Wizards (1976)

A random, unrelated search led me to stumble upon the title of this film. I must have been fascinated quickly enough to add it to my DVD Netflix queue! It was written and directed by Ralph Bakshi, who established a career in independent and often adult-oriented animation; given the fact that I, too, am likely to go down a similar but not identical path through Braveworld and its NextGenimation division, I’ve often gravitated toward indie animation just to see how others before me have done it.

WIZARDS is a science fantasy film—a mixture of science fiction and fantasy, practically a genre I feel like I’m eventually going to try my hand at somewhere down the line in my own way. Released by 20th Century Fox in February 1977, it tells the story of a post-nuclear world, focusing in particular on the land of Montagar which is occupied by humanity’s “true ancestors”: fairies, elves, and dwarves. Their queen eventually gives birth to twin wizards, the pure-hearted Avatar (which obviously has nothing to do with Fox’s later blue alien franchise) and the pure-evil Blackwolf. The latter and his minions in the far-off land of Scortch actually find and salvage ancient technology—without which, the people of Montagar surmise, their world was perfectly at peace for no less than three millennia—and use it to inevitably attempt a takeover.

The voice cast for WIZARDS includes veteran voice actor Bob Holt as Avatar, MEAN STREETS’ Richard Romanus and David Proval as Weehawk and Peace, respectively; Steve Gravers in his penultimate film role as Blackwolf, and Mark Hamill as Sean, leader of the mountain fairies.

This film has a rather peculiar visual style. Its animation is rather crude, and while not totally lacking in technique the inconsistencies are evident throughout. The character designs throughout WIZARDS range from the generic to the outrageous to the outright risqué; the main group of characters look like they come from no less than three completely different stories, especially in shots where they’re side by side. Certain sequences are superimposed on top of live-action backgrounds such as smoke and time-lapse clouds, which aren’t too terrible but still gives off a weird, sometimes even psychedelic aesthetic.

Even weirder, however is the implementation of a graphical approach in which live-action film of battle sequences is rotoscoped into the film. While this fails to be convincing in the slightest and looks rather jarring on top of hand-drawn backgrounds, this was purportedly done because Bakshi was unable to get an increase in his budget from Fox (in the same meeting where George Lucas was also unable to get more money for his own project, a little film also starring Hamill called STAR WARS), so he ended up paying out of his own pocket to finish it. However, Bakshi states in the DVD commentary that the rotoscope process was easier for him to get the gigantic battle sequences he wanted, and that it helped prepare him for his 1978 adaptation of THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Yet I can only imagine how different, and superior, it would’ve looked if he did get an extra injection of cash and perhaps even went the Richard Williams route.

Also, I don’t know what it is of these animated cult films, but every single one of them seems to have at least one particularly unique and bizarre element to them. While it can be argued from the aforementioned that this film has more than one particularly bizarre element, the most glaring thing about it is that Blackwolf, for some reason, thinks his band of mutants are the new National Socialist German Worker’s Party and that he’s the new Hitler, to the point where he actually projects films of live-action Nazi imagery and speeches to rile up his troops—and even uses them during his attacks to distract his enemies! Additionally, Bakshi admitted that the film had parallels with the Holocaust and the creation of the state of Israel, although in many cases it gets patently obvious what the references are, to the point where the word “Holocaust” is actually used in the film and, in a very pointless sequence, two bumbling Jew-like characters (whose apparent religious symbol is a certain Eyemark, of all things!!!)—perform a bizarre worshipping ritual which actually puts two henchmen to sleep.

I wasn’t joking, by the way. (CBS’ legal department was unavailable for comment.)

And yet through all this visual clutter the story comes off as rather bland, not really giving me any reason to get emotionally involved or evoke anything more than the occasional “well, then.” We get no real reasoning for anyone’s motivations, no real empathy or desire to see the heroes win. It’s really nothing more than a weak narrative set to disjointed visuals in an overall disappointing and cynical film. I suppose the only good thing to come out of this is that, as I said at the outset, I may want to attempt a science fantasy film in the soon-to-be-established Braveworld tradition…and definitely not in the manner of whatever this ended up turning out to be.