Two Cents Clashes with FIRE & ICE!

Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.

The Pick

Epic fantasy is all the rage these days, in part thanks to the record-breaking success of Game of Thrones. Week after week, millions of viewers get together to watch and talk about a story involving fantastical lands, magical creatures, destined heroes, complex mythologies, and just about every other hallmark of a genre that not so long expressing fandom for would earn you a one-way ticket to swirlie city.

The turning of the tide on mainstream acceptance of the dorkiest of dorky subgenres has been a long time coming, with many a milestone and false start along the way to the current status quo. One such milestone was John Milius’ Conan the Barbarian in 1982, which took a character forever associated with the hackiest of hack-and-slash adventure pulp (whether that dismissive attitude was merited or not [it wasn’t]) and brought his world to life with an A-picture’s production values and cinematic skill. Conan the Barbarian was a runaway success, so much so that even before it was released, the ripoffs and cash-ins were rolling off the shelves.

Ralph Bakshi’s Fire & Ice was neither a rip-off nor a cash-in, but more of a distantly related cousin. The success of Conan, coupled with the ongoing popularity of his own earlier film, Wizards, enabled Bakshi to put together the financing for his own sword-and-sorcery epic. He partnered with his friend, the legendary artist Frank Frazetta, responsible for some of the all-time classic illustrations of modern family, including a great number involving Conan, like:

Working with comic writers Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas (themselves veterans of the Conan comics that ran in Marvel), the team came up with Fire & Ice, animated using Bakshi’s patented rotoscoping technique and styled with Frazetta’s trademark blend of fantastical backgrounds and musclebound men flanked with voluptuous women, neither party wearing much of anything.

The film is set in a mythical time during an Ice Age, where the evil queen Juliana coerces her son Nekron into using his magical abilities to control ice and send forth glaciers that crush everything in their path and send humans scurrying further towards the equator. The human resistance holes up in ‘Firekeep’, only to have their rebellion preemptively attacked. The princess Teegra flees into the wilderness (wearing very little) where she is rescued by a refugee warrior Larn (wearing very little). The duo are beset on all sides by monstrous forces of evil, but with the help of a mysterious masked warrior known as Darkwolf (wearing…you get the idea), they make a stand against Nekron and his dark magic.

Fire & Ice was something of a dud on initial release, but has continued to enjoy cult devotion from animation fans, fantasy lovers, and anyone with an appetite for the odder entries in mainstream cinema. Robert Rodriguez has even been developing a live action remake, though who knows if we’ll ever see that.

For now, let’s enjoy what we have. Let’s partake in a little Fire & Ice.

Next Week’s Pick:

The only film this year to challenge Marvel/Disney box office domination made little more than a blip in North American movie theaters. Didn’t matter. The Wandering Earth was a spectacular hit in its native China, and all throughout the rest of the world.

Now on Netflix Instant, some Americans are finally getting a chance to see the movie that made such an impact on the rest of the world.

Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at) anytime before midnight on Thursday!

Our Guests

Trey Lawson:

Fire and Ice isn’t the best of the 1980s sword and sorcery boom, but it’s not the worst either. Visually, it looks exactly how you might imagine a Frank Frazetta-Ralph Bakshi collaboration would look. Practically speaking, this means the rotoscoped animation is very well done, but also all the characters are disconcertingly underdressed for their surroundings. The story (by Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway, who both had written Conan comics for Marvel) isn’t exactly original, but it follows the tropes of the genre in a mostly entertaining fashion. It’s a bit like a better-animated, less kid-friendly He-Man & the Masters of the Universe. I think the most dated part of the film (and the biggest disappointment) is female lead Teegra’s tendency to be captured — over and over again. Also I really wish there was more screentime for Darkwolf — a fun warrior character who is essentially Batman the Barbarian. All in all, this movie is fine. It’s not something I’m particularly nostalgic for (although I definitely remember it being on the shelf at the local video store), but as far as 80s animation goes you could do much worse than Fire and Ice. (@T_Lawson)

For more from Trey on Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas, and the proud tradition of Marvel and fantasy/horror comics, check out his excellent podcast, Tomb of Ideas!

The Team

Brendan Foley:

Fire & Ice makes two big mistakes that sort of cripples the movie for me. Number one, as Trey mentions, it falls into the trap of giving the female lead nothing to do except get captured, get rescued, get captured again, and on and on. Setting aside the glaring lack of girl power, from just a narrative standpoint it makes this 80 minute movie feel significantly longer than that running time, especially since there are only so many ways for our scantily-clad warrior bros to stab the interchangeable hordes of baddies they face off against.

The other glaring problem is the fact that the movie has one hero too many. Darkwolf, Ice Age Batman, is a striking, engaging character and performance that’s exactly mysterious enough to make you want to see more. But Darkwolf drops in and out of the film at random while the bulk of the material is handled by…Larn. And Larn is…you know, he’s fine, so far as guys named ‘Larn’ can be concerned. But it leaves the whole film off-balance and contributes to that repetitive feel I was talking about. You have two guys doing pretty much the exact same thing in two identical locations often against identical enemies. It gets tiresome, quickly.

Fire and Ice certainly looks beautiful, and this is maybe the only Bakshi I’ve seen that actually feels like a complete movie that didn’t run out of money at some point during production. I don’t love it, but as a weird little footnote in the evolution of the fantasy genre, it’s worth a look. (@theTrueBrendanF)

Justin Harlan:

In the right mood, I suspect this Frank Bakshi animated fantasy could really hit the spot. As it was, not so much. I found myself mostly uninterested in this one as the viewing went.

However, to avoid being the curmudgeon here, I’ll simply share a few of the things I liked…

1. The backgrounds in this animation are often rich and well drawn. While watching, I found myself Googling to see who was responsible and it turns out [one of them] was the great painter Thomas Kinkade.

2. I appreciated the film’s obvious inspiration from and nods to Conan.

3. The old style animation is refreshing in this age of computer animations and effects.

With that, I suggest everyone who hasn’t seen this just check it out and decide for yourselves.(@thepaintedman)

Austin Vashaw

Growing up, I was never a fan of Ralph Bakshi. I disliked his style, recognizable for its grotesque qualities. I was also turned off by his rotoscope work, which dips into uncanny valley territory for its bizarre animated realism.

But as I learned more about him, I changed my mind and grew to respect him. A fiercely independent animator who worked with whatever means and (usually small) finances were available to him, Bakshi never let limitations stop him from realizing huge visions, expressing sharp social commentary, or honing his craft — and yes, often producing some pretty weird trash.

Fire and Ice, perhaps more than any other Bakshi film, was a collaboration of many great creators — several of them independently famous in their own right. While it quickly draws comparisons to the Frazetta-adjacent Conan the Barbarian or Bakshi’s own Wizards or Lord of the Rings, I think its closest comparison is actually Heavy Metal (specifically its Den adaptation), to which it plays like a PG little brother. It wouldn’t take much — more blood, less bikini — to make this an R-rated fantasy romp, and I’m honestly a little shocked they didn’t go that route. Probably because this option was more financially feasible.

Fire and Ice abandons Bakshi’s more cartoony aesthetics for a more realistic style (thanks to rotoscoped animation centered on real actors), giving it a quality of gravitas absent from most of his other films, and aside from the minimal dress of its characters, it may be his classiest. (@VforVashaw)

Next Week’s Pick:

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