Monday, July 1, 2019

Movie Review: Fire and Ice (1983)

One of my favorite fantasy artists is Frank Frazetta, who was known for painting a lot of the Conan book covers. I even own one of his art books Icon, which I snagged at a library book sale for $1 when it would have cost much more on Amazon. In Icon, they discuss the film Fire and Ice, whose animation Frazetta was heavily involved with but unfortunately didn't do too well at the box office. Although I'm a fan of traditional animation (Don Bluth stuff like The Secret of NIMH, The Land Before Time, and even Titan A.E. are particular favorites), I never actually got around to watching the movie.

Well, T.S. Dann (author of Nightmarescape and a regular convention table partner) mentioned that he had seen it recently and that made me curious. Many years after hearing about it, I decided to give it a spin. Here goes...

The Plot

At the end of the Ice Age, the evil sorceress-queen Juliana (Eileen O'Neill) and her son Nekron (Sean Hannon) attempt to conquer the world, driving southward in a fortress atop a mighty glacier that Nekron can move using magic. Human refugees flee their armies of Neanderthal-esque savages toward the equator, where King Jarol (Leo Gordon) rules a volcanic realm from Fire Keep. Juliana and Nekron's agents kidnap Jarol's daughter Teegra (Cynthia Leake), but they fail to reckon with Larn (Randy Norton), a survivor of a tribe thought exterminated, and the mysterious warrior Darkwolf (Steve Sandor).

The Good

*Western animation is generally seen as the preserve of children, so there's little realistic violence and heroes don't kill or seriously hurt villains (often winning through contrived circumstances), but Fire and Ice clearly doesn't have that problem. There's plenty of bloodshed going on around here. It's good to see an animated movie intended for more mature audiences in the same way Titan A.E. was. All the action means the film is never boring, which is a big plus.

*There are some impressive set-pieces, like a diplomatic delegation entering Nekron's fortress with his hooting and howling Neanderthal minions watching from the cliffs overhead. There's also an air raid using "dragon hawks" (pteranodons) that's pretty cool. Generally speaking I liked the concept and ideas behind it.

*Although the animation comes off as a bit dated (it reminds me a lot of late-1960s Hanna-Barbera cartoons like Mightor or even Herculoids as well as the Disney movie The Black Cauldron released two years later) and the colors dull, it's good to see old-school cell-drawn animation. I'm less interested in the Pixar-type stuff that has dominated the field since The Princess and the Frog. And I'm a big fan of Frazetta's overall style. The landscapes, the monsters, the ominous ancient ruins, etc. are all a lot of fun. A pity this movie bombed because I would have loved to see more films like it.

*I liked some of the characterization. Teegra is pretty clever and puts her brain to use at critical times, including one scene early on where she uses her looks to manipulate a bunch of Nekron and Juliana's Neanderthal minions. She's also not a passive damsel-in-distress type at all--although she gets captured a lot, watch out if she can get hold of a knife. And Nekron and Juliana's dynamic suggests a strong-willed son rebelling against an overbearing mother and Nekron's petulance shows that on some level he knows her wisdom is superior (i.e. she wants him to marry Teegra to father a dynasty and cement an alliance with Fire Keep) and just doesn't want to admit it. And although Darkwolf is underused, he's pretty cool when he does show up.

The Bad

*Larn is supposed to be the male lead of the movie, but he doesn't seem to have much personality to speak of. I found Darkwolf to be much more interesting, but he's only in a few scenes despite his prominent appearance in the poster.

*Has the concept of armor ever occurred to anybody in this world? All this world's cultures have metallurgy (swords, axes, etc), but nobody wears armor. Even animal skins would be an improvement over going into battle wearing only a loincloth. Yes, I know Frank Frazetta liked to show off his anatomical skills at every opportunity, but how pretty much everybody's standard outfit was a loincloth if not a straight-up thong was just ridiculous. Even in the Neolithic Era where this supposedly takes place people probably knew they needed protection from the sun and elements. This is especially blatant in the last third or so of the film that takes place in Nekron's glacial fortress where people are running around semi-nude even though it's got to be incredibly cold.

*Per my remarks about clothing, everybody is wearing what looks like animal skins and yet Teegra is wearing essentially modern lingerie? Hell her bottom is so sheer in the back she might as well not be wearing it. At least the "sexy cave-girl" outfits in One Million Years B.C. and When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth were made of the right materials and more useful as clothing.

*The animation for the facial expressions, especially Teegra's, could stand some improvement. Her kidnapping early in the film is not well-drawn, especially her supposedly-terrified screaming.

*The character naming conventions are just bizarre. You have all this garbled fantasy names like Teegra and Larn, you have English animal names like Darkwolf, and then you have Jarol (which I initially thought was "Gerald") and Juliana. It's kind of grating, even though it's so common there's even a TVTrope for it.

*I'm not sure if it's Leake's voice or the script, but Teegra's dialogue is often rather annoying.

*Nekron and Juliana's minions are all darker-skinned and the one female of the group has what looks like an Afro. They're explicitly referred to as "the sub-humans" despite their having metallurgy and spoken language. Meanwhile, the heroic characters are all white. Seriously, either provide the minions with more development beyond them being childlike and violent goons who speak in gibberish (Lord of the Rings had Sam wondering if one of the Haradrim was truly evil or had been deceived or outright coerced into fighting for Sauron and the Haradrim language is very impressive to listen to) or diversify their appearances. And nix "sub-human" for people whose main difference between the heroic character is their skin color, teeth, and apparent intelligence. As-is the villains come off as a mother-son Goth duo sending out dull-witted and sadistic black cavemen to kill or abduct white people and given how this was a movie kids would have likely seen (due to it being animated), that's not cool.

*The world's technology level is rather inconsistent--both Nekron's and Jarol's coalitions seem to be at roughly Bronze Age levels, but there's one city that looks like ancient Rome or Arabia during the Islamic golden age. If it turns out the battle between Nekron and Jarol is a tribal sideshow that wealthier and stronger civilizations view in the same way as Americans view a conflict in the Third World that's one thing, but the opening narration of the film makes it seems like this is the Apocalypse.

*So many shirtless men but nobody seems to have nipples. That's weird.

The Verdict

If the description "the world's most violent Hanna-Barbera cartoon" appeals to you or if you're a Frazetta fan you should definitely check it out. It's not as campy and ridiculous as I expected from watching the trailer, but it's still pretty up there. Worth a rental at best. 6.0 out of 10.

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