Fire & Ice (1983 movie) review…

Is it cheating if they had rotoscoped a plot?… After the break…

Fire & Ice (1983 movie) review…

Animation is not an easy business. You not only have to draw one picture but twenty-four very-similar pictures in order to get only one second of animation. Why twenty four? Because the human eye & brain stop distinquishing between individual pictures at twenty-four frames per second. Drawing so many pictures is, in part, why animation tends to be very time consuming and expensive to make. Unlike a live-action film, where a director may become instantly inspired to create a new scene on the spot or the actors improvise some dialog during a particular scene, there are no second chances in animation; Either you get it the first time or you don’t.

There is a common saying that goes, “measure twice, cut once.” In animation, that saying might as well be, “measure ten times, cut once.”

There are few techniques in order to lower the cost of traditional hand-drawn animation. A lot of the animation is drawn in foreign countries, such as in Asia, where the labor is both cheap and plentiful. Animators do not, obviously, need to redraw an entire scene twenty-four times but only those sections that requires motion. As a result, the backgrounds of animated movies are drawn only once and the animated portion of that scene is overlayed onto the background.

Another, slightly more controversial method, of making animation cheaper is called “rotoscoping.”

Rotoscoping is the process of filming a live-action scene and then tracing over that scene with an animated figure. For instance, take a simple scene of a person walking across the screen. Now, take each frame of that scene and roughly sketch an animated person over that real person’s body. That example is at the heart of rotoscoping and rotoscoping may as well be the grand-daddy of “motion capture,” which is when a person wears a special suit and acts out a scene so that scene can then be manipulated into a computer-generated creature of some kind. The performer Andy Serkis has practically made a living out of just that kind of work.

In the world of traditional hand-drawn animation, one animator tends to be fairly well-known when it comes to rotoscoping: Ralph Bakshi.

By the year 1983, Ralph Bakshi was at his most influential in Hollywood. He had already become famous for his animated film, “Fritz the Cat,” which is often considered as the first mature, mainstream animated film. He had also drawn other animated films, such as the animated version of “The Lord of the Rings,” right when the tabletop role-playing game fad (with “Dungeons & Dragons”) was beginning.

“Fire and Ice,” a 1983 movie, may not be Bakshi’s most remembered film or his most influential but it was released while he was at his most influential in Hollywood. Working with Ralph Bakshi was Frank Frazetta, another highly influential artist known for his fantasy illustrations that involved buxom women, highly-muscular men & fantastical beasts.

“Fire and Ice” is a fairly standard fantasy story that borrows heavily from the film “Star Wars”… But not necessarily in a good way. Two kingdoms exist; One good, one evil (naturally). The evil kingdom has a wizard (Nekron) that is nearly omnipotent when it comes to the creation of ice while the good kingdom has sought refuge in the only known place that can resist ice… At the side of an active volcano (the “fire”). A lone village warrior, named Larn, is left to fend for himself after his village is overrun by a huge ice glacier. At the same time, a nefarious plot is hatched to kidnap the good kingdom’s princess (Teegra) under the guise of a truce offering. The kidnapping is temporarily foiled by the evil henchmen’s ineptitude and Teegra is off wandering around in a lush tropical jungle. An older warrior named “Darkwolf” arrives to help Larn out as they attempt to rescue the princess, defeat the evil Kingdom’s wizard and bring peace to the planet at last.

“Fire and Ice” is best remembered today for a few concepts: The fact that so much of it is rotoscoped, that it was the height of Ralph Bakshi’s influence in Hollywood, of Frank Frazetta’s involvement, that other famous people (such as Thomas Kincade, the so-called “Painter of Light”) was involved in the project long before they became famous… It can even be remembered for the fact that, as a PG-rated film, there is a whole lot of Teegra running around and not much clothing attached to her.

The problem is that “Fire and Ice” can’t possibly be remembered as a very good film… Or a good film… Or even, for that matter a fair film.

To begin to list out the series of problems with the film’s story is beyond the scope of anyone who has their priorities in order: It would take too long and so many other tasks would be far more productive to accomplish.

However, we can start with the maxim that a hero is only as good as it’s villain. Quite frankly, the villain sucks. Nekron, the main villain in this film, is ill-defined. His powers are ill-defined. His goals are ill-defined. He’s not exactly an imposing or intimidating looking person. Darth Vader, from the Star wars series, was tall, large, dressed in black, had a menacing mask with a deep mechanical voice. Nekron, on the other hand, is a scrawny male with long, flowing white hair who looks like he’s passing a kidney stone every time that he uses his powers. And we don’t even know exactly what his powers are or to what extent those powers can be manifested until the moment actually arises. At one point, he is slashed across the chest in a sword fight but, in another instance, he’s able to deflect an arrow off of his back. He can mind-manipulate people to commit suicide but this has some limitations as well that are also ill-defined.

Our hero (Larn), isn’t even the main hero – That falls onto someone named “Darkwolf.” Darkwolf appears out of nowhere in the story and you’d be forgiven if you saw more than a passing resemblance of Batman in him if you viewed him only from the neck up. Darkwolf may have some connection to a lost, abandoned city that is rediscovered deep inside of the jungle in the movie but I don’t remember much of him other than he fights really well. What’s his motivation for wanting to bring down Nekron? How does Darkwolf manage to follow Larn to the Ice Kingdom when even Larn had to stow away onto a boat to reach it? Nobody knows or, quite frankly, even cares.

Teegra, our damsel-in-distress, is constantly one wardrobe malfunction away from turning this PG-rated film into an R-rated one. If parents complained about Ariel’s physique from “The Little Mermaid” for being a bit too buxom for the kiddies, those same parents would need a cardiologist and enough tranquilizers to stun a herd of elephants upon seeing Teegra strut around the jungle in nothing more than a bikini that is, to pardon the pun, painted on.

None of these characters has the slightest bit of a character arc to them. Larn doesn’t become more brave as the film progresses; He already is brave from the very start. Teegra is a spitfire from the moment you see her until the moment that the end credits appear; There’s not a speck of spoiled princess in her. Nekron is evil from end to end without the slightest hint of any sort of progression of the character; He’s mad with power when he arrives on screen until his ultimate demise.

So much of this film just doesn’t make sense while you watch it that, even taking the fanciful setting into account, you mentally just give up. Secondary characters come and go with only the slightest bit of plot progression. For instance, there’s a scene or two of an independent sorcerer and her large, goofy giant that could have been completely cut out of the movie with little consequence. Teegra’s brother also plays an incidental role in the film and whose only real purpose is to be a cheap death and a sounding board while talking with his father.

At one point, an ultimatum is given that lava is going to be released from the volcano but it has absolutely no dramatic weight because we had no idea that the lava even existed or if it was so destructive in this fantasy world. And if the lava was so destructive to begin with, why didn’t the good kingdom use it to eradicate the evil ice villain to begin with?

The film may have been the collaboration for a bunch of realized & potential talent but there is simply no story to go along with the visuals. You never care for any of the characters or marvel at any of the sights because there are no consequences or sacrifice; There is no suspense to get to the throne room of the evil Ice kingdom because… You can just fly in on a herd of pterodactyls (sorry… “Dragonhawks”)… And, if so, why didn’t they do so to begin with?!

“Fire and Ice” will likely be remembered as the pinnacle of hand-drawn rotoscoping; It’s just too bad that they couldn’t have rotoscoped a halfway decent story to go with the rather unique visuals.

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