Reviews

To Paraphrase Rick James, Cocaine Is a Hell of a Drug: 'Wizards'

Wizards takes you on a psychedelic journey through a post-apocalyptic wasteland, with wizards!


Wizards

Director: Ralph Bakshi
Cast: Bob Holt, Steve Gravers, Jesse Welles
Distributor: Fox
Rated: PG
Release date: 2012-03-13

The last time I saw Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards was in high school, late at night in a friend’s basement, on a grainy VHS that had already been rented a thousand times before. Even now, watching the cleaned up transfer on the 35th Anniversary Blu-ray release of Wizards, I can’t help but think, to paraphrase Rick James: cocaine is a hell of a drug.

Born of '70s psychedalia, Wizards is a definitely a counter cultural product. At the time of its release, Bakshi was best known for underground cult classic, Fritz the Cat, the first animated features to receive an X rating from the MPAA. Wizards was his first foray into family fare, one that comes with a heavy environmental and anti-technology message.

While toned down for the audience, Wizards bears many of Bakshi’s trademarks. Full of dark, hallucinatory images, and buxom, scantily clad females fairies, the world of this film is not as innocent as Bakshi would have you believe. There are double entendres, sexual innuendo and, most jarring of all, real life footage from Hitler’s Germany.

At its center, Wizards is a warning, a parable of unchecked reliance on modern technology, and weakened democracy that gives birth to a frightening new version of fascism. In a post-apocalyptic world, eons after civilization was destroyed in a thousand atomic fireballs, a pair of twin wizards are born. Avatar (Bob Holt) is the good brother, while his sibling, Blackwolf (Steve Gravers) rules over the twisted mutants who inhabit the wasteland. When Blackwolf calls forth an army from the dark shadows of hell, Avatar, along with an elf warrior, a busty young fairy lass, and a reformed robot assassin named Peace, trek across the scorched earth to stop a new, rising Reich and prevent war from once again swallowing the planet.

As this is Bakshi’s attempt to make a family film, the more adult themes of his earlier work is absent, or at least somewhat buried. Already mentioned are the barely clothed female characters, all with the requisite prominent nipples and thongs, but there's more than the soft porn look that calls into question Wizards status as a movie for the whole family. There's brutality and murder, hideous creatures, torture, implied sexual violence, and then some. Kind of grim to watch, with kids in the audience. Then again, don’t kids love barely clad babes and horny mutants? To be honest, the mutants should probably check their libidos anyway, as the voiceover announces early on in Wizards, each and every birth is a new disaster.

Bakshi isn’t one to rely on a single style of animation. As a result, the artistic style of Wizards runs from cuddly Hanna Barbera style woodland creatures to a version of Rotoscoping, where live action film is traced by animators. Different styles are employed to fit the needs of various scenes; to enhance the emotional impact of a moment. At times this has great impact, like when Bakshi adds wings, horns, and tails to footage of Nazi storm troopers, but it also makes Wizards feel at times jumbled and pieced together. But in a weird way that fits the fractured narrative, which shuffles along and makes great leaps with little provocation or cause.

The messages of the movie—about fragile peace, war, and reliance on technology—resonate today as much as ever. A funky acid rock score keeps things pumping and adds to the general incoherence of the plot and psychedelic vibe of the movie. All in all Wizards is uneven but entertaining. This is a film best viewed late at night, ideally impaired in some manner of your choosing, and if you have a buddy who lives in his parent’s basement, that’s where you want to watch it, slouching on a second-hand couch while you eat Fritos and drink Mountain Dew.

As a 35th Anniversary Blu-ray, you would expect Wizards to come with a bunch of extras, and it does. A collection of theatrical trailers, TV spots, and a stills gallery are rather pedestrian and forgettable. The disc comes with a 24-page booklet, introduced by Bakshi, and is full of writings about the movie and rare Wizards concept art. Through sketches and paintings you can see the evolution of the characters.

Bakshi himself is a great storyteller, a fact on full display in a 34-minute documentary about him. He is full of stories from his early days in an animation studio. Documentary is the wrong word, as this feature is just an extended interview, though that doesn’t make it any less engaging. He expounds on his stylistic choices, his mash up of styles, and how the most successful animation relies on heart over slickeness, among numerous other topics. The feature commentary with Bakshi is a extension of the doc, as he talks about the movie, but also peels off on tangents. It’s fun to hear him talk about his interactions with George Lucas, who was working on Star Wars for Fox at the same time Bakshi worked on Wizards

All in all, this is a solid package. The extras pull off being interesting and entertaining at the same time, and enhance your viewing experience, which, in the end, is exactly what they’re supposed to do.

6

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image