Wizards

Forty years after its release, I’ve just watched Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards (1976) again. I bought it on DVD a dozen years ago, so that’s how long it’s been since I’ve seen it. Today I watched the 35th Anniversity Blu Ray edition.

Man, has it aged! (Same thing I thought when I watched it in 2004.) I was a child in the late-'60s/early-'70s when there were hippies all over the place, so I remember the Zeitgeist. It all seems pretty goofy now. But the film shows things that I remember with some fondness. There was a style of art that was popular in the '70s; pen-and-ink drawings with ‘way too much’ detail. Sort of like woodcuts, if you know what I mean, crowded with structures, forests, and so on. (Example.) This is the style Bakshi used for the backgrounds. They remind me of when, in the late-'70s and early-'80s, I read Lord Of The Rings and other fantasy novels, going to Renaissance Faires, and being young. And the characters Wizards was influenced by Vaughn Bode’s Junkwaffel comics. Avatar was very similar to Bode’s Cheech Wizard. (Of course, Avatar actually had a full body.) I didn’t get into underground comics until a decade after many of them were published, but I’ve always liked Junkwaffel.

The animation is crude. Warner Brothers cartoons, this ain’t. But those of us who grew up when there were Saturday Morning Cartoons have seen worse. (Remember, it wasn’t all Bugs Bunny back then!) I first saw rotoscoping in Bakshi’s Lord Of The Ringe (1978). According to Bakshi, ‘I thought that if we dropped all the detail, it would look very artistic, and very beautiful, and I felt, why bother animating all of this? I’m looking for a way to get realism into my film and get real emotion.’ When I first saw it in Bakshi’s later film, I liked it. In Wizards… not so much. I know he had budgetary constraints, but it just appeared as a lack of effort on his part. Then again, I kind of remember thinking it was OK when I first saw the film 30 years ago. But today it just looks like so much ‘padding’ to get the film to feature-length.

If I had known about underground comics when I was in junior high school (when the film came out), and if I had seen Wizards on its initial release, it may have had a profound effect. Today’s audiences probably don’t know about the Ian Miller backgrounds or the Vaughn Bode characters. That, plus the heavy-handed message and the goofy hippiness, probably would not appeal to them. But Holy Chrome, I liked some of the dialogue. ‘Fritz! They killed Fritz!’ and ‘Master loves Larry! Master feeds Larry!’. And I loved the final showdown between Avatar and Blackwolf.

Is Wizards worth watching if you’ve never seen it? That depends on what you like. It’s dated and flawed. But for those of us who grew up during that time, and who are familiar with the styles… Well, you’ll probably feel as I do: It was fun at the time, but man do I feel old now!

And, of course, Peace was basically a pallet swap of Cobalt 60.

I enjoy Wizards, too…but, ohboyyeah, it’s an artifact of its time.

This was a popular film with my friends when we were kids in the '80s, which may have been the last era in which someone could come to this film fresh and really get something out of it. We didn’t grow up with the hippie zeitgeist - instead, we approached it from the perspective of the ghetto of American animation in the 1980s, where everything was child-focused and sanitized to a ridiculous degree. I grew up watching stuff like Superfriends, whose network standards and practices wouldn’t allow them to show superheroes punching people, or GIJoe, which could feature Normandy-scale military operations in which not a single person ever gets shot. The idea of a cartoon where people were straight-up machine gunned to death on camera was mind blowing to us.

Nowadays, what with the widespread cultural penetration of anime, and increasing homegrown animation that doesn’t shy away from violence or adult themes, I don’t think the impact would be as impressive to modern kids.

Watching Wizards is like watching* Birth of a Nation*. If your goal is to learn about the history of film or underground comix, then it can be useful and instructive as an artifact of that era and the specific aesthetic subculture it represents.

But if you just want to watch a good movie… No.

I hope you won’t mind if I ask you, “why is it not a good movie?”.

Jesus, that’s a tough analogy. Wizards is hard to watch today because it’s not a very good film, with poor characterization and a disjointed plot that doesn’t really build to its climax very well, whereas Birth of a Nation is hard to watch because of its virulent and explicitly racist message. I mean, I get your point about them primarily being useful to modern audiences as time capsules of the period in which they were made, but that’s a bit like saying, “George Bush is like Hitler, in that they’re both former leaders of industrial nations.” Yeah, it’s accurate, but what a loaded comparison!

The animation is extremely inconsistent. There are some parts that are nice, like the complex and surrealist ink-sketch world Blackwolf lives in. Yet at other points it is quite cheap and poorly done. There’s a weird inconsistency to the whole thing where this Bugs Bunny style of art is pasted on top of realistic, and sometimes photographic, backdrops. Mixing in the different styles doesn’t work very well. There are also many points where it recycles animation, which I really abhor.

The story is lacking and it generally reflects a very juvenile mindset. The introductory voiceover is generic fantasy stuff and goes on for a stupidly long time. The plot itself is nothing exceptional. Very paint by numbers. It’s almost like someone recorded a bunch of kids playing D&D and then animated it. The voice acting leaves a lot to be desired, to say the least.

