1980s, 2/4, Fantasy, Ralph Bakshi, Review

Fire and Ice

#3 in my ranking of Ralph Bakshi’s filmography.

Partnering with Frank Frazetta to create the art design, Ralph Bakshi returned once again to the world of high fantasy with Fire and Ice, a middling effort that brings nothing particularly new to the table while demonstrating that Frazetta’s art was best used in the visual art space of still images rather than moving ones. It’s very far from Bakshi’s worst work, utilizing his rotoscoping technique in its most complete form while doing its best to match with the intricately designed backgrounds, but its all undermined by a narrative that doesn’t really seem to know how to spend its time except in small episodes of limited peril rather than building up to the final confrontation. Written by a pair of comic book writers, Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas, the film was a financial disappointment and drove Bakshi back to television for a decade.

Nekron (Stephen Mendel) and his mother Juliana (Susan Tyrell) are leaders of the ice kingdom pushing an invasion on the fire lands ruled by King Jarol (Leo Gordon) whose daughter Teegra (Maggie Roswell) is locked up in the tower to learn while her brother Taro (William Ostrander) is out defending the kingdom. When Nekron uses his magic to push his ice palace into the fire lands, his troops push aside the barbarian defenders, including Larn (William Ostrander) who escapes with his life while the mysterious figure of Darkwolf (Steve Sandor) looks on with seeming detachment. As Nekron sends an ambassador to Jarol to negotiate his surrender, some ice soldiers climb the tower and steal Teegra from her bedroom (without giving her the opportunity to put on any more clothes than a small bikini…rude).

That’s a bulk of story, and it’s just about all the story the movie has to offer. It’s also done after about twenty minutes. That twenty minutes doesn’t feel overstuffed because there’s very little dialogue and it really is no more than the absolute basics of the narrative with hardly any serious character work to muck things up.

I feel like I should talk about Bakshi and his animation once again. He’s just simply not very good, but rotoscoping was a great crutch for him. Instantly fixing all of his problems with demonstrating motion through animation, rotoscoping gave him an easy out from some of his biggest gaps in how he went about his visual work. He was still working on extremely limited budgets, especially considering his ambitions, so designs were never as detailed as one might expect from a feature film. However, the lack of detail goes beyond basic character design and extends into visual layering, in particular around shading and shadows. There are two shots in this film where characters cast shadows, and they’re both quick and just there to show off some dramatic lighting (the first is from a fireplace while the second is some lightning). That’s nice and all, but when characters always feel like they’re just floating over the ground they’re walking on because they don’t cast a shadow or interact with anything on the ground, it creates this steady unreal feeling that undermines the whole point of using rotoscoping to begin with. It’s really frustrating, and here, in Bakshi’s eighth feature film, he still doesn’t do some really basic things to make animation look more than flatly two-dimensional. Most of the time, the characters ends up reminding me of the animation from Star Trek: The Animated Series.

Well, Teegra manages to get away from her captors, runs into Larn. They’re together for a little while, have some awkward meet cute stuff, fall into some water where Larn fights off a giant squid. Teegra ends up captured again. There’s some rescuing back and forth, but Teegra ends up in Nekron’s ice palace where he laughs off the idea of marrying her. Larn teams up with Jarol to lead a mission into the ice palace where there’s a battle and things get sorted out.

In some basic narrative ways, this feels like an updated, more clear-eyed version of Wizards. There’s still an aimlessness to the narrative that leads to scenes that ultimately feel pointless, but the adherence to the Frazetta design aesthetic papers over that issue by providing a consistent visual palate across the whole film. Instead of veering back and forth between hand-animation, rotoscoping, Xerox, and back, completely at random, the film just looks pretty decent and consistent from beginning to end.

Sure, there’s little in the way of narrative meat, but the point is the visual flare. And it sort of works. The design aesthetic is really nice, but watching Teegra run around in the wide variety of environments from hot to cold barefoot and in just her two piece bikini shows how utterly silly the concept is. It’s better when the images are still and Dejah Thoris is just looking awesome with a sword while John Carter and Tars Tarkas fight off white apes. Heck, the poster of Fire and Ice looks better than the whole of the movie.

Is this good? Nope. Is it entertaining? Mildly. Bakshi has certainly made far worse, and the injection of Frazetta design does some mild good for his filmmaking results. There’s still a fractured narrative at play, perhaps stemming from the work of a pair of writers more comfortable in shorter forms than a feature film, but it’s significantly less frustrating than something like Wizards.

Rating: 2/4


3 thoughts on “Fire and Ice”

  1. ah….yeah, guilty pleasure. The Frazetta angle really elevated this one for me. Though I’m baffled why a genuine talent like Frazetta teamed up with a hack like Bakshi.

    Did you notice Nekron and Darkwolf are back, again? Or at least their names are. Bakshi is recycling here.

    But…Teegra. Lots and lots of Teegra. Relevant to my interests.

    OT but I’m on vacation, yes there’s already been one winter storm on my vacation route. Next time I get cabin fever in February, I’m flying to fucking Miami and just eating the cost.


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