Friday, March 23, 2012

Fire & Ice (1983)

Sometimes, you feel a little bad for not liking something. A lot of other people like it, you know it took a lot of time and effort, and the people involved were all talented and dedicated people. Look at that: the actor doing the live-action sequences for Darkwolf is even wearing a little wolf-skin hat.

Watching this short little “making of” video (sorry about the sound synch), however, does not change my opinion of Fire & Ice in any way. At all.

The problem is, I'm not a teen-aged boy.

Let's look at the story, what little there is.

We start with an introduction: Hungry for power, the evil Juliana has taught her son Nekron all kinds of creepy magic. I don't know why she doesn't do it herself—lack of talent, maybe—but Nekron is advancing a glacier across the world and taking over regions one at a time. We never know who Nekron's dad was, or who they took control of Ice Peak from, but there it is.

Juliana is voiced by the very talented Susan Tyrell, who you might remember as the Evil Queen in The Forbidden Zone.

She was hatched out of a witch's egg, don't ya know?

As a result of this ice invasion, everyone has moved south to a volcano castle called Fire Keep, ruled by a generous king and his two kids. There is no mention of the queen.

Now, it's at a point like this where I wonder if there's some kind of back-story with the king and Juliana. Her kid has no father, his kids have no mother, so maybe they could get together “Brady Bunch” style and live as one big happy family. Alas, no. We're going to go with the classic Die Zauberflöte queen=bad\king=good dynamic. She's just gonna be an evil ice-queen and that's that.

Also, the people would not have to huddle for warmth so badly if they would JUST WEAR SOME CLOTHES.

So the glacier is moving on a village and the men are protecting their wooden fence with axes and swords. They're going to fight the glacier with swords.

They should have just brought torches and salt.

Predictably, everyone dies. Sub-humans come tearing down the ice-floe and kill anything still moving with clubs and spears. OUR HERO, Larn, manages to escape death by faking death, while the sub-humans scavenge what's left. They even take a prisoner, who is forced to kneel with a spear across the back of the knees.

Does this crushing defeat make my ass look big?

Distracted by the girl, the sub-humans fail to notice Larn snapping to and killing a couple guys. He's kinda noisy about the killing, however, so they drop everything and run after him. Does our mysterious blonde make a run for it and escape? We'll never know. Her fate is left to the imagination of the audience. It is one of the very few things left to the imagination.

Larn runs into the jungle and the sub-humans chase him in a GRIPPING ACTION SEQUENCE. There's lots of tree-climbing and vine-swinging. We even get a Brain de Palma “shoot it three times” action of Larn grabbing a vine behind his back. Knives are gripped in teeth. Spears are thrown, badly. Larn ends this all by taking a header off a cliff into the soft undergrowth below.

He's done this lots of times. He's a professional.

After snapping every vine in the jungle and hitting the ground with a thud, Larn rests up for a bit to give the sub-humans a chance to catch him.

Meanwhile, at Fire Keep, King Jarol has a talk with his kids about how some representatives from Nekron are coming over for a nice little “why don't you give up now?” chat. Princess Teegra wants to see these strange creatures, but her dad sends her off to do her homework instead. She also wears something my dad would never let me out of the house wearing, but I guess things are different when you live next to a volcano. After a very creepy “Give me your love” command, the king sends the princess to her room.

Teegra pouts in her room while her tutor tries to teach her a little about the natural world. The tutor is is one of the few dark-skinned people in this flick (besides the sub-humans) and I wonder if she was shipped in from the library of Alexandria or something. She also reads to the princess while holding a quill, but there's never any ink around. Was she putting the commas in a bad translation? Was the feather there to play with the giant black panther that Teegra keeps as a pet? It's another mystery to be filled in by the imagination of the audience. During all this, Teegra writhes around on her couch and complains that the men get to do all the fighting and get all the glory.

Because remembering the four elements is haaaaaard.

While that's going on, King Jarol is talking to the sub-human representatives about how he won't surrender and his son, Taro, agrees. They're free men! They will not be slaves! Not like that dark-skinned tutor to the princess!

