Monday, August 06, 2012

Fire and Ice -- The Reply

J.B. has replied to my less-than-recent review of Fire and Ice. He's made some very good points, and so I'd like to quote his comment in full here.

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.

First things first: this is a great response. Note the lack of name-calling here. J.B. has put some time and effort into his reply and I will not accept anyone giving him crap for it.

Now, an actual reply:


Long ago, I wrote an essay on “The Allegory of the Cave”. I felt pretty pleased with the work I had done on it and turned the piece in with pride.

Later, my professor spoke with me about the essay. “If any of my other students had turned this in,” she said, “I would have given them an A.” She went on, “Because it's you, however, you're going to get a B+. I know you could have done better.”

I won't say I was devastated, but I was disappointed. I did feel some bitterness, but I was more disappointed with myself and my fellow students. If what I could have done would have been better, then why had I done such a rush job? If my rush job had been the best my fellows could have done, what did that say about them?

Ralph Bakshi is one of those animators who does phenomenal things, if he isn't thinking about it. When he's good, he's brilliant. When he's not, he's just so-so. I've adored work of his in the past and been frustrated with him more often than not. (For the record, I am writing this while Curiosity is landing on Mars. Mediocrity is not acceptable.)

Bakshi is able to elicit extreme emotional response from his viewing public. Note the monologue of the single mother in Coon-Skin (6:00 in and genius work). Then there's the scene between Benny and the German soldier in American Pop. There's also that part in Heavy Traffic ( 9:00 in, BTW).

Bakshi, for all his art, only hints at what he's capable of. He leaves these gems out for you to trip over and it's frustrating because you know he can do it, he just usually doesn't.

Now, being maybe less fair, let's look at what other artists have done with the same source material.

I hate to say it, but the live-action version of “Conan” was more true to the source material. It looked more like Frazetta's art. If the purpose of Fire and Ice was to introduce a wider audience to Franzetta's work, I'd say it presented a pretty flimsy representation.

I don't want to say that the artists didn't put a lot of effort into this, which is why I'd posted the “making of” at the top of the entry. I love those backgrounds, but the character design is...not really that exciting. In Frazetta's paintings, there's a lushness that didn't translate to the animation. I get more of a feel of what's going on and the world that Frazetta created from his stills than I did from the figures moving around on the screen. I'm not going to demand cell-shading for this, but I wanted something more visually compelling. The blocking in a lot of scenes seemed stiff and unnatural.

Lastly, the reason I went after the plot and dialog was it kept sticking out. There were too many questions I had that weren't answered (or even explored) that it was hard to lose myself in the project. The characters were less archetypes as much as they were stereotypes—caricatures—of familiar fantasy tropes. We know Teegra is the princess, but other from that, nothing. Her purpose is to run around in the jungle wearing next to nothing, get captured, and be rescued. There are so few times she has any control in a situation that she's less a person and more a prop. Roleil's a witch, sure, but we only see one spell. Her scene could be cut from the film and we'd lose nothing. I'm pretty sure Larn could have followed the prince some other way and we'd get to the same location.

Now, with all that said, let me reiterate that these are my opinions, based on what I saw. I saw a mess of a film with a lot of missed opportunities. Yes, I think it could have been something really great, but it just wasn't. It felt sloppy and the plot rushed from set-piece to set-piece with little regard on how they got there or why. I had heard great things about it and wanted to like it.

The review has been one of the more popular posts on the site (but really, I think it's the pictures that drive that traffic). I don't want to dismiss your opinion or what you said, because you did have a well thought-out argument. I'm also glad you like the flick; at least it made someone happy.


Unknown said...

This makes me look forward to watching John Carter. And maybe that new Conan movie.

Chris Sobieniak said...

From what the comment had stated, it sounds like a "no-brainer" type of film, though one that might put me in the same position as you with wanting to see where else it could've went.

Chris Sobieniak said...

As a film showcasing Frazetta's work, it certainly wins that argument clearly despite those missed opportunities.

And speaking of Frazetta (and only bringing it up as I noticed this blog post just now), here's an off-topic look at his early days as an animal comics artist!

Unknown said...

I don't agree with the sentiment that Fire and Ice showcases Frazetta's work.

The animation fails to capture the essence of Frazetta's paintings. Admittedly it's a difficult task. But Fire and Ice should've had the best chance to convey the imagery and it fails. Can you look and Frazetta's Death Dealer and see anything of it in Fire and Ice? I can at least look at Frazetta's Conan paintings and see a glimmer of them in Conan the Barbarian and even in Conan the Destroyer.

Let's go watch Frazetta: Painting with Fire. At least that movie showcases Frazetta's work, literally.

Dr. Mila said...

I've been thinking about what I'd said in the original review, and I need to take something back.

There's a scene where Nekron uses his magic on the prince and his men. I'd said that it was a good use of animation, because it wasn't something you could get across with live-action.

Well, in watching "The Stone Tape" (still on a Nigel Kneale interest binge!), there's a scene where Jill does that EXACT shudder ( 1:09:38 in). It CAN be done live-action, it's just rare.