Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ralph Bakshi's Wizards


I rented Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards from Netflix last week to see if it was anything like I remembered it as a kid.  The first thing that came to mind after watching the movie was, “Um… What the Hell?!”

Apparently I really didn’t remember much about this movie at all.  I remember seeing bits and pieces of it, not in the theater, but at a friend’s house on VHS.  It was probably part of an all night D&D session, which we did rather often back in Junior High School, just like most long-time gamers that I know.  So, there’s a very good chance that the movie just ended up being on in the background and I didn’t pay much attention. 

I do remember, however, that the movie poster had a huge affect on me.  I saw that image of Necron 99 (aka “Peace”) riding that weird bird-lizard thing and it just looked so… “Gamma World” to me.  That’s the thing with Wizards – I didn’t actually ever hear of the movie or see the artwork until after I’d starting playing RPGs and been exposed to Gamma World.

I loved Gamma World when I was a kid – it was my second favorite game after D&D and it was actually the first game that I refereed, before I’d taken a stab at trying to DM a D&D game, which seemed so much more “serious” and difficult.  So, in a way, you could say that my first experiences at “world building” were really more post-apocalyptic and mutant-flavored than they were pure fantasy.  I have very fond memories of some of my Gamma World campaign worlds that I’ll be posting about in the future.  And I remember that a lot of them involved the idea of humanoid-looking robots carrying assault rifles and riding weird bird-lizard things.  They seemed a natural fit in the crazy milieu that made up Gamma World. 

So, I was really excited to watch the movie last week when the DVD arrived in the mail, after having searched for it in vain on-demand (it turns out that none of Bakshi’s works are available on-demand, at least that I could find).

Sadly after having watched the movie, I was sorely disappointed.  This was clearly a case of nostalgia getting in the way and causing me to think this movie was something different than it really is.  While it is post-apocalyptic, and there are mutants and radioactive wastelands, and even a healthy dose of magic (which I personally like from time-to-time in some post-apocalyptic settings), it just wasn’t like I thought it was.  I listened to the commentary and I know that Bakshi was going for a more kid-friendly fairy-tale quality, but I think the movie fails on that level.  It’s much too dark to be a kid film, but it’s much too silly to be a good film for adults.  I don’t mind silly movies, but in this case it just doesn’t work. 

Ultimately, it seems that the artwork for the movie poster alone was much more responsible for inspiring me and my trips through the Gamma World than the rest of the movie. 

I wonder how often this type of situation has happened to me in the past, but I just haven’t thought about it?

5 comments:

  1. Yes, that image is incredibly evocative (I remember first seeing it in a monthly cable guide at age 12 or so and being immediately smitten) and doesn't really warn you what you're in for.

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  2. I just went through a Bakshi run myself, although I skipped Wizards because I had seen it recently anyway. I started with Friz, because that's how it works, then went all the way to Cool World, which is unfortunate because that movie just can't can't be allowed to be his last work.

    Anyway, what I remember of Wizards was the surprise use of a hand gun at the end of it all. Here they are, all these magicians, etc. running about and they ultimately have to go to the gun to finish things off.

    Freaked me out when I first saw it and still kind of bugs me.

    BTW, if you want one of Bakshi's best works, watch American Pop. Some of his best animation work and a really great story line.

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  3. [SPOILER ALERT - IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN WIZARDS, BUT PLAN TO, PLEASE STOP READING]

    Totally agreed about the use of the hand-gun at the end, particularly when it was set up from the beginning that Blackwulf was "evil" partly because he relied so much on technology. And then the totally bad-ass good-guy wizard at the end just finishes the whole thing off by shooting the bad guy wizard with a gun? That seemed very odd to me for a movie that I felt was partly about modern culture's reliance on technology.

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  4. Yeah, and remember when the elves are losing the big battle and they start picking up guns... to great effect? Also, the entire movie is available in something like eight installments on YouTube if you're ever hankering for a re-watch. Nice post.

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  5. (Arrived at this post through a circuitous list of Gamma World references.)

    I saw Wizards at 11 or 12, and was completely enamored of the imagery. I purchased the DVD a few years ago, but ended giving it away after watching the antics of the "priests."

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