This is all a rouse, of course, as there are some sub-humans climbing the walls. They kill the tutor and kidnap the princess. She screams and the note is never read.

It says, “We have the girl.”

Prince Taro suggests sending out the “dragon-hawks”, but the king says that's a huge waste of time. I'm annoyed by the term “dragon-hawks”, as I think it's amazingly stupid. They're pterodactyls, plan and simple. I'm sure that the stone-age people in this movie would not know what a pterodactyl is, nor would they know the Latin base for the word ("winged finger", for those of you taking notes), but I still chafe at the term “dragon-hawk”. It sounds like something a teen-aged boy would come up with when...oh yeah.

In the jungle, Teegra gets pushed around by the sub-humans, who tear off her veils and shove her into a pool. Teegra does the only thing she's good at and poses seductively for a while before diving deep and swimming for safety. It does not take any time at all for the sub-humans to chase her down, but they lose her in a cluster of hollow logs. One sub-human thinks he's found her, but he gets an arm of bitey-bug instead.

Just cut it off! CUT IT OFF!

Teegra is very lucky that she did not try to hide in that log and get her face chewed off.

A moment with Larn, who's still being chased by his own pack of sub-humans.

Back to Teegra, who has taken a handy log-ride down the river. Hot on her naked heels are her pack of sub-humans, who would have caught her except a giant lizard shows up and kills most everyone it does not eat.

Ray Harryhausen would be proud.

OK, seriously? The natural world here is really messed up. Rather than ANYTHING in this jungle trying to take a few bites out of the well-fed and defenseless princess, every monster and bug goes for the guys with the spears. I'm guessing the only thing that's saved Teegra during all this is she uses some kind of special soap that makes her taste bad. I've gone camping and everything in the woods wanted a chunk of me, but this girl is running around in next to nothing and doesn't even get a mosquito bite. It must be genetics.

After the terrible ruckus, Teegra kills a lone and wounded sub-human with a stick. The remaining sub-humans build a fire and throw on a pack of secret herbs and spices so they can talk to Juliana. Juliana wants to see the girl, but it's reveled she got away, so Juliana uses her spooky magic and kills a guy as an example.

Back to Larn, who's walking along, minding his own business, when he's set upon by a pack of drooling wolves. I have no idea what breed of dog they used to rotoscope the wolves, but they're honestly one of the best-looking things in this entire flick.

What has four legs and a hand? FENRIS WOLF.

Larn is saved by a well-timed arrow, shot by Darkwolf, a mysterious man with a funny hat. They don't stop to exchange pleasantries, however, as Darkwolf prefers to work from afar. Darkwolf's kinda like Batman, in that way.

Larn then makes it to the Lost City in the Jungle, where he examines the etchings on the walls.

“By Gelfling hand, or else by none....”

But he's being watched by something ominous, with a mechanical-looking iris lens. At this point, I was kinda hoping that the lost city was still defended by ancient robots and there was all this forgotten technology just rusting away. That would have been cool.

Instead, Larn kills himself a peccary and sets about to eating it raw, because building a fire might draw attention to himself. A MYSTERIOUS FIGURE creeps in the darkness towards him, so he lays down and plays dead, as that's worked so well for him in the past.

It turns out that the MYSTERIOUS FIGURE is none other than Teegra and...has she gone feral? I want to ask that. She's a princess and lived in a castle her whole life. She's running in her bare feet and a micro-kini and suddenly knows about what berries are good to eat? I guess the mysterious tutor taught her well. But still, she's OK with noshing down on some raw pig leg? Have these people never heard of tetanus or trichinosis? How does she keep that thong so tidy during all this? The mind boggles.

But Teegra is looking very well for her misadventure in the wilderness. Really, she's very clean looking and her hair isn't all matted and nasty. The two soon-to-be-lovers play a little slap-tickle-nipple in the ruins and look longingly at the sky.

Someday, we'll have a little cottage somewhere. And clothes.

The next day, they take an accidental swim and we discover the creepy eye belongs to a giant octopus. It grabs Larn and they tussle underwater until Larn STABS IT IN THE EYE. The octopus flings him into a later scene in the film. Teegra sobs by the pool and is re-captured by the sub-humans. They must have smelled her special soap.

