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Blue Underground presents
"Don't hunt for death, boy. It finds us all soon enough."
DVD ReviewFrank Frazetta is renowned as one of the greatest fantasy artists of all time. His distinctive style and scrupulous accuracy, combined with a visual flair that is unforgettable, has inspired many over the years. Director Ralph Bakshi (Wizards, The Lord of the Rings) undertook to do the impossible by making Frazetta's art come to life. Not necessarily his paintings, mind you, but his comic art, which had ranged from fantasy and science fiction to a stint ghosting for Al Capp on Lil Abner. But a fair amount of Frazetta's dynamism and visual composition is captured, making the film a success on its own terms.
In a fantasy world, the evil wizard Nekron (Sean Hannon), together with his warped mother Juliana (Eileen O'Reill, voiced by Susan Tyrrell), controls the forces of ice, forcing a glacier over the world to force the free people to submit to his will. Warrior Larn (Randy Norton, voiced by William Ostrander) is the last of a village wiped out by Nekron's forces. King Jarol, of Fire Keep in the land of volcanoes is trying to fend off Nekron and his Neanderthal Subhumans, but the king's will is weakened when his voluptuous daughter Teegra (Cynthia Leake, voiced by Maggie Roswell) is kidnaped by the Subhumans. Lurking in the background is the mysterious Darkwolf (Steve Sandor), who has a mysterious agenda of his own. These disparate threads come together for a final cataclysmic battle for the future.
Like The Lord of the Rings, nearly all of the film is rotoscoped rather than animated freehand. At first this seems like it could be a failing, but as Bakshi notes in the commentary, you'd never get the accuracy that Frazetta demands without the rotoscoping process. The drawing style is elegant and covers much of the same ground as Frazetta's comics art. At the same time, the backgrounds, painted by James Gurney (Dinotopia) and Thomas Kincade, are marvelous. Speedily created (Bakshi notes that 8-10 were painted each day), they have a very Frazetta feel to them, with similar uses of light and shadow that firmly anchor the animated characters into the artist's world. The character designs, with significant contributions from Frazetta, seem quite appropriate, and as is obligatory for the artist, Teegra is impossibly voluptuous, with only the tiniest bits of clothing. The segments that are animated freehand, such as a giant lizard, a skeletal witch and a fleet of pterodactyls (the latter animated by Peter Cheung of Aeon Flux fame) demonstrate an enthusiasm and vigor that the rotoscoping can't quite capture.
The story, written by Marvel Comics scribes Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway, has some problems. It doesn't flow terribly well, and a little bit more exposition could have been useful to keep the picture more coherent. Dialogue is weak and cheesy, and motivations for major characters (most notably Darkwolf) are quite absent. One key sequence that would have helped somewhat but was left on the cutting room floor is described but not shown in the extras. The actors, most of whom were, as noted above, dubbed by others, are adequate for the action but are nothing spectacular and are hardly convincing at any time.
Where the film excels is in its visual interpretation. There are several terrific set pieces. One is a dizzying scene of Larn being pursued through the treetops by the Subhumans; another is a dazzling pan through an ice cavern as the pterodactyls swoop in for the attack. There's also an astonishing POV shot as we ride along with Larn on a pterodactyl that's just barely under control. The swooping pans make one suspect that they were closely studied by Peter Jackson for the similar camera moves in his Lord of the Rings films. Also memorable is a short sequence where Teegra runs afoul of the witch who later reappears in skeletal form. Iconic moments from Frazetta paintings, such as Death Dealer and Neanderthals are also incorporated seamlessly. While the story is no great shakes, the visuals are done with such a flourish that it's hard to dislike the film.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: The film is presented in an attractive anamorphic widescreen, with vivid colors and nice linework. Unfortunately, someone in the transfer process decided to gild the lily by slapping on some thoroughly unnecessary edge enhancement that causes visible ringing throughout. The print has some speckling, possibly due to problems with the original animation cels. They're not distracting, however, and the edge enhancement is the only serious defect.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: DTS 6.1 and Dolby 5.1 EX tracks are provided. The audio is not switchable on the fly so doing an A/B is quite difficult, but I didn't note any serious differences between the two. The original stereo mix is also thoughtfully provided. All sound quite nice, with only nominal hiss that is noticeable in very quiet sections. There's nothing to complain about here. William Kraft's bombastic score sounds very good though somewhat lacking in deep bass.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Ralph Bakshi
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
Layers Switch: 00h:53m:15s
But that's just Disc 1. The second disc is devoted to the full-length documentary, Frazetta: Painting with Fire. Through interviews with the artist himself, as well as other artists and Bakshi, we get a pretty good look at the man's career and art, though even more about the man himself. I've read print interviews with Frazetta where he comes off as an insufferable jerk, but the presentation here is much more sympathetic, thanks to a focus on his affection for his children and grandchildren. There's plenty of good information here, including his struggles to overcome a misdiagnosed thyroid condition and taking up painting with the left hand after a series of strokes caused him to no longer be able to use the right. Tons of his paintings and drawings are presented here, with a few snippets of him actually painting. The director and producer of the documentary also provide a full-length commentary, filling in some blanks and adding other tidbits, such as the fact that when the artist does a watercolor, he uses Mickey Mouse paints since he likes the bright colors. It's well worth watching for any fan of Frazetta's art.
Extras Grade: A
Final CommentsA weak story but a visually fascinating fantasy that has long been unavailable in any form, in a reasonably good transfer with too much edge enhancement. Tons of valuable extras are here for the fan.
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