RetroReviews #42: Wizards (1977)

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JUNE 27, 2013 SCREENING: WIZARDS (1977)

I have a serious love-hate relationship with Ralph Bakshi’s films. For who aren’t familiar with the director, he was a pioneer in animation during the 70s, namely because he was the first person to make dark and gritty animated movies aimed at adults, and created the world’s first X-rated cartoon (which is sadly pretty tame by today’s standards). Bakshi also used a lot of innovative shortcuts to make his low-budget animated films look good, such as rotoscoping whole action sequences with live action actors and hoping nobody noticed they were silhouettes. His films tend to be fun, but crude. The quality of Bakshi’s movies vary greatly, in my opinion: some were brilliant, landmark movies (like his animated Lord of the Rings) and others were ugly, nasty garbage (like Coonskin). The 1977 movie Wizards falls somewhere in the middle.

Wizards has a very cool concept: its a post-apocalyptic fantasy film set in the far future, where two powerful wizards – one representing the forces of magic and one representing the forces of industrial technology – must battle for the fate of their world.

The “good” Wizard is this film is a typical Ralph Bakshi creation: he’s a barefoot, cigar chopping, perpetually horny old man (of course, we know he’s a wizard, since he has a full beard, a pointed hat, and a long robe) The rest of the film had similarly annoying characters. All the fantasy creatures are given the R-rated treatment, so the fairy girl that teams up with the wizard has her nipples prominently poking through her dress, and is a whiny bitch. I liked the movie, although I did not like the characters, and it was pretty hard to identify with, or root for any of them.

The social commentary is also a mixed bag. Bakshi wants to convey the idea that the bad guys are fascists, so one major subplot has to deal with them rediscovering old NAZI newsreel footage and being inspired by it. This was suitably effective and creepy in showing just how twisted the evil forces were, although the inter-splicing of live action NAZI propaganda films was a cheap stunt and overdone. Interestingly enough, a lot of the way they story is setup and even the poster image for the movie (showing a futuristic fantasy solider riding some type of alien creature) makes me think of Star Wars, which was released the same year. I actually liked Wizards take a tad more, since it was darker and more twisted. On the other hand, Star Wars obviously had much better characters and execution. Who ripped off who? My money is actually on Bakshi coming up with a lot of this stuff first.

Many of the battles in this film just weren’t my cup of tea. Wizards is loud, grotesque, and overstays its welcome as the film rolls on and on. Unlike his next project, Lord of the Rings, it lacks the serious tone that it really needs to be telling such a bleak story. For those who aren’t familiar with Bakshi’s style of film-making, I imagine this movie would turn them off from taking a lot at any of his other projects. For those who do enjoy his films and like Bakshi to begin with, I imagine you’d have a very fun time watching Wizards, and admire his unique way of interpreting the material, as well as the premise from the start. It’s a cool movie, but its also a sloppy one.

** out of ****

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