Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Overlooked Films: Bakshi and Frazetta's FIRE AND ICE (1983)

Ever wish you could see Frank Frazetta’s sword & sorcery paintings come to life in an animated motion picture? Me, too. 

Fire and Ice does not do that, but it’s the closest thing we have so far. As director Ralph Bakshi explains, they had neither the budget nor the technology to accomplish that miracle in 1983, and strove instead to create a vision more in line with Frazetta’s work on the 1950s comic book Thun’da.

This Bakshi/Frazetta collaboration is a familiar tale of a buxom, big-assed princess (Teegra) who’s abducted by a tribe of subhumans in the employ of an evil sorceress and her sorcerer son. On the side of good, though are three (count ‘em, three) thinly-veiled incarnations of Conan of Cimmeria. 

First up is a wet-behind-the-ears barbarian named Larn, distinguished from the young Cimmerian only by his blond hair. Next we meet Teegra’s brother Taro, who looks exactly like a twenty-something Conan (but we know it’s not him because he is, after all, a prince). And finally there’s Darkwolf, a thirty-something barbarian who wears Conan’s trademark furry shorts. There’s no doubt he, too, looks exactly like Conan, but he never takes off his wolf hoodie.

There are no surprises in the story, but it’s nice to watch. Though nothing ever looks exactly like Frazetta, his presence is always hinted at - by the backgrounds, character design and the framing of each scene. In an accompanying documentary about Frazetta’s life and work, Ralph Bakshi says the film artists were so much in awe of him that they were almost ashamed to draw. Bakshi assured them that Frank did not expect them to draw Frazetta, but merely to do their best.

For the most part, their best is pretty good. The backgrounds are never up to Frazetta quality, but they suggest it, and evoke the magic of his vision. The most Frazetta-like of the characters are Princess Teegra, the dusky subhumans, and Darkwolf, who poses like the grim reaper from the paperback edition of Flashing Swords! #2

The animation was done by rotoscope, meaning they filmed live actors, then drew over their images frame-by-frame. Frazetta reportedly helped out with directing, sometimes running up an down hills to show the subhumans and others how they should move. There must be film of that somewhere, and it would be a kick to see.

By today’s standards, the animation of Fire and Ice is pretty primitive, but the design is great, and based on the technology of the time, it’s an impressive achievement. I’d sure like to see the technology of today turned loose on a project like this.

More Overlooked Films at Sweet Freedom!


Anonymous said...

Bakshi not Bashki.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Never heard of this before, Evan. Is it available on DVD?

Todd Mason said...

Indeed, Bakshi. I'd suggest "hourglass figure" might be a more gentlemanly descriptive phrase!

Pity indeed, that Frazetta never got as far into animation as, say, Richard Corben (you want to talk hypertrophy...)

Adventuresfantastic said...

I was vaguely aware of this movie but have never seen it. I must correct that lapse on my part.

Rick Robinson said...

I recall the ads but didn't see it. As I recall none of the "regular" theaters showed it in my area.

Evan Lewis said...

Bakshi. Yup, yup. Fixed now.

Yep, it's on DVD. The copy I got from the library had a second disc, with an hour and half documentary about Frazetta's life and work. I enjoyed it even more than the film. It features commentary by MANY other artists, including Al Williamson, Mike Kaluta, John Buscema, etc etc.

Hourglass may be more gentlemanly, but far less precise.

I forgot to mention that the screenplay was done by Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway, but there was nothing special about it, and all of my attention was on the art.

J F Norris said...

Why do some of these figures remind me of the He-Man cartoon show from Saturday mornings of days gone by?

"Buxom and big-assed" is perfect for the director of the first X-rated animated film. Gentlemanly euphemism? Pfft.

Never heard of this. I only know of the very disturbing Wizards, Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic and Lord of the Rings by Bakshi. Wasn't Bakshi the first to use rotoscoping before the digital age of animation? Or was Disney doing it too in the late 1970s?

Cap'n Bob said...

Rotoscoping was using in Gulliver's Travels long before this movie.

Cap'n Bob said...

I looked it up. Max Fleisher's studio made it in 1939.

Phillyradiogeek said...

Thanks Evan. I featured Bakshi's Wizards as my overlooked pick a couple of weeks ago and just finished watching it this week. I may dip my toes further into the Bakshi pool with this flick.