And then there are parts that just come off like one of those Adult Swim shows that are pitched directly at stoned teenagers. I seriously think you have to be high to really enjoy this.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Check it out here and tell me what you think:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Ptj7VoaWOs

Last summer I watched it with my 14-year old grandson, who had never seen it before. The whole Peace & Love ambience was lost on him, but he did enjoy it mightily: most especially the two guards (one of whom is accidentally killed by the other) and the monologue beginning: “You shot Dave!”

Max: Fritz! Fritz, get up for God’s sake! Get up! They’ve killed Fritz! They’ve killed Fritz! Those lousy stinking yellow fairies! Those horrible atrocity-filled vermin! Those despicable animal warmongers! They’ve killed Fritz! Take that! Take this! Take that, you green slime! You black hearted, short, bow-legged…

Fritz: Max! Max, I’m okay! I’m okay max. Just a scratch. Look I’m all right.

Max: Oh. Oh, damn. There you go again, stepping on my lines, raining on my parade, costing me medals. Oh, damn.

[Accidentally shoots Fritz]

Max: Ohh. Oh, Fritz? Fritz, get up for God’s sake! Get up! They’ve killed Fritz! They’ve killed Fritz! Those lousy stinking yellow fairies! Those horrible atrocity-filled vermin! Take that! Take that! They killed Fritz!

Bakshi did that a bunch. It’s pretty much his trademark, actually. I think he stopped using un/minimally altered live action after Coonskin (save for Cool World which was an animation/live action mix a la Roger Rabbit), though it’s been a long time since I’ve seen most of his films.

yeah Wall’s fuckin ankle injury…er…wait…

…was the main thing this grade-sixer came away with when we had a grad 6 class “field trip” of sorts to see it at our university theatre in, '77.

Diaperman not impressed.

Is the interview with Bakshi on that DVD? If so, watch it. It’s unintentionally hilarious. Bakshi is so full of BS, and it’s funny to see his totally unrealistic take on his own merits.

He makes comparisons to Star Wars and hints that Lucas copied him. Mark Hammil actually has a few lines in Wizards, and Bakshi takes credit for discovering him. He seemed to think Darth Vader was modeled after Peace. He said the movie was originally called War Wizards, but he dropped the “War” as a favor to Lucas, so the two movies wouldn’t get confused. Wizards came out a couple months before Star Wars, but Bakshi implies that he took his movie out of the theaters so more people could see Star Wars.

We saw this pre-release at a film festival back in late 1976 or early 1977, and we loved it. You have to remember this was a time when fantasy got very little attention in the theater, so this was a kind of Nirvana.

In a humorous side note, we got the time of the screening incorrect, so we showed up early and ended up sitting through a movie called “Pumping Iron”, about a soon-to-be-famous bodybuilder.

Not everything can be as fantastic as the Mighty Heroes!

Just last weekend, a friend took me to lunch, and I quoted… “Master love Larry. Master feed Larry.”

As with everything Bakshi ever put his hands on, it has flaws. But it has good bits, some clever parts, some very humorous bits, and even something to think about.

Also a zapper of a punch-line at the end, rivaling Inigo Montoya’s “I want my father back, you son of a bitch.” The unfortunate moral lesson is that the ends justify the means, which undermines everything the movie was trying to preach up to that point.

IIRC, Vaughan Bode was not a happy camper about the movie, as Bakshi went out of very to deny that there was any Bode influence in Wizards

One of my most disliked teachers was–among many other things–one of the hoity-toity “there’s too much violence in cartoons” types. I disagreed, taking the view that there was no longer enough violence. It’s just not comedy until a predator takes an anvil to the head. So, when she gave us a silly assignment to count the number of acts of violence in a cartoon, I picked Wizards. She was pleasingly disturbed by my neat categorization of the count into individual acts of violence, massacres, and nuclear holocausts.

So, it had that going for it. :smiley:

You know, I swore I remembered this, too, but I must have been thinking of something else. Bode died two years before Wizards came out, and Bakshi (who was a friend of Bode) has talked openly about his influence on both Wizards and Bakshi’s version of Lord of the Rings.

ETA: I might be wrong about Bakshi acknowledging Bode’s influence. And it looks like Bode’s son, Mark, is the one who’s been calling the film plagiarized.

That’s hilarious.

And this is totally off-topic, but I don’t think there’s enough violence on TV. All the Hollywood violence is very sanitized and doesn’t reflect real life at all. Maybe if Hollywood violence was more realistic, it wouldn’t be so appealing.

A vote against.

I saw it when it was new, and I had a predispostion to like it. I read Heavy Metal*. I like oddball stuff.

And I thought Wizards sucked the first time I saw it. Oh it started out OK, but went completely off the rails. I think the turning point was when Necron 99 first spoke. That was NOT the voice that went with the character. Then the heavy handed ending just sealed it.
*Speaking of, there’s another movie that SHOULD have been good, but just wasn’t. Maybe it needs a thread…

I thought the final showdown was great. But yeah, what came after was preachy.

As for Heavy Metal, I liked it for the most part. If you start a thread, I’ll post there.

This is the way I remember it.