How do you fit just about every type of animation into one movie? Ask Director Ralph Bakshi because for reasons only known to himself, he did it with Wizards and whilst some may scream 'ART' it does, for this reviewer at least, little more than convey a mish-mash of harshly edited scenes that at times make it hard to concentrate on the story itself. The movie is also littered with rotoscoping as a result of budget limitations. According to Bakshi the funds simply weren't there to animate all the battle scenes and rotoscoping was the economical option. Just how economical this choice was could be make for interesting research as it seems a lot of the rotoscoping was sourced from some of the biggest movies of the 60's, epics like The Battle of the Bulge, El Cid and Zulu to name a few.
The movie opens with a narrative by an uncredited Susan Tyrrell, uncredited because she and her agents did not want it to be known she had worked for less than her expected pay scale at the time. The narrative accompanies intricate drawings over a variety of backdrops, sometimes plain stills, other times real videos of clouds or a simple kaleidoscope of moving psychedelic colours. Before long we're treated to, if that's the right word, a plethora of rotoscoping battle scenes and parallax scrolling mixed in with Japanese style anime scenery together with Dragon's Lair type primary coloured characters and foreground animation. It really can be hard to watch at times.
For a 33 year old animated adventure, that doesn't have the benefit of the likes of Disney's re-mastering magicians, Wizards does look rather good. It's both bold and colourful and does not suffer from any major hiccups, just the odd flicker from time to time but that really is scene dependant and doesn't distract and if anything perhaps adds to the classic nature of the movie.
Primary coloured main characters, of which there are a few, really stand out. This isn't a bad thing but sometimes, depending on the style of background in the scene, it can give an almost superimposed effect. I don't know if this is a particularly good or bad outcome, I guess it's down to personal preference but it didn't do it for me and some characters just seem out of place. The absence of edge enhancement gives the picture really crisp lines and solid edges throughout. Black levels are more than satisfactory and the lack of artifacting is most welcome. However, as is my general consensus of the movie style overall, it is really hard to criticise anything here as one could only assume everything we see is just how Bakshi intended.
The movie is presented to us in DTS-MA 2.0 stereo so you're not going to drown in surround effects or cower behind the sofa when the subwoofer kicks in during battle scenes but we do get a nice clear soundtrack throughout with crystal clear dialogue, which of course is paramount in a story driven movie.
Bass definition is surprisingly present, especially as the movie was originally accompanied by a mono soundtrack, but unfortunately is all too easily lost. This is a shame in a movie that has more battle scenes than most WWII movies. The monotonal narrative is pretty haunting and certainly wouldn't be out of place in just about any 1970's 'dirty' documentary, think Faces of Death and you'll get the idea. Dynamically the soundtrack is very effective, there is a lot going on at times and even in stereo nothing seems to get lost. I've read reviews of the 2004 DVD version and the consensus is that they've done a very good job producing a stereo mix from the mono original.
The score by Andrew Belling, which was produced on just one synthesiser, is described by Bakshi as one of the finest scores in a fantasy picture. If I had to describe the score it would be a cross between a Japanese anime, Spaghetti Western and just about any cheesy 1970's movie. It mixes everything into one, much like the mass of animated visuals.
As well as the original soundtrack we are also offered a music and effects only track, also in DTS-MA 2.0 stereo.
The extras on offer here seem to be the same as the DVD version from 2004.
- Ralph Bakshi - The Wizard of Animation - Featurette
The featurette makes for interesting viewing, maybe more so if you don't know Bakshi or his work, which I didn't. At around 34 minutes long he manages to tell the tale of Wizards from concept to release together with the ups and downs of bringing the movie to the big screen without getting boring. Bakshi does talk about himself quite a bit, he portrays undeniable passion about his work and that seems to sit hand in hand with his obvious dislike for Disney animation. This is pretty much essential viewing in my opinion, after you've watched the movie of course.
- Audio Commentary by Ralph Bakshi
It is rather difficult to comment much on this extra as Bakshi tends to spend much of the time repeating what he says in the Featurette. He gives us a comprehensive rundown of animators that worked on the movie as each scene arrives as well as hammering home why his movies are better than Disneys. Not essential listening by any means but surely another welcome inclusion for Bakshi fans.
- Trailer 1
- Trailer 2
- TV Spot
- Stills Galleries
Wizards is an animated fantasy, so surely a sugary sweet cartoon for the whole family with fairies and magic and all things nice. Well no, not in this case, especially when the opening narrative talks of terrorists and nuclear holocausts and the movie is littered with images of Hitler and the Nazi war machine. In what is really just a typical good vs evil affair, Wizards adds a new slant, technology vs magic. It is how Bakshi manages to portray this that really holds this movie up. Some would argue that the 'in your face' use of Nazism is completely overkill and perhaps even included to gain media attention or notoriety which inevitably leads to cult status and we know Bakshi wanted this to be the first part of a trilogy. Others would say that it was simply something new for the cartoon world, something to get away from the cutesy Disney flicks that had graced the world of animation since time began.
Whilst this review may trickle negative feelings towards the movie as a whole I am glad I watched it and the more I think about it the more I enjoyed it. Maybe Bakshi knew exactly what he was doing and managed to create a feature that possibly warrants repeat viewings for a number of reasons.
Looking good for its age, this blu-ray is probably enough to warrant a purchase by fans of Bakshi's work. I haven't seen the DVD version but I think it would be a fairly safe bet to assume that this BD looks better than the DVD offering. However, if you are not necessarily a Bakshi fan but an animation purist you may cringe at the mixture of styles included in this movie so perhaps a rental would be the more sensible choice.
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- Ralph Bakshi - The Wizard of Animation - Featurette