It’s 1980’s Fantasy Movie Season here at Taint the Meat, and this week it’s the turn of Ralph Bakshi and Frank Frazetta’s animated epic Fire and Ice, from 1983.
Set in an unnamed fantasy world Fire and Ice tells the story of two warring regions, one of fire and one of ice. The land of ice is ruled by the evil Nekron, who in league with his equally malevolent mother uses sorcery to dispatch a giant glacier to crush the land of fire. Nekron also orders a band of goblin creatures to kidnap Teegra, the perpetually under dressed daughter of Jarol, king of the fire realm. Caught up in the story is Larn, the sole survivor of one of Nekron’s attacks, and Darkwolf, a barbarian character instantly recognisable to anyone familiar with the fantasy art of Frank Frazetta. Together all three share perils and overcome various dangers, before Darkwolf confronts Nekron and good triumphs over evil.
The film was directed by Ralph Bakshi, who also helmed the animated The Lord of the Rings (1978), and featured characters and designs by Frazetta. The film was written by two of Marvel Comics’ most popular writers, Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway, both of whom had written Conan the Barbarian and The Amazing Spider-Man for the comics giant. I won’t bother listing the voice talent used in the film as I’ve never heard of any of them, and I doubt you have either.
With such creative talent behind the film it’s a little disappointing then that Fire and Ice is actually a pretty underwhelming movie. Thomas and Conway’s script is okay but there’s not really a lot for them to contribute as the three principle characters basically just run from one menace to another. There’s also very little dialogue in the film (I suspect your average Marvel comic has more dialogue); the best that can be said of the script is that’s its competent, although I suspect that may well be damning with faint praise.
As with The Lord of the Rings, Bakshi utilises the rotoscope method of filmmaking — that’s where the animation frames are re-drawn from still photographs taken from live action sequences. Rotoscope is the kind of animation method that you either like or you don’t — personally I find its verisimilitude has a habit of pulling me out of the film. The animation itself is fairly uninspired (we’re talking a step up from television animation here) and it doesn’t help that the characters are so flatly realised, with no texture or shading — not what you’d expect from a cinematic release. The painted backgrounds help somewhat but overall the animation is dull and prosaic.
There is one element to the film that does work very well, and that’s William Kraft’s bombastic soundtrack. Kraft, who only scored a handful of films in his long career as a composer, nailed it for Fire and Ice. His score is fantasy in a nutshell: grandiose, exhilarating and wonderfully overblown. Four minutes from his score features in the video below, and it’s epic.
There are plenty of fantasy tropes on offer in Fire and Ice, but not necessarily the most positive ones from the genre. Sure, there are more than enough sword fights and monsters, and the body count is surprisingly high, but there’s also a great deal of partial nudity in the film. Teegra, the main female character, spends the entire film running around in the skimpiest of bikinis, and the film seems overly fixated on her bottom. (Anyone interested in turning Fire and Ice into a drinking game should try taking a swig every time the film shows Teegra’s bum — however be warned: you’ll be pissed 40 minutes into the film).
Unsurprisingly Fire and Ice didn’t do fantastically well at the box office, but as I’ve stated in other reviews in this series, fantasy flicks from the 1980’s rarely did. The film has gone on to enjoy some minor cult success on home video, but again that’s not unusual with fantasy films from that period. A few years ago there was talk of Sin City director Robert Rodriguez filming a live-action remake, but so far those plans have come to naught.
In the early Eighties I remember reading articles and seeing adverts for Fire and Ice in various science fiction magazines and thinking that an animated film based on Frazetta’s artwork — and one directed by the guy behind The Lord of the Rings — would be amazing. If the director could somehow capture Frazatta’s distinctive painted art style on film then the movie couldn’t be anything but awesome. Sadly, that wasn’t to be. Don’t get me wrong, Fire and Ice isn’t a terrible film, it just isn’t a particularly good one. Although the world it inhabits would have been instantly recognisable to fans of the Fantasy genre, Fire and Ice doesn’t really do much with that world. There’s no character development to speak off, the villain is pretty bland and it just isn’t fantastic enough. Apart from the scene with the witch (and her creepy resurrection), and Frazetta’s striking movie poster, the film is largely forgettable; Fire and Ice is a film for whom the epitaph ‘a noble failure’ definitely applies.
Next: Star Wars guru George Lucas tries his hand at fantasy with Willow, from 1988.