Blue Underground // 1983 // 85 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Steve Power (Retired) // September 14th, 2009
The final battle between the armies of the cold and the keepers of the flame is about to begin!
The classic collaboration between animation royal Ralph Bakshi (The Lord of the Rings) and legendary fantasy artist Frank Frazetta comes to Blu-ray courtesy of the madmen at Blue Underground. Does it soundly bludgeon your senses or is it more of an HD Hack job?
The evil ice-lord Nekron and his sub-human cronies are on the march. His control over the cold and ice crushes all in his path, as his giant moving glacial fortress shifts ever closer to Fire Keep, the last vestige of civilization. Caught in the middle are Larn -- a lone warrior whose village was wiped out by Nekron and his ape-men -- and Teegra, Princess of Fire Keep, abducted by Nekron's minions and brought out into the wild. At their back is Nekron's army of primitive sub-humans. At their side, the mysterious warrior Darkwolf, who has designs on burying his axe six inches into Nekron's spleen.
There was a time when Ralph Bakshi was a name synonymous with frat boys and college campuses everywhere. In the 1970s, he pushed the animation envelope in an adult direction with mixed results. From the animated sexual escapades of Robert Crumb's Fritz The Cat to the off the wall sci-fi-fantasy of Wizards and the social commentary of Heavy Traffic and Coonskin. Once the last vestiges of '70s youth acquired mortgages and children, Bakshi's popularity faded. A crippled adaptation of Tolkien's epic The Lord of the Rings didn't help matters, and American Pop -- his most mature and meaningful effort -- hit theatres dead on arrival. The adult animation boom he'd spearheaded had gasped its last breath and died.
Enter Frank Frazetta, legendary artist and painter, best known for his striking fantasy work, most commonly seen on the widespread reprints of Robert E. Howard's Conan stories in the 1960s. In a world before Dungeons & Dragons, Boris Vallejo, and Joe Jusko, Frazetta was the definitive visual master of the fantasy medium. Not only did he establish the visual identity of Howard's legendary Cimmerian Barbarian, but his svelte and buxom warrior women (complete with chain mail bikini and pet tiger) awoke the raging hormones of many a pubescent geek.
Both men were creative forces in decline, and while Frazetta still demanded a modicum of respect within the comic world, Bakshi had become "that guy who did those Disney pornos." With the two joining forces, both men hoped Bakshi's knack for animated action and Frazetta's striking images could meld together and create an animated epic that might succeed where The Lord of the Rings had failed. The end result was Fire and Ice, an ambitious production that pushed Bakshi's trademarked rotoscoping skills to the limit. Sadly, the film had barely a theatrical presence, earning less than a million in 1983 box office dollars. It would go on to find life on home video, usually appearing in corner store kiddie sections, Frazetta's artwork appealing to the tykes chasing after He-Man videos. In the 20 plus years that followed, Fire and Ice, like most of Bakshi's work, would build a small, but loyal following.
The most striking element of Fire and Ice is undoubtedly the smooth animation. Bakshi's techniques shine, giving the characters a sense of life that's virtually unmatched in animation. There is always motion, no matter how subtle, adding an energy and vibrancy to the proceedings that makes the film feel more alive than just about any other animated feature of its time -- including the works of Walt Disney and Don Bluth. Also amazing are the fully painted backgrounds by James Gurney and Thomas Kinkaid, who Bakshi jokes probably went on to make more money than he and Frazetta combined.
To today's audiences, reared on Pixar and Anime, Fire and Ice will look severely dated, like an above average episode of Masters of the Universe. For me, someone who's grown up with the film in four different formats, it still holds my attention. The animation still awes and the action feeds the inner man-child, taking me back to the days of Roy Thomas, Barry Windsor-Smith, and Marvel's black and white Savage Sword of Conan mags. With the degree of violence on display and the female lead's general lack of clothing, it's hard to believe I first experienced the film at the tender age of 7 or 8.
Blue Underground's previous DVD treatment of Fire and Ice was exceptional, but the Blu-Ray is a huge upgrade. The 1080p image is crisp and clear, so clear you can see pencil strokes in the line work and the grain of the paper and canvas in the backgrounds. With this clarity comes dust and dirt in the ink and paint. Some might be turned off, but it truthfully makes the organic nature of the production shine and the image that much more appealing. The colors are deep and vibrant, popping off the screen in glorious fashion. The DTS-HD audio is also amazing, with wonderful separation and clarity, even if some of the noise of the old source material creeps in at times. It's truly an amazing treatment for what was ultimately bottom-shelf rental fodder in its heyday.
All of the extras from Blue Underground's excellent DVD are ported over, including a vintage look at the making of the film from Bakshi's personal VHS collection, as well as a sit down interview with the man himself, discussing Frank Frazetta and their working relationship, while comparing Frazetta to Rembrandt more than once. Also present is a commentary by Bakshi; more of a Q&A session with director Lance Laspina (Frazetta: Painting with Fire) than a real feature commentary. The thing is, Bakshi's rather abrasive personality doesn't make him the most likeable sort of person to listen to. He can be rather crude at times and, while I certainly respect the man's talent, I can't say he did anything to win me over as a fan. Left out of this release is the documentary Frazetta: Painting with Fire, which was included as a bonus disc in the DVD package. So while I can wholeheartedly say the upgrade in visual and audio quality makes a Blu-Ray purchase worthwhile, you may want to hold onto your DVD edition for the documentary.
Fire and Ice is a stupid movie. It's sparsely structured, with cringe inducing dialogue and all the pathos of high school Shakespeare. It's co-written by Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway, no strangers to sword and sorcery, as both men were responsible for bringing Conan: The Barbarian to Marvel Comics in the '70s. The action is cliché for the genre, the villain is woefully underdeveloped, and the film has all the character depth of your local kiddie pool. The script also has a few issues, most notably a middle act which goes back and forth on itself so much it ultimately eats its own tail. And yet, the whole flick still manages to be completely and utterly awesome. It sweats bad-ass out of every single porous hole in its skin, and the final act really engages the viewer with some amazingly well-choreographed action. Sure it appeals to the inner 10 year old in the same way that something like 300 does, but is that really a bad thing, when we're talking about buxom damsels, lion clothed warriors, and evil wizards?
Sure the plot is ridiculous and Bakshi's technique is dated (more a curiosity than a marvel), but Fire and Ice still manages to play to its strengths and the flaws present are superficial if anything. Who cares about plot or character, when you've got a guy wearing a panther's head for a hat, carving up ape-men with a huge honking axe! It's time to dump that ratty old BETA cassette you recorded off of local cable, and dump that VHS with the ancient stickers and faded cover you found previously-viewed at VHS Village. Put the "NO GURLZ ALLOWED!" sign up on the TV-room door, fire up the plasma and surround sound, and prepare to grin like an idiot for the next 90 minutes, as Fire and Ice satisfies your red-meat-eating primitive side as only the best sword and sorcery can. It's barbarian bliss!
Are you kidding me? Not guilty! Now get out of here before I break out my
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Blue Underground
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 7.1 Surround (English)
* DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 1983
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Production Diary
* Photo Gallery