Larn comes to, tied spread-eagle to a skiff. He's been rescued by Darkwolf. They resolve to save the princess.

The princess has been chained to the slowest member of the sub-humans. In celebration, the sub-humans get piss drunk and fall asleep. Teegra manages to steal a knife and works furiously to free herself.

Unfortunately, they are not stage-chains made out of papier-mâché.

Realizing that you can't cut through metal with a knife, Teegra just stabs the guy she's chained to and starts to drag his body through the jungle. She trips backwards off a cliff and lands with the dead guy on top of her. It's what he always wanted, but he can't enjoy it, because he is dead.

Darkwolf and Larn run a raid on the sub-human camp, but they can't find the princess! These two are not the masters of subtlety. There's lot of yelling and awe-swinging, and mostly in slow-motion.

Teegra wakes up in a ditch, with a sub-human on top of her. It's like the worst spring-break ever. A lumbering figure comes out of the jungle, breaks the chains with his bare hands, and picks her up. This may not end well.

Back at Fire Keep, King Jarol tells Prince Taro to go to Ice Peak and start some new negotiations. Taro objects, as he knows that's a suicide mission, but his dad insists. Heck, you lost one kid, why not both? It's good money after bad at this point and I wonder how King Jarol ever lived to as long as he did making crappy decisions like that. Seriously, it's just dumb. The only thing the princess might be good for is a bargaining chip, like how King Richard tried to marry off his sister Johanna to Saladin during the Crusades. Not that this worked, mind you, but it was worth a shot.

In the jungle, the giant lumbering thing that picked up the princess is named Otwa, and his mom is Roleil, who is some kind of witch, and they have a nice little cabin in the woods. Roleil is obviously a Bad Witch, as she has dark eye-shadow. It's very easy to spot the difference between bad-guys and good-guys in this, but I guess times were simpler then.

After doping up the girl, Roleil plucks a hair from Teegra and throws it in a pot of boiling product. “Tell me your secrets,” she says. Turns out, the only secret the princess has is that she's wanted by Nekron. This is not much of a secret, so I'm going to say that Roleil isn't the best witch out there.

I wanted her skin-care secrets!

But, Roleil decides that maybe she can bargain with Nekron for the girl. She sends her son Otwa, off to tell the sub-humans her plan.

Again, there's some kind of back-story going on here, like maybe Roleil used to be buddies with Juliana in magic school, but they got in a fight over a boy. Or maybe Roleil and Nekron had a little fling and she got stuck with the dopey son and they were banished to the woods so Nekron would never have to look at his disfigured offspring again. I want this movie to be more interesting than it is.

In a canyon, Darkwolf and Larn are still duking it out with sub-humans. Darkwolf pushes Larn off a cliff with the command “Get out of here!”. Larn runs off to find the princess, which he's failed at so far.

Back at Roleil's shack, Otwa comes home whining and empty-handed. Roleil asks what's wrong, and he collapses at her feet with a spear in his back. A sub-human comes in and Roleil yells, “You would do this, when--” and gets a sword in the gut. Again, there's a hint of back-story, but more proof that she's a crappy witch. There's no demonstration of any magical ability, so the entire thing seems pretty pointless. The sub-humans steal the girl and set fire to the shack.

Larn shows up and has a brief “Uncle Lars and Aunt Beru” moment, but that's when Roleil's bones come to life! She is magical!

And dead sexy. Emphasis on dead.

She tells Larn where the sub-humans have taken Teegra.

Now we're in some kind of fantastic city with vaguely Arabic styling cues. Prince Taro gets on a boat and Larn, always a step behind, jumps onto the back of the boat hangs on with his fingers. Somehow, his fingers never give out.

At Ice Peak, Teegra finally gets to meet Nekron. It turns out that Nekron didn't want her at all; that was his mom's idea. Juliana explains that Teegra would make a fine mother to his “sons”, but Nekron isn't having any of it. He is Not Interested and I think there's a hint here that Nekron wouldn't care if any girl was put in front of him. Teegra says he's miserable and asks him to take her hand and call her friend. Nekron laughs in her face, calls her a slut, and commands she be thrown in the garbage pit. He also tells Juliana to keep her plans to herself and quit setting him up on blind dates.

Prince Taro arrives at Ice Peak and Larn jumps off the back of the ship. As Taro makes an arrogant entrance to the ice castle, Larn sneaks in the back. Taro meets Nekron and demands his sister back. Nekron says that “the idea of mating” with her at first filled him with disgust, but now that hes thinking about it, she's not all that bad.

You, on the other hand, would be much nicer.

Taro kinda flips out here and pulls his sword, which is dumb, considering he's fighting a guy whose main offensive weapon is a glacier. As Nekron is a typical dark wizard, he uses magic to kill Prince Taro and his party.

I must say this sequence is pretty unsettling. Nekron rolls his eyes back whenever he uses magic and the prince's men do a strange shudder when they're under his spell. The unnatural shudder puts this scene straight in the middle of the uncanny valley and I'll hand to Bakshi for that. This is one case where there was some actual animation and not just rotoscoping and it was used to fine effect.

The sub-humans toss the bodies of the prince and his men into the “garbage pit” where the princess has been sleeping for a while. She wakes up to her brother's dead face and screams.

Meanwhile, Larn has been watching all of this from the shadows. He shoots an arrow at Nekron. Amused, Nekron lets him pick up a sword and they dance around for a little while. The sexual tension between these two is terrible.

And yet, understandable.

Larn gets a lucky hit on Nekron and Nekron decides to use some magic. The guards throw Larn in a cell.

In the garbage, Teegra mourns his brother and takes a knife. She's going to go be a lady of action now.

But don't take his cloak! You're in an ice palace, after all.

Teegra tries to free Larn, but he tells her to run away. She runs off looking for some keys, and Larn frees himself. Pursued by sub-humans, Larn runs into a snow-storm, and is rescued by Darkwolf.

Darkwolf and Larn go back to Fire Keep, sans princess, and tell the king how his stupid “send the prince to negotiate” plan went. King Jarol says that both his kids are gone and the glacier is close enough that he can finally release the lava. Darkwolf and Larn ask for some “dragon hawk” riders for a last-ditch effort to save the princess.

Hold on. “Release the lava?” This guy has had lava and hasn't used it to destroy the glacier this entire time? THE HELL? I swear, King Jarol is the dumbest king ever.

Darkwolf, Larn, and the “dragon hawk” riders make one last ditch effort to storm Ice Peak and rescue Teegra. It turns out, the sub-humans are pretty good at defending Ice Peak and they slaughter most of the raiders by throwing rocks at them. Seriously.

Oh, and arrows.

Larn makes it through because he's lucky. He lands on the roof, sneaks in, and finds Teegra, who has a slight tussle with Juliana before breaking free. Larn fights some sub-humans, Teegra throws a knife, and they embrace. It's time to escape.

Nekron is having a little giggle-fest on the roof and Darkwolf confronts him. They decide to fight axe-to-sword, which is an odd decision for Nekron to make, considering his castle is under siege. When it looks like Darkwolf is going to win, Nekron starts to use his magic again. BUT IT WON'T WORK. Darkwolf is immune to magic, having gotten his shots as a child and boosters every five years. He kills Nekron with an axe.

"Rob Roy" stole its ending from this flick.

Juliana comes up top to see her son get the firewood treatment and does a little ululation.

Now, this is an odd moment. Darkwolf has already said Juliana's name with a hint of more than contempt before, and yet there she is, wailing or whatever. Rather than chop her down like a weed, Darkwolf puts another giant gash in Nekron. Nekron's already whimpering on the floor with an axe-wound, and his “magic” noise isn't as loud or powerful anymore. What's the story between Darkwolf and Juliana? Is he Nekron's dad? Is that why magic won't work on him? Why didn't the writers of this film make anything interesting?


King Jarol, even though he hasn't heard if his daughter is safe or not, decides, “Screw it,” and commands his men to pull levers to release the lava. Lava comes flowing out of everything. I'm curious as to the mechanization for containing lava. I'm going to guess that it comes from the same ancients that built that lost city in the jungle.

This is my favorite level in Diablo II.

Whoever built that had some kind of something going on, so I guess it's only fair that they could build a means to contain and control lava. It does seem odd, however, that people who dress like they're from the stone-age could comprehend such a device. I shouldn't be too shocked, seeing as how the bad-guy could control a glacier. Still, if you're fighting with a glacier and can magically control people to make them kill each other, why couldn't Nekron mind-control a spy and learn about the lava? Maybe sabotage the whole thing and burn down Fire Keep?

But no. Nekron just acts like a pompous ass and gets himself axe'd on top of a glacier. The lava starts to flow out of Fire Keep.

Release the orange juice!

Another odd moment in this movie is when the lava makes its way towards Ice Peak. As it gushes through the jungle, we hear the terrified sounds of animals dying a terrible, terrible death. Monkeys and birds scream out in agony as fiery death flows over them.

The lava, when it hits the glacier, does not explode in a cloud of scalding steam. Sub-humans manage to survive the catastrophic heat before covered in molten rock. It looks more like they're being drowned in mud then vaporized with magma. I think they would burn up in the ambient heat before it got within a foot of them, but that's just me.

The glacier melts, Larn and Teegra find the only “dragon hawk” that hasn't been shot full of arrows, and Darkwolf smiles from on top of his horse...

...The horse that's faster than a boat and can survive a lava flow. More back-story. Amazing.

I watched this, so you don't have to.


Danno Baker said...

Every time I see this making of video It reminds me of pretty much any footage of green screen motion capture and the actors with the ping pong ball suits. So I guess motion capture is rotoscope with computers.

Danno Baker said...

I remember reading somewhere that Fire and Ice was an attempt at making a plot from a bunch of Frazetta's paintings. Bakshi would look at something like Frazetta's Death Dealer and come up with a scene of what happened before and what came next. Sort of like a writer's exercise.

Christopher M. Sobieniak said...

having listen to a few podcast reviews of this film, I guess it's what it is. I still haven't seen it myself, but knowing what I know now about it, I feel I'm not in a hurry to do so! I still say Bakshi's early work is best myself.

Christopher M. Sobieniak said...

Here's that one podcast review BTW...

J.B. said...

You have a nice blog and this post was amusing in spots but I couldn't disagree with you more when you say that it was aimed at teen aged boys. One could dismiss all of Frazetta's or Vallejo's work on such grounds, but if one did, I discern right away such an one has no intuition for great art or fantasy in general. All fantasy is childish--that is where it's beauty comes from. Before Tolkien was writing about hobbits he was a boy running through the woods with a stick that was a sword. With regards to this film, it should be fairly obvious that story was not the focus. I have always believed it was left deliberately generic so it could evoke a very wide genre (Sword and Planet pulp, Robert E Howard, etc.)and provide a very simple frame of context for the real focus of the film--Frazetta's art and worlds. The film did not fail in that regard--it is a visual feast full of beauty. It abandoned detailed and deeply nuanced characters in favor of fantasy archetypes. The story was an excuse for the imagery, nothing more. Yes, the opening sequence with the glacier and men facing down with swords was silly. But my God man, beyond that you nitpicked nearly every bit of dialogue and action in the entire movie--some people like to hate on something just because so many other people like it, and I got that sense here. I always took Teegra's line about the elements as having to do with alchemy or magical studies, I guess I was giving the film writer too much credit, I mean, after all, it was only one of the most labor intensive undertakings in animation in film history. In the end my friend, I think there is only question that needs to be asked? Did the movie evoke Frazetta's paintings, the characters and worlds he portrayed? If the answer is yes...and I really couldn't fathom an honest know from anyone remotely familiar with his work...then the movie was a success. Peace.

Dr. Mila said...


I want to honestly thank you for your post, as you make some very salient points. I don't think my response will be short enough as a reply here, so I've made a new blog post on this matter. I don't want to half-ass this.

Again, I do want to thank you for taking the time to visit a blog you would not normally frequent.