Some folks have been asking me what I’ve been doing to keep myself occupied over these long weeks of being stuck at home. Well, I can say that in between working my full time job from home, schooling my kids, and editing the mountain of backlogged podcasts we’ve been recording over these past few weeks, I have been working on painting some of my miniatures collection that I haven’t gotten a chance to over the past year.
In particular, I finally finished by project of hand painting all the colorless Masters of the Universe versions of the old 80s “M.U.S.C.L.E.” figurines that Super7 released years ago.
I really was a fan of the sculpts on these and thought with a little paint, they would be solid player pieces to use in the any MOTU related D&D campaign or as alternate pieces in board games like “HeroQuest” or “Dungeon”.
I was a little fussy that the Man At Arms figure was more of the original “conquistador” look so I couldn’t paint a mustache on him as well. Yes, I am making it publicly known that I support the cartoon version of Duncan, rather than the clean shaven one of the original action figure.
Fun fact about that, did you know that Man at Arms wasn’t originally supposed to have a mustache in the cartoon either? Nope, he was supposed to look like the figure, but when the TV execs took a look at the drawings, he didn’t look “fatherly” enough. So they gave him the ‘stash to “old” up his character more. Because nothing says “stern father figure” than mustache rides.
Unless you are Freddy Mercury, then it just means tight jeans and power ballads.
Anyways, another thing I’ve been busy with is continuing with my nearly weekly recap of obscure little animated gems that I’ve been watching during the endless weeks of COVID isolation. I will say that many of them I feel should be given more love by the pop culture masses than what I’ve found, and as a comic fan that seems to go double for today’s entry, which is probably the most well known film of this batch in certain circles albeit still relatively forgotten about.
However, if you consider yourself a fan of the aforementioned Dungeons & Dragons, Conan the Barbarian, or any of the other swords/sorcery style fantasy property, you definitely would owe it to yourself to at least give the following review a quick read through. It’s a movie that I’ve seen bits and pieces of over the past several years, but never actually sat down and watched it from beginning to end until recently.
This is Fire and Ice!
Fire and Ice
Released in 1983 during a box office surge for high fantasy films in the wake of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mega hit Conan the Barbarian, this animated feature was a collaborative project between cartoon innovator, Ralph Bakshi, and well known illustrator, Frank Frazetta.
Bakshi had been making ground breaking adult related cartoons for years at this point starting with the film adaptation of Robert Crumb’s X rated comic, Fritz the Cat, back in 1972. A pretty huge underground hit, Bakshi followed up that with a series of less commercially successful movies such as Wizards, American Pop, and an animated adaption of the Lord of the Rings books. Still these movies continued to push the needle of what was possible in a field that had been largely dominated by Disney and their family friendly films, and often became cult classics among large groups of fans.
In particular, Bakshi’s use of rotoscoping, or shooting actors in live-action scenes and then tracing them onto animation cels, continued to add a sense of dynamic realism to his movies and thus elevating them above the standard Saturday morning fare that most of the public was used to from cartoons.
This was coupled with the artistic vision of the legendary Frank Frazetta, who had made his undeniable mark on both the comic book and illustrating industry on the whole with his exquisite cover art to many Conan, Tarzan, and Princess of Mars reprintings which redefined how these characters would be viewed by the masses even to this day. In fact, for me, his famous “Death Dealer” creation, used on such things as Molly Hatcher’s debut album, set the tone for the entire Fire & Ice visual style, as you can see in some of the conceptual design work done for the movie.
The premise is fairly straightforward from a fantasy genre perspective. An evil Queen named Juliana has a son named Necron imbued with demonic magical powers primary among them being the ability to create and control ice. Necron is using this power to expand his ice kingdom ever more southward with the help of an army of savage sub human caveman types. This puts him in direct opposition with the fire kingdom run by King Jarol whose castle is build on top of an active volcano. In hopes of forcing Jarol to submit to Necron’s rule as well as sire heirs to their throne, Juliana has their savage forces kidnap Jarol’s daughter, Teegra.
Teegra manages to escape her captors long enough to meet up with Larn, a strapping young warrior whose own village was destroyed by Necron’s forces. Shortly after the two fall in love, Teegra is recaptured by the savages, and Larn has to join forces with the mysterious Darkwolf, a nearly superhuman hunter, who has sworn to defeat Necron once and for all.
After a series of minor run-ins with witches, giant tentacle monsters, and more of Necron’s savage forces, eventually Larn and Darkwolf join forces with King Jarol and using his flying pterodactyl like mounts, assault Nercon’s castle at Icepeak in hopes of rescuing Teegra and ending Necron’s tyranny forever.
If the plot seems familiar to some Conan stories you might have read over the years, it shouldn’t be surprising to note that this movie was written by long time comic book authors Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway, both of who worked extensively on the Conan comic book adaptations that Marvel put out for years in the 70s and 80s.
Roy Thomas also was involved in writing other fantasy related adaptations over his career including Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion series (Elric, Hawkmoon, etc.) and other Robert E. Howard short stories.
As a final note, since 2014, there have been rumors circulating about a live action remake of this film. Most notably director, Robert Rodriguez, has been attached to the project for sometime, although Bakshi has went on record saying he wants nothing to do with it other than allowing the characters to be licensed for the purposes of the movie.
I never knew I needed Batman in a fantasy related property until I watched Fire & Ice.
I mean I might have mentioned that this film draws heavily from comic books given that the main writers are some of the all time best, but with the character of Darkwolf, this movie makes no bones about the fact that there is a masked vigilante that roams the jungles of this ancient dispensing murderous vengeance.
From the first scenes where we Darkwolf perched high on a clifftop surveying the area like some shadowy otherworldly force of nature, it conjured up thoughts of a certain caped crusader doing the same thing from a skyscraper overlooking Gotham City.
Hell, the guy even has a mystic secret base carved out of stone which both Teegra and Larn both stumble upon through the course of the movie.
By the way, it’s also heavily implied that they have sex there which is really odd given the Batcave is probably the last place I would want to get busy with a lady I just met. But whatever, in a world where you could get devoured whole by a giant iguana at any given moment, you can’t really wait for the Honeymoon suite at the Four Seasons.
Anyways, whether it was Darkwolf’s insane ability to mow down the scores of nameless jabroni sub humans Necron sends at him, his stoic uber cool Clint Eastwood-esque one liners, or the fact that he miraculously cheats death on like 3 separate occasions throughout the film, there’s no doubt that the character is set up to be an unstoppable ideal bad ass whereas Larn is more of the audience surrogate.
In fact, Larn is sort of like our Robin in this Dynamic Duo analogy. A semi competent fighter who still needs bailing out when he gets in over his head. Someone we can relate to more easily than a practically immortal animal skin wearing murder machine. Plus, Larn gets to bed the pretty girl where as Darkwolf is much to busy crushing the skulls of the evil wizards of the realm instead of playing grab ass.
Still though, I never really thought of the notion of creating a full fledged superhero and casting him in a fantasy realm until I watched this movie. It definitely works though, and it’s something I wish would have been fleshed out by some other creative team in an ongoing comic book series at some point over the years .
So often those types of stories are populated with more rip offs of the same characters you see get from the Tolken books: the wayward ranger, the noble knight, the crafty eccentric wizard etc. But to see instead a new type of fantasy related archetype, even if it’s just a recast of Batman, it was refreshing.
Although I will say, and this might be spoilers, there is no way Darkwolf should have escaped from Necron’s ice palace in the end. The place was engulfed in a sea of lava and he was at the friggin’ epicenter! I don’t care how charmed of an existence you have from a narrative perspective, he should have been one char broiled wolf nugget…that’s all I’m saying.
Final Grade: B-
Like the Heavy Metal movie review I did a month ago, I will freely admit that this movie is not for everyone. It’s gory, chauvinistic, and gratuitous from a sexual standpoint especially in the way that women are portrayed. In fact, my wife who was half paying attention to the movie while I was watching in bed one night said:
“What is this? Like a He-man Porno? Look at the way that woman is dressed!?! Please say this is an adult cartoon.”
And of course after confirming that yes, indeed, it was not intended for children and that yes, indeed, it was probably made for a bunch of horny old men, she proceeded to make fun of it every chance she got, citing how impossible a bikini clad princess could even survive on a glacier for an extended period of time. And of course, she’s got a point.
Everything in this movie is told from a very testosterone driven place. There is barely any character development as the movie pivots from basically one chase/battle scene to the next held together by an number of obvious butt and chest shots of our buxom heroine. It’s a movie that glorifies in the base instincts of the male mind, where violence and sex are the only things of interest.
But, for what it is, I have to also admit that this movie does all of this technically well. Like fantasy related comic books, the number of well done fantasy related animated movies is a very small list indeed. As such I can’t fault the level of competent work done in delivering this movie, regardless of the actual content.
The rotoscoping is immaculate, visual design work impeccable, the action set pieces are exciting and well thought, and everything builds to an decent climatic duel between Darkwolf and Necron. So if you can look past a lot of the more questionable aspects of the entire male dominated classic fantasy genre (which I know for some is asking a lot), then I feel you can enjoy this movie for what it is: a pretty terrific attempt to bring the same swords/sorcery epic feel that had permeated comics and books for so many years to the cartoon world.
And as I mentioned before, that’s much harder than you might think. I’ve seen other attempts to do this, including Bakshi’s previous high fantasy film with Wizards. Most are poorly done, forgettable things, lacking the polish and professionalism this movie has. Maybe it’s all thanks to the heavy Frank Frazetta influence in the production.
Or maybe it’s because of Darkwolf.
After all, he is the God damned Darkwolf.