Wizards (35th Anniversary Edition) [Blu-ray] (1977)

Director: Ralph Bakshi
Format: Widescreen
Language: English, French, Spanish
Region: 1 (U.S. and Canada only)
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Number of discs: 1
Rated: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: 20th Century Fox
DVD Release Date: March 13, 2012
Run Time: 81 minutes





Ralph Bakshi was never one for coherence in his animated features. He preferred stuff you could get stoned to: sprawling fantastical landscapes inhabited by bizarre creatures following motivations barely developed at most.

I don’t intend this as a criticism.

Granted, it’s reduced a number of Bakshi’s features to unrecognizable gibberish, but it’s also given him a distinct auteurial vision that sets him apart from other animation producers. From his earliest days, his films reflected an adult sensibility, with brazenly grown-up efforts like Fritz the Cat and Hey Good Lookin’, and even his family friendly efforts trended proudly away from the Walt Disney model that remains the staple of animated features.

Wizards is typical of his efforts: a move away from the adult urban scene of his first films and towards the fantasy elements that dominated his later work. It also represented the first animated feature ever produced by 20th Century Fox, which returns the favor by releasing a new Blu-ray edition to celebrate the film’s 35th anniversary.

The film remains a cult favorite, and while I can’t say it’s good, it’s certainly unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.

The storyline – such as it is – concerns an Earth of the far future, millions of years after a nuclear apocalypse. Magic has returned to the world, as have the elves and faeries that ushered humanity through its earliest eras. When the kindly wizard Avatar claims rulership over his mother’s kingdom, his evil brother Blackwolf turns to technology in an effort to defeat him.

The extended showdown groans beneath the weight of heavy metaphor, without offering much narrative cohesion to compensate. Characters come and go randomly, countless asides serve no discernible point and the animation technique displays about as much discipline as a five-year-old on a sugar high.

Bakshi said that the drama is intended to reflect the creation of Israel, and it’s hard to miss the point since his villain uses Nazi propaganda footage to inspire his troops. Beyond that, any efforts to make sense out of the spectacle depend solely on the manner of pharmaceutical you ingest. Watching it sober is an exercise in bafflement, as the shaggy dog wanders shockingly far for such a short running time.

Fans, however, would call all that beside the point. Wizards exists less as a story than as an exercise in stream-of-consciousness imagination. Bakshi unloads the contents of his head in endless waves, traveling in every direction he can conceive and few he probably couldn’t before the project began.

The shifting images keep up with his thought processes admirably, as characters bounce across the scene and extended monologues carry an inexplicable fascination with them. It’s a mess, but an undeniably breathtaking mess: holding our attention even as it fails to provide a rational justification.

Rakshi adopted a more resolute method in his subsequent fantasy epics Fire and Ice and The Lord of the Rings. Both of those films constitute a more satisfying experience than Wizards (Fire and Ice remains a guilty pleasure of mine). And yet neither of them reflect their director as purely as this one.

Bakshi never apologized for his outlook and the resolute way which he pursued his projects brought a one-of-a-kind chapter to the annals of cinema. Wizards thus succeeds solely because of its originality. In an era when prepackaged corporate bombast is the order of the day, the notion of a singular onscreen vision is worthy of celebration. You may not like Wizards – I’m not sure I do – but you won’t easily forget it. There aren’t a lot of movies which can legitimately make that claim.

THE DISC: Fans are bound to be disappointed in the new Blu-ray.

Though it contains a gorgeous 24-page art book, the disc itself is just a quick transfer from the previous DVD edition. Extra features are identical – a behind-the-scenes doc, TV and theatrical trailers, a gallery of stills, and running commentary from Bakshi. Image and sound quality are indistinguishable from the DVD version: decent, but hardly worth shelling out an extra 35 bucks for.

The enhanced clarity also highlights many of the flaws in the animation itself, which no amount of upgrades can hide.

WORTH IT? Bakshi fans will think as, as will anyone with an interest in unusual cinema. On the other hand, they could have gotten the same thing with the DVD, which admittedly is currently out of print.

RECOMMENDATION: For those who already own it, buyer beware.

For the rest, know what you’re getting into before you buy. A rental screening will serve newcomers well, while fans should consider whether the marginal improvement in image is worth replacing their DVD edition.

- Rob Vaux



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