of filmmaking. It is the most in-depth look at the animation process I’ve seen, showing exactly how the Rotoscope process works, with several comparisons between the live action and animated footage. From there, it goes to look at the hand drawing portion of the principal animation, as well as the background painting and ultimately the capturing of each composite on film. It is transferred from VHS, so the quality is by no means great, but the substance of the documentary is more than worth the time. Running thirteen minutes, it is as captivating a piece as the making-of done by Vivian Kubrick on The Shining
. Great stuff.
Next is an eight minute interview with Bakshi, where he talks about working with Frazetta. Although most of the interview footage is featured again in the longer Painting With Fire documentary, it is perfect for those seeking behind the scenes anecdotes without wanted to spring for the two-disc. Bakshi tells some funny stories about working with Frazetta, like how they were able to look at hundreds of naked women while trying to cast for Teegra. “Not bad for a couple of guys from Brooklyn” he ends off in saying.
Sean Hannon, who played Larn in the live action photography of the shoot, kept a vivid and passionate diary of his first big film experience, and shares it with us over a nostalgic and energetic diary reading. He describes his opinions of Bakshi, and writes with an innocence of someone yet to be made cynical by the heartbreak that comes part and parcel with the film industry. He shares some good anecdotes, like how he channeled his anger at Bakshi into a fine performance, and how he had to deal with casting changes throughout the shoot. It is supported with a good array of behind the scenes photographs, and entertaining throughout. It runs a fast fourteen minutes.
The first disc is rounded off with a behind-the-scenes still gallery and a theatrical trailer, but don’t let them fool you. The gallery is probably one of the largest the Underground has compiled, running thirteen minutes, and it is put together as a video file with wonderful orchestration throughout. The coolest feature is a subtitle option, which when turned on describes the picture, like mentioning where it was taken or who was in it. It is a good innovation, and one that works better than burning the subtitles in, since it leaves the original artwork uncluttered. This is where the extras end if you get the single disc, and for many that will be more than enough. But for those looking on the full story about Frank Frazetta, on to the second disc we go.
Frazetta: Painting With Fire
is a feature length documentary that originally aired on the Sundance Channel on the life and influence of Frank Frazetta. Right from the start you will notice how well produced the documentary is. There is some impressive 3D work done on some of Frazetta’s most popular paintings, and much of the interviews are broken into different layers of information, from the people talking in the front to comic captions lingering in the back. The visual style has a polish and creativity akin to the documentary featured on the Tales From the Crypt
disc, and it is just as entertaining. The documentary delves into Frazetta’s life, first starting with an overview of his life, then getting specific into aspects of his career, from his childhood, to his first job as a comic artist, to his growth as a poster and book cover painter, and finally to a legend who’s paintings now hang in a museum. The whole documentary is divided into little clusters, each one self contained. So if you just want to get to the meat about his work on Conan, you needn’t go further than the Conan chapter.
After watching a segment though, it is tough to stop, as each one builds on the other and there is enough ingenuity and insight to keep Frazetta’s career interesting. Interviewed are a number of different comic illustrators, historians and aficionados, as well as a few unexpected guests. Bo Derek talks about how she likes how he did her curves, John Milius on his Conan the Barbarian
and Glenn Danzig also gushes about the man. In fact, everyone on the disc gushes about Frazetta, and at times it seems like a total vanity piece. It would have been nice to offer a little perspective, but still, the people interviewed are more than just fanboys, they have substance to back their praise. The documentary would run a little better if it spent less time on his family life and the melodrama of his poor health. Too much time gets spent on these areas, and at times it seems a little manipulative and repetitive. A visit to his mother’s house doesn’t really show all the much, and the museum reception speech at the end is much too long winded. Overall though it paints a full and complete portrait of his life, and makes a strong argument on how he should be considered one of the greatest artists of the 1900s. For those both familiar and unfamiliar to Frank Frazetta, this documentary will be a delight to all.
The second disc’s lone extra is a commentary with the director, Lance Laspina and the producer, Jeremy J. DiFiore. Compared to the Bakshi commentary it is much more by-the-numbers and dry. A lot of it is just kind of fawning over the various paintings exhibited throughout, but they do occasionally drop the good tidbit about making the documentary. Most interesting is how the majority of their budget went into acquiring the rights to the various clips from Conan the Barbarian
in the film. The documentary provides more than enough information about Frazetta, so this commentary seems a little unnecessary.
While the single disc will suit fans of the film just fine, those looking more for a window into the art of Frank Frazetta must pick up the two-disc. I found the documentary more entertaining than the film itself, since not only do we get many anecdotes and stories to think about, but we also great a collage of all of his seminal paintings. Seeing each painting in close detail on the documentary really helps to convey just how great of a visionary Frank Frazetta really was. Blue Underground has done both Frazetta and Fire justice with this great set. Oh, and the lenticular cover? Awesome.
Ralph Bakshi and Frank Frazetta are groundbreaking animators, but their visions seem compromised in this PG studio effort. There is not enough violence, language or gore to make the trite story last, and there is not enough detail to the animations to make them compare to a Frazetta painting. Fire and Ice
is entertaining enough, but does not resonate nearly the way a Bakshi or Frazetta should. The DVD though is a creation much more commendable. The colors looks vivid while the remastered soundtrack rings sharp, and the extras are long and diverse. With a feature-length documentary, diary notes, still galleries, behind-the-scenes footage, audio commentaries and a trailer, this is a set with a little bit of everything. Blue Underground has put a lot of work into this set, and those with a great appreciation for Bakshi, Frazetta and the film itself shouldn’t be without this disc. Those looking to jump into the careers of Bakshi or Frazetta on film are better off seeking their more potent creations, like Fritz the Cat
or Conan the Barbarian
Movie - B-
Image Quality - B+
Sound - A-
Supplements - A
- Running Time - 1 hour 21 minutes
- Rated PG
- 1 Discs
- Chapter Stops
- English DTS-ES 6.1
- English Dolby Digital 5.1 EX
- English Dolby Surround 2.0
- English subtitles
- French subtitles
- Spanish subtitles
- Audio commentary with Ralph Bakshi and moderator Lance Laspina
- The Making of Fire and Ice
- Bakshi on Frazetta interview
- Sean Hannon's Diary Notes
- Behind-the-scenes still gallery
- Theatrical Trailer
- Frazetta: Painting With Fire documentary
- Audio commentary with director Lance Laspina and producer Jeremy J. DiFiore