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I'll start off by going on the record to say that I've never been much of a fan of Ralph Bakshi's particular brand of animation. For the most part, I have always felt that his feature film efforts were mediocre at best aside from a few moments in The Lord of rhe Rings and Wizards. The only exception to Bakshi's films for me, however, has always been his 1983 collaboration with fantasy painter Frank Frazetta, Fire and Ice; a film which has long been a cult item of sorts in animation circles in addition to being out-of-print for several years in any format. Now available on DVD from cult film distributor Blue Underground, Bakshi's film is available for a new generation of movie fantasy and animation fans to enjoy.

Fire and Ice: Limited Edition
The story by comic book scribes Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas, best known for their work on Conan the Barbarian, contains all of the basic fantasy trappings and is fairly straight forward. The evil Ice Lord Nekron uses his mastery of the black arts to crush his enemies and their entire kingdoms with a gigantic, moving, glacier fortress. In an attempt to dominate the known world, his next move is against the kingdom of Fire Keep lorded over by the noble King Jerol and to kidnap his beautiful daughter, Teegra. As Nekron moves on Fire Keep, the lone survivor of village destroyed by Nekron's ice and Neanderthal hordes, Larn, mounts a search for the princess and a quest to defeat Lord Nekron and his minions forever.

By the time Bakshi made Fire and Ice, he had come as close to perfection with the hand drawn rotoscoping style of animation that he employed in nearly every one of his films as possible. Now before I go any further and before that blank look on your face becomes permanently affixed there, I'll explain a few things for those wondering what this rotoscoping thing actually is.

Max Fleischer invented rotoscoping over eighty years ago enabling animators to create more fluid and lifelike movement of characters than traditional, hand drawn animation would allow during a realistic timeframe. To use Bakshi as an example, during the making of his films he would first film live actors and stuntmen as if he were making a live-action movie. Then taking this footage Bakshi and his animators would trace each actor frame-by-frame, making alterations to movement and action were they saw fit, and then animate the rest of their work, such as the background plates and fantastical creatures, in a more traditional fashion.

Fire and Ice: Limited Edition
Today, rotoscoping still occurs in the form of motion capture and other such special effects techniques, with the difference being that Bakshi and his crew did everything by hand whereas now computers handle nearly all of these tasks for filmmakers. Other animated fare that employed similar techniques are Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Tron, and Fleischer's own Superman cartoons of the 1940s. For an example of modern rotoscoping, make sure to check out director Richard Linklater's upcoming adaptation of Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly.

Beyond the fact that Bakshi had pretty well nailed down the technical aspects of his brand of animation by this point in his career, Fire and Ice also had the great benefit of having its style lifted from the paintings of producer Frank Frazetta, one of the world's most revered fantasy painters, going for it. Frazetta is most famous for his paintings that gave life to Conan the Barbarian and found their way into Heavy Metal magazine...you know, the ones with the overly muscular men wearing loincloths and wielding large weapons, featuring well endowed, curvaceous women wearing little else than loincloths, and all battling demons and beasts of all sorts.

Bakshi and his animators did a wonderful job of creating a stylized, comic book version of Frazetta's work and overcame any shortcomings in the film's simple, pulp story in making Fire and Ice one of the better Sword and Sorcery films of the 80s. Sure, the plot and characters are mightily thin, but the film is pure eye candy for those that prefer traditional animation coupled with this film's richly detailed background paintings, realistic action, and well drawn, amply proportioned characters to today's steady diet of family friendly, computer animated fare.

Fire and Ice: Limited Edition
Video
Fire and Ice is presented on DVD with an anamorphic transfer at its theatrically released aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The source print used for the transfer suffers from a good deal of dirt and debris that create a lot of both positive and negative film artefacts throughout the feature, but for the most part nothing that is distracting enough to take away from the enjoyment of the film. The transfer also must have been taken from an interlaced instead of progressive source, which is unfortunately the culprit responsible for many problems associated with animation on DVD, as interlacing, while not a prevalent problem, still exists in the transfer.

Aside from these issues, however, the transfer is very good considering both the age of the film and the fact that it was a lower budget, non-studio release to begin with and probably had less care taken with the original prints over the years than, for example, films made at Disney. The colourful world created by Bakshi and Frazetta pops off of the screen vibrantly and throughout the film the image is crisp and clean with little fault associated strictly with the transfer of the film itself to the DVD format. No doubt this is the best the film has ever looked on any medium and fans of the film should be very pleased with Blue Underground's efforts with this video transfer.

Audio
Blue Underground has presented Fire and Ice with a choice of English soundtracks including DTS-ES 6.1, Dolby Digital Surround 5.1 EX and Dolby 2.0 Surround with optional English, French, and Spanish subtitles for its debut on the DVD format. While all three audio tracks are very good, there isn't an awful lot of surround effects or use of all of the available channels in the DTS or Dolby Digital tracks, mainly because the film was never released or mixed for these formats to begin with during its original release in 1983. That being said, the sound is clear coming from all sources and well balanced with the less compressed DTS track offering a wider dynamic range. Fans should be pleased to hear that the audio represented here is as good as it can possibly get, save for a totally uncompressed audio track, and that there is little to criticize as far as the disc's sound is concerned.

Fire and Ice: Limited Edition
Extras
Blue Underground has made sure that fans of the film will not go hungry for special features with their two-disc release. First up, the film contains audio commentary with Ralph Bakshi and Lance Laspina, the director of the documentary featured on disc two, Frazetta: Painting with Fire. Laspina generally acts as a moderator for Bakshi's running commentary on the film and keeps the track moving at a fluid pace without too many pauses. Bakshi himself is interesting to listen to with his often blunt and very candour way in telling of his experiences in making the picture and going over certain aspects of his career in animation.

The next major feature on disc one is a featurette on the making of Fire and Ice, which mainly consists of commentary from Bakshi on what it took to get the film to the screen. If you listen to the excellent commentary track during the film, this featurette becomes quite redundant as it covers much of the same material and circumstances, but it is a good watch nonetheless.

The rest of the special features on disc one are rounded with a short featurette containing Ralph Bakshi discussing the art of Frank Frazetta and his contributions to the film, the film's theatrical trailer, a behind the scenes still gallery from the film with some very nice pre-production art, and a production diary kept by Sean Hannon (the voice of Lord Nekron in the film), which gives insight into the production from a voice actor's perspective.

The second disc of the set contains the feature length documentary Frazetta: Painting With Fire from 2003 and directed by Lance Laspina. The film features interviews with many long-time friends of Frazetta as well as several comic book artists and animators interspersed with commentary from Frazetta himself, all along a timeline of Frazetta's artwork and career. While not the best documentary of this type I have ever seen (that honour goes to Terry Zwigoff's Crumb), the documentary is a very interesting and personal look into the man's life and entertaining until the last quarter or so of its running time. The documentary itself also features audio commentary by Laspina and producer Jeremy J. DiFiore which details their making of the documentary, how they went about getting some of the interviewees, and getting to know Frazetta on a personal level after admiring him for so many years.

Overall, fans of the film couldn't really ask for anything more when it comes to the special features included in this release. When considering other like releases on DVD from other companies, this release packs quite a bit of value for your money with plentiful and quality extras in addition to the film itself.

Fire and Ice: Limited Edition
Overall
Fire and Ice marks the pinnacle of Ralph Bakshi's style of animation and is an enjoyable film for what it sets out to be—a comic book adaptation of Frank Frazetta's iconic fantasy paintings. While certain aspects of the film may be lacking, there is no denying that the movie is great to look at and hits its aimed goal dead on. Blue Underground has given the film the type of release that other studios reserve for $100 million dollar blockbusters and is the best release that any of Bakshi's work has ever received on DVD. The video transfer and the audio are both top notch considering the source material and the special features, including a great commentary track featuring Bakshi and an entire full length documentary film on Frank Frazetta, set this set apart as being one that serious fantasy and animation fans should not be without. On a side note, I'm particularly thankful that there are companies like Blue Underground that understand the DVD format and realize that there is enough of an audience out there for smaller, cult films like this to warrant such a standout release.


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