Aruman? Really? (Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards)

Tonight’s foray into the land of life after the end of the world is the Ralph Bakshi animated classic “Wizards”. I was drawn to this movie largely because I’d heard how it ends (Which is awesome, by the way).
I knew of Bakshi, from his work on the animated version of “The Lord of the Rings” (Hence the title of this article, as Sarumon’s name was inexplicably changed in the Bakshi version), but that was sort of creepy, what with the weird rotoscoped fight scenes and just generally not very good, so it never occurred to me that Bakshi might be recognized as a great talent in the field of animation.
Wizards is the tale of two brothers, Avatar and Darth Vader, one good, one evil, set a million years in the aftermath of a nuclear war.
Yes. A million years in the future. Remember, this is literally decades before “Our world without us” was written, so, apparently anyone could guess anything they liked about how long it would take for all traces of human civilization to vanish.
Ralph Bakshi
Wizards starts off with a firm grip on this being the future-as-viewed-from-the-seventies. The opening credits use the MICR computer font. If you don’t know what the MICR computer font is, here’s a helpful hint: if you’re over 25, close your eyes and imagine what “computer text” looks like. Yes, that’s it.

The Future, Bitches See, back in the sixties, when computers were still new and fascinating and called “Electronic Brains”, General Electric invented this font which, when printed in magnetic ink, could be read by a device similar to a tape recorder. Because they were about the only ones with commercial use for computers back then this was snapped up by the banks, which is why it’s entirely possible that if you are still enough of a luddite to use paper checks, it may even today have your account number printed on it in MICR font. The big, blocky, funny-shaped letters became ingrained in the public consciousness as being all futuristic and stuff, so it pretty much appeared any time you wanted to indicate a high-technology future from about 1967 until about 1988.

The opening of the movie is, bizarrely, a “live action” scene. The reason for the scare quotes here are because, although this was filmed with a camera in what appears to be a real location out in the real world, there isn’t really any “action” or and “live”-ness. Rather. we see a desert, and the camera moves around to show us the first page of a book, which is helpfully also printed in the MICR font, which declares itself to be, “an illuminating history, bearing on the everlasting struggle for world supremacy fought between the powers of Magic and Technology.” Because, y’know, that’s the story of human history. The battle between magic and technology.
We then cut to a crude sketch of the globe, and then to a screen of solid, flickery red, as if they filmed a fire, but that wasn’t firey enough so they put a red filter over it too. Our narrator, a bored-sounding woman who I am going to pretend for the moment is Judy Collins, explains that some terrorists set off some atomic bombs, which led to a nuclear holocaust, which took two million years to clear up a bit, which led to most of humanity turning into horrible mutants, and also faeries and dwarves and hobbits and the like making a comeback.
This is illustrated with some uncolored sketches of what this might look like. We’re now about three minutes into our animated story, and nothing has actually been animated yet.
Avatar and BlackwolfIn the smurf village, the faeries are celebrating three-thousand years of uninterrupted good times, leading me to believe that this may be where Russell T Davies got his idea for how to cnvey a sense of scale by his choice of numbers. The elf queen senses something amis, and looks to the sky, where an evil looking cloud is played by a color effect on a real cloud — this movie is diligent about avoiding doing any actual animation. This storm causes the elf queen Delia to suddenly give birth to twins, who everyone immediately concludes are powerful wizards, because that is the name of this movie so they’d better get on with showing up.

Neonatal BlackwolfAs almost always happens in cases like this, one twin is born with a severe case of PURE EVIL. the good son is named “Avatar”, and the evil son is named “Blackwolf”, just to make sure that he doesn’t grow up confused over whether he’s the evil son or the good son. Avatar is a bit on the short side, whereas Darkseid is tall and sort of skeletal, what with his forearm being in two separate pieces with a visible hole between the bones.

USE THE PAIN OF LOSS!When Delia dies, Darth Vader is excited, we’re told, just to remind us that he’s evil. He thinks this means he’ll be allowed to rule the kingdom. Because he’s been such a dutiful son and all. Him and Avatar fight, and their battle takes the form of… yet more still frames of uncolored sketches with a creepy live-action VFX shot in the background. We’re now going on five minutes and no actual animation yet. Thanks to the fact that Avatar actually loved his mother, his pain at losing her enables him to become a Super-Saiyan and kick his brother’s ass.

Darth Vader is banished, but promises one day to return and TAKE OVER THE WORLD, and finally we get to see some actual animation. Some years later, an older Darth Vader dispatches three wacky looking monsterous folks to march off through what looks like the Paris Barricade from Les Miserables, with orders to kill. We follow Necron 99, who’s dressed in a sort of cross between those red full-body underwear suits you see associated with yokelness, with the flap in the back and all, and a World War I German uniform, and he rides a sort of giant anteater through the mutant Red Light District, scaring the bajeezus out of green, winged prostitutes and diminutive spade-tailed johns, as Joni Mitchel explains that he’s been sent out to kill everyone who believes in magic. Also, a semi-transparent dinosaur mills around in the background for no clear reason. Hey, it’s the future, that sort of thing happens.
The Future, Bitches
Seriously, there’s just a semi-transparent dinosaur turning around in a circle as Necron 99 rides through the wasteland. No one ever comments on it. I don’t know that it counts as a Big Lipped Alligator Moment, but it’s certainly a contender.

A montage ensures, wherein Necron murders a family of snorks as their leader, Gandalf, reads them a story about how all technology is evil, and the other two assassins go to a pastiche fantasy medieval kingdom and gun down everyone there because Darth Vader does not approve of renaissance festivals. Their guns borrow the sound effect from the original Star Ship Enterprise firing torpedoes.
Don't cry, soulless killing machineNecron 99 is hunting a couple of elves, who are on their way to warn Avatar of the coming assassins. One of them buys it from Necron’s photon torpedo gun, but the other elf manages to headshot Necron’s bipedal anteater-horse-thing. Necron slouches off, looking really disturbingly sad for a soulless killing machine.

This picture is so gonna boost my google pagerank. Back in the Smurf Villiage, the years have turned Avatar into a creepy dwarf with a red ball nose whose face is entirely concealed by a red beard and moustache, with a Groucho cigar. He’s hanging out with the cast of an LSD-induced nightmare, including a slutty fairy and what looks like Goofy in a Guy Fawlkes mask.
Slutty McFairy teases Avatar about how the elves haven’t returned yet, and acts as if this is somehow tremendously funny. Avatar implies that if they never return, this will indicate great danger out on the Big Wide World, because, y’know, people are dead. They all enjoy a hearty laugh at the prospect of the horrible deaths of their friends.
Avatar and Guy Fawlkes debate the necessity of arming themselves against the IMPENDING DOOM, in order that Avatar can explain, in direct contradiction to the backstory, that the world has been peaceful for millions of years, since technology was outlawed. Guy Fawlkes threatens to banish Avatar, which makes Slutty giggle, but she points out that “Only Avatar can make me a full-fledged fairy.”

Does this remind you of anything?.Avatar concedes (Concedes what, I don’t know) and offers up some exposition, which he promptly hands over to Judy Collins, so that they don’t have to animate this bit. Before he does, though, we get a glimpse of Necron 99 climbing up to the top of Avatar’s penis-shaped tower. Blackwolf, Avatar and Judy explain, had spent five thousand years studying the dark arts, because this movie thinks that big numbers will impress us more than a timescale as realistic as The Legend of Ra and the Muggles

I've got to stop christmas from coming, but how?Darth Vader raises an army and tries to invade neighboring countries, but his troops, as exemplified by a strange “Oh my god, they killed Kenny!”-like scene, are retarded, and would tend to get distracted and confused, and just wander off home instead of actually conquering anything. Darth Vader was understandably upset, having gone to all the trouble of creating hideous mutant armies via magic and summoning all the forces of hell to serve as his generals, but, for reasons Avatar has not yet discovered, he finally made some kind of breakthrough, and discovered some piece of pre-holocaust technology that has turned the tide.
Guy Fawlkes, who I gather is also Slutty’s dad, starts bitching Avatar out for sending the elves from the previous scene out into danger based on his weird and vague theories, when Necron 99 shows up and pumps him full of lead photon torpedoes. Necron 99, the deadliest killing machine ever devised, however, falls down dead as a result of Avatar pointing a finger at him. Slutty starts uselessly clawing at the downed assassin when the elf guy shows up, and apologizes to Guy Fawlkes’s corpse for failing him. Turns out that Guy Fawlkes was the president of Smurf Village.
Back at Darth Vader’s base, an alarm goes off indicating that Necron 99 is broken. Vader interprets this to mean that Necron 99 has committed suicide after successfully killing the president. It seems that without the strong leadership of Guy Fawlkes, the other nations of the earth will basically crumble before his war machine. And then, in what would be subtle foreshadowing, if you were somehow mentally handicapped, he throws in an entirely random “Sieg Heil!” to punctuate just how evil he is. Really. Just like in Captain America.

Seriously, Bakshi? What The Fuck
About two minutes later, while a classic creepy Bakshi rotoscoped scene plays (Seriously, this is like nightmare fuel unleaded), Darth Vader rolls out his new magic weapon: a grainy 30s Nazi Propaganda film. Yes. His secret weapon is HITLER.
Elf-land and Fairly-Land unite and prepare for World War I style trench warfare, while a veteran of the last war recalls that the last time Darth Vader attacked, the elves easily slaughtered one million of the evil mutants. In this time of peace. Anyway, the point is to backstory and remind us that the mutants don’t really have anything to fight for, and therefore always end up retreating.
But this time, things are different, because this time, Blackwolf is armed with HITLER. He projects his Nazi propaganda film, and the elves are basically so entirely flummoxed by it that they just stand around in shellshocked horror and let the mutants slaughter them.

Well, my dad's dead, but I guess I could straddle you for a while.A quick perusal of Necron 99’s corpse (He’s a robot of some sort, but this is never actually spelled out, which is strange given their penchant for exposition) reveals Darth Vader’s plan to Avatar, and he promptly declares that the evil image-projecting maching MUST