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Fox Home Entertainment presents
Wizards (1977)

"They could have easily won, but they lacked the motivation and inspiration. Blackwolf knew he needed more. He sent his huge armies out to excavate ancient ruins for links to the past. Tales reached Avatar that bits and pieces of pre-holocaust technology were being dug up and marched back to Scortch 1. With these ancient pieces, he built a new war machine. Still his generals needed more to fight with. This drove Blackwolf mad with frustration."
- narrator (Susan Tyrrell)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: May 25, 2004

Stars: Bob Holt, Steve Gravers
Other Stars: David Proval, Jesse Welles, Jim Connell, Susan Tyrrell, Mark Hamill
Director: Ralph Bakshi

Manufacturer: DVCC
MPAA Rating: PG for (mild violence and imagery)
Run Time: 01h:20m:52s
Release Date: May 25, 2004
UPC: 024543120261
Genre: animation

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B-B-B A-

DVD Review

If you were to name a film from 1977 featuring Mark Hamill, about a small group of good guys doing battle with a seemingly unstoppable evil ruler, Ralph Bakshi's Wizards might not be the first title that comes to mind. Released just two weeks before Hamill's more famous turn as Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, Bakshi's animated fantasy epic (if an "epic" can be 80 minutes) ditched deep space in favor of a nuked out Earth 10 million years in the future. And while Hamill (who is oddly billed in the credits as "Mark Hamil") is not one of the main characters, the basic similarity between the two films, as well as their release dates, is eerily familiar.

Bakshi, certainly one of the more unheralded animators of the past thirty-five years, spent a good chunk of his formative years with TerryToons and doing work on the animated series Spider-Man (1967), made a real name for himself with a batch of mature-themed animated features like Fritz The Cat (1972), Heavy Traffic (1973) and Coonskin (1975). He was a push-the-edge-of-the-envelope kind of guy, and his features were known for having animated characters doing decidedly non-traditional things, and though somewhat tame by today's standards, in the early the 1970s it was a wakeup call that the underground was making waves to move above ground, into the mainstream.

Wizards was to be his big foray into what Bakshi himself referred to as "family-friendly" entertainment, though the film does feature a main female character with very prominent nipples. It is still fairly violent and is steeped thickly in Nazi imagery. The story's tone is dark, but falls easily within the guidelines of typical fantasy material. Separated wizard twins Avatar (voiced by Bob Holt) and Blackwolf (voiced by Steve Gravers) grow up in a post-apocalyptic future, each aware that the other represents a unique threat. Avatar represents all that is good, as the technology-hating peacenik who prefers magic, while Blackwolf resurrects ancient Nazi artifacts to construct mechanized war machines to defeat his brother once and for all.

As a sullen, movie-addicted teen, I remember seeing this when it was released theatrically, and being completely and utterly transfixed. For me, this was completely groundbreaking, blow-your-hair-back stuff, and was without a doubt as wholly memorable for me as the first time I saw Star Wars that same summer. Maybe even more so. The sad news is that some of Bakshi's 1970s societal jabs and unconventional daring has been dramatically weakened in the decades following Wizards original release. What remains, however, is his unique artistic vision, and while the animation movement is a little stiff in spots, the visual scope of the film is still intact, and just as impressive; there has always been an identifiable "look" to a Bakshi film, and that holds true here. The backgrounds are absolutely gorgeous (take a peek at the intricate work done on Blackwolf's castle—it is a thing of beauty), but overall it is obviously not in the same league that modern day animation can achieve.

With Bakshi, a film like Wizards is more like a comic book brought to life, and its richness lies in its comparative simplicity. His use of rotoscoping (drawing over live-action footage), stock Third Reich footage and the theme of war all contribute to give his film the kind of distinctive anti-Disney storyline he undoubtedly intended to deliver.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Wizards is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and considering its age it doesn't look all bad, but it certainly could look better. The print itself has some specking issues, as well a few instances of larger blemishes or defects to contend with during certain passages. On the plus side, colorization for the main characters still looks remarkably vivid, and black levels are respectably solid, but there is quite a bit of noticeable flicker on the backgrounds.

Bakshi proclaims he is "stunned" by the transfer, and sure it's anamorphic, but I suspect that ardent fans who were loudly clamoring for this DVD release will be moderately nonplussed.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Spanishyes
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: There are two English audio tracks—available in stereo or mono—neither of which seems substantially different. Character voices are clear, but tend to sound as if they were all were mixed at the same level. The result is that there isn't any real sense of depth when characters speak, which more often than not makes Wizards sound like a set of actors reciting lines. Score elements have a bit more separation on the stereo mix, but the clarity of the dialogue largely sounds identical on both.

I realize the limitations of 1977 technology, and that's what Fox had to work with, but I can only imagine the potential impact of Wizards with a more sophisticated audio remix. Bakshi admits on the accompanying commentary track that he is an "old school" believer that less sound, rather than more sound, is better, so I'm sure the presentation here is on the mark with his original vision.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
1 TV Spots/Teasers
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Ralph Bakshi
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Stills Gallery
Extras Review: Fox has a done an excellent job with the extras, and things kick off with a full-length scene-specific commentary track from the man himself. Bakshi talks quite a bit about his "old school" animation style, and his struggles with getting the film made. He's quick to credit the skills of the various animators used on the project, and he even offers tips on how his airbrush techniques used to create the mist effects. A few silent gaps, but overall a nicely structured track that flows naturally with a wealth of salient info.

As good as the commentary is, Ralph Bakshi: The Wizard of Animation (34m:13s) is where the best content can be found, and it is an outstanding short doc that is actually slightly more cohesive than the commentary. In it, the director simply talks to the camera about his early days on through the release of Wizards. The man is full of some great stories, and when he gets to the stuff about his friendship with Lucas, the release of Star Wars, and the subsequent pissing match with Disney's Fantasia, Bakshi had me wanting more.

Also included are a pair of theatrical trailers, a television spot, and a rather extensive stills gallery of original character designs and lobby cards.

The disc is cut into 20 chapters, and features optional subtitles in English or Spanish.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

Time and technology may have made Wizards something a non-entity to younger audiences, but there is no denying Ralph Bakshi's place as one of the dark side's most pioneering and unconventional visionaries.

I'm hard pressed to give this a blanket recommendation, because it is unlikely to appeal to everyone. It is, however, a classic piece of fantasy animation.

Me? I'm still waiting for Bakshi's brilliant The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse boxset that I have dreams about. Or better yet, for some studio to take a chance on releasing a deluxe edition of the once volatile Coonskin.


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