PrintE-mail Written by Jack Bottomley

The terms ‘cult classic’ or ‘cult following’ are thrown around a lot these days, with many indie films being labeled “future cult classics” at an excessive rate. However, all these labels could not be any more appropriately placed than when used to refer to the work of Ralph Bakshi. Bakshi is a cinematic figure that defines the word ‘cult’, with a body of work that could be described as perverse, strange, innovative or just flat out weird. From his racially controversial 1975 satire Coonskin to his best known film, X-rated animation, Fritz The Cat (1972), Bakshi is not known to everyone but those who know the man or his work, either love, hate or admire from a distance. So, with all that said, we see another DVD Release of Bakshi’s odd 1977 animated post apocalyptic fantasy film Wizards. 

Wizards is set in an unspecified future, where nuclear war has destroyed the world we know, with only a few humans surviving, the rest have been transformed into mutants and it has taken millions of years for the clouds to clear and allow the sun to even shine again. But, the following thousands of years of peace in the civilization known as Montagar- ruled over by fairies, elves and dwarves- is soon to change, as the queen gives birth to two sons, Avatar (Bob Holt) and Blackwolf (Steve Gravers). Over the years these brothers are polar opposites of dark and light and when their mother dies the two go to battle, with Avatar vanquishing his vengeful brother. However, some years later, Blackwolf is back and has supposedly gained hold of a device that will allow his dark forces to finally overthrow the world. Only an older Avatar, his love interest Elinore (Jesse Welles), Elf warrior Weehawk (Richard Romanus) and (former assassin of Blackwolf) Peace (David Proval) stand in the way of Blackwolf’s mutant world domination.

Most of Wizards’ background and mythos is explained in some picturesque sequences, narrated in truly compelling ye olde legend storytelling style by Susan Tyrrell, and Bakshi’s film is a rare case of substance over style. Bakshi has always been an auteur that provokes and challenges and while many consider Wizards a middling effort from the man who would helm The Lord of The Rings only a year later (cited as an influence on Peter Jackson’s live action adaptations), this is a film brimming with innovation and ideology. Time has not diminished Bakshi’s Tolkien tale of fantasy, with socio-historical comments on the power of propaganda and the evil of fascist leaders. However time has certainly affected some things in Bakshi’s film, which remains an experience unlike any other but is certainly one that will repel as many as it appeals.

The story is deep and stimulating but the visuals are divisive, occasionally becoming more of an artistic statement than a smooth accompaniment to this adventure epic. Clearly not intended to be a Disneyfied (though they were struggling a little in this particular era) family animated classic, Wizards is sometimes chaotic, often dark and very, very adult aimed. The animation is a tale of two halves in many ways, the narrated sequences and comic book style drawn backdrops (Blackwolf’s dark realm- known as Scorch- is a perfect impressionistic nightmare) are stunning and the rotoscoping also adds a distinctive edge to the movie- the climatic battle (which ends in a wholly original way) is enough to recommend the film alone. Sadly other, simpler moments, with the traditional hand drawn animation, seem to move in a jarring manner and look a little dated or pedestrian next to the more grand or fast paced creative moments.

Also an issue is the script, which is imbued with invention but set back by lacking character development for certain characters (Elinore is especially underwritten) and some old fashioned approaches. In many ways, in spite of the technological and post apocalyptic trappings of the story, this is a blend of old school fantasy with surrealist cartoons, WW2 history and anarchic ‘70s attitude (denoted by Andrew Belling’s strange, sometimes oddly placed and psychedelic score). As such it is a product of its time in some senses and yet has elements to its story that break down the era barrier and still resonate to this day.

Bob Holt is brilliantly colourful as Avatar- far from a holier than thou goodie- and Steve Gravers is terrifyingly memorable as Blackwolf. The two wizards are the best characters and their confrontation in the past- shown through the aforementioned narration- would have been much more welcome in the main crux of the story. Still Bakshi’s plot is a sprawling and twisted tale that features big breasted fairies, Nazist political statements, tank riding mutants, religious satire and dark comedy. PG Rated it may be but it will scare children half to death with its bloody gore, monsters and dark imagery. There are standout characters in the midst of this madness, mainly David Proval’s troubled red warrior Peace but a lot of the supporting cast merely melt into the bizarreness of this tale- with Elinore and Weehawk failing to stand out as they should and there is also a small vocal turn (and it is short) from Mark Hamill- pre-Star Wars fame- as mountain fairy king Sean.

Wizards will mean less to some and so much more to others but it is a film designed to make a statement and while some elements have aged, others have not, in a film that challenges your mind and will have newcomers completely freaked out. For all its flaws, Ralph Bakshi’s vision cannot help but maintain this magical grasp on you and as the years fly by, there is still not really a film like it. In many ways you could write a different review after every viewing. By very definition, a flawed masterpiece cannot exist but if it could, this cult curio could be deemed as such.

Special Features: Directors Commentary / Music and Effects Track / Ralph Bakshi Featurette / Trailers / TV Spot / Stills Gallery


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