Wizards (1977) Director/Screenplay/Producer – Ralph Bakshi,
An illuminating history bearing on the everlasting struggle for world supremacy between the powers of Technology and Magic.
PLOT: It is two million years after civilisation has been devastated by a nuclear holocaust. The radiation has caused races of elves, dwarves and fairies to mutate. In the elvish kingdom of Morganthar, a queen gives birth to two sons who are psychic opposites of one another – the charming Avatar and the vile Blackwolf. Both become powerful wizards. Avatar becomes the ruler of Morganthar but Blackwolf reviles his name and chooses self-exile in the kingdom of Scortch, a nuclear wasteland. There he rallies the mutants and demons of the underworld under him, although they lack the volition and unison to be an army. However, after researching into history, Blackwolf discovers all about weapons of war and finds that he can unite the troops together around old film footage of Adolf Hitler.
Bob Holt – Avatar, an old but powerful wizard
Jesse Welles – Elinore, Avatar’s love interest
Richard Romanus – Weehawk, a noble elf warrior
David Proval – Necron 99/Peace, Blackwolf’s former minion. He is renamed Peace by Avatar.
Steve Gravers – Blackwolf, Avatar’s evil brother
James Connell – President
Mark Hamill – Sean, king of the mountain fairies
Susan Tyrrell – Narrator (uncredited)
Ralph Bakshi – Fritz/Lardbottom/Stormtrooper (uncredited)
Angelo Grisanti – Larry the Lizard (uncredited)
Ralph Bakshi is one of cinema history’s most tragic figures. Certainly the most tragic in animation. By which I mean that the financial success of his films fell short of his vision and genius for storytelling.
With grand vision hampered by a far less grand execution, projects like his Lord of the Rings film remain as cult-classics because of the vastness of the vison (and the vastness of the vision of the source material) that trying to make one film to encompass it all was impossible. Sir Peter Jackson made 6 films to tell the same story.
For me, Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards (1977) remains as the pinnacle of his creativity. An original story, a fantastic mashup of fantasy, science fiction, post-apocalyptic adventure and ultimately, a war film.
The film opens with Susan Tyrell’s droning voice over. She was so unimpressed with the project that she asked to not be included on the film’s credits. However, her timelessly aged voice has always been one of the great features of the film and she has regretted her request ever since.
Some reviewers speak ill of Ms Tyrell’s voice over. To me it encompasses everything that the film is about. It’s a voice of an ancient Gaia – the Mother Earth spirit. A world that has been torn and burned and ravaged. Has been engulfed in an epic firestorm of nuclear weapons and has healed over millions of years. A world with scars and the weight of billions of years. That is the voice of Susan Tyrell. It is eerie, and ancient and spine-tinglingly good.
The soundtrack varies from 70’s guitar wa-waah to haunting electronic synth. It feels like a 1970’s rock opera overture through most of it. The overall sense of the music is a lyrical jazz, experimental rock n’ roll fusion.
Fox Studios refused Bakshi’s request for further funding, and the DIY nature of much of the animation is part of its unique charm. The rotoscoped battle scenes from classic films looked really good, so Bakshi decided there was no need to animate them further. He paid for the additional footage and animation out of his own pocket when the studio money ran out. George Lucas also asked for more money for Star Wars around the same time (they refused his request too).
Famous artists like Ian Miller contributed backdrop scenes, particularly for Black Wolf’s city and the more pastoral Montegar.
Historical allegory is the most important theme of this film. Twenty-five minutes in and the stage has been set with a direct metaphor for Nazi Germany’s rise in Nationalism and rebuilding of their war-machine in the 1930’s.
The chilling part is the scene where the elf veteran of the previous wars is chuckling about what useless troops Blackwolf has. His confidence is matched by his fellow troops, though the young soldier who has no experience is less than convinced. The scene that follows is one of the grimmest ever put to animation. It cements Wizards position as an adult animated film, not a family-friendly movie that you could let your kids watch.
Wizards has rightly become a cult classic. The initial box-office taking was small, but this is a film that is just as relevant now as it was 25 years ago.
Rating: #3 in my Top Five Films of All Time