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Featured Blu-ray Review: Wizards: 35th Anniversary Edition

March 14th, 2012

Wizards: 35th Anniversary Edition - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

Wizards came out in 1977, just a few weeks before Star Wars came out. This does help explain why it never became a massive hit at the box office, but pulling in $9 million on a $1.2 million budget is solid result. However, it came out 35 years ago and perhaps it hasn't aged as well as some other films of the genre. And is this release of the Blu-ray worth picking up or even upgrading from the previous release?

The Movie

The film begins with a prologue describing the events of World War III and the end of civilization as we know it. With the huge amount of radiation that was the result of the nuclear holocaust, what little of humanity remained was subjected to generation after generation of mutations. Eventually, millions of years in the future, these mutants rule the bad lands, the places where radiation still permeates. However, at the same time humanities ancestors, elves and faeries, awaken from their slumber. They live in the good lands where nature flourishes once again. Peace lasted for many years until the faerie queen gave birth to twins. Avatar (Bob Holt) is the embodiment of good, while Blackwolf (Steve Gravers) is the embodiment of evil. After their mother dies, Avatar and Blackwolf fought for control of the land and while Avatar won the fight, Blackwold vowed to return.

His initial attempts at winning went nowhere. Even when he raises a demon from hell to serve as his general, he still lost. He had the army to overrun the elves and faeries and defeat his brother, but what Blackwolf was missing was a way to motivate his troops. He felt he could find what he was missing by digging through the old world ruins and finding what we used to use to motivate our troops to fight in endless wars. Sensing his brother is up to something, Avatar sends spies to learn what Blackwolf was up to. However, the last spies are ambushed by Blackhawk's assassin, Necron 99, and only Weehawk (Richard Romanus) escapes. Unfortunately, he leads Necron 99 right to the President's palace, where Necron 99 is able to complete his mission of assassinating the President.

Now the President is dead and Avatar is no closer to knowing the true nature of what Blackwolf had found to change the tide of war. So Avatar; Weehawk; the President's daughter, Elinore (Jesse Welles); and the rechristened Peace, who now wants nothing but peace, travel towards Scortch and Blackwolf's fortress to destroy his secret weapon. What is his secret weapon? That's too much of a spoiler.

Wizards is the definition of a cult movie. It combines traditional cell animation, still illustrations, real world war footage that has been rotoscoped, and even live action footage. This combination creates a world with a rather unique look; although part of the uniqueness comes from the film's small budget, which is both a blessing and a curse. The unique look is great, but there are some parts where the cells are painted such that you can see individual brush strokes that shift between frames. Also, many of the action scenes reuse animation. A common problem for animated films on a budget. (The film's budget was less than 10% of that of Robin Hood's budget, which was released just four years prior, so one can't complain too much.) I think it is this world that will draw people in more and while the film looks old fashion today, it still has a lot of appeal.

As for the characters and the plot, these are a little mixed. The plot is not unique and it is a rather straight forward battle of good vs. evil with a rather heavy-handed allegory on top, but the combination of magic and technology goes a long way in creating an engaging world. The allegory is a major asset to the film, even though it lacks subtlety. Many of the characters are not well developed beyond the archetypes, but the voice acting helps them feel fuller. For instance, Avatar is an aging wizard who doesn't know if he has what it takes anymore. This is a very common theme, but the voice work has something to it that makes the character come alive. Elinore starts out as a character that wouldn't see too out of place in one of Ralph Bashki's more adult oriented movies, but she gets a chance to grow and become strong. Hell, Blackwolf's wife makes a couple appearances and she's shown with surprising depth. That's not to say it is all great. Some of the "comedic" scenes are total failures. (Lardbottom's scene, for instance, and especially the two priests praying, which went on far too long.)

On a side note, the film is described as Ralph Bashki and my response to that is, "Really?" We see faeries living in Scortch working as prostitutes. We see a POW forced to strip as entertainment for the bad guys. Elinore's character design is not exactly family friendly. It's not X-rated like some of his other works, but the depiction of the war alone puts it in the same league as Rock & Rule rather than the typical Disney film.

The Extras

Extras begin with an audio commentary with Ralph Bashki while he is also the focus of the Blu-ray's lone featurette. It is a solo track and there are some spots where he's quiet, but there's also more than enough information provided. Ralph Bakshi: The Wizard of Animation runs for 34 minutes and talks about Ralph Bakshi's career and how this film fits within his filmography. There are also an image gallery and the original trailers.

The technical presentation is solid, all things considered. Granted, there are a few specs here and there and a lot of the animation has rather limited details, so the film won't showcase the upper limited of Blu-ray very often. However, there are some scenes that have amazing detail. (The illustrated backgrounds of Scortch immediately spring to mind here.) The colors are usually strong, while the blacks are as deep as you could want. Compression issues are not a problem. The audio is clear while there is good separation, excellent immersion in the battle scenes, and plenty of bass.

The Verdict

If you've never seen Wizards, but you like fantasy or sci-fi, or combinations of the two, then the 35th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray is at least worth a rental. If you are a fan of the film, the Blu-ray looks and sounds great, while there are enough extras to lift the film to a solid purchase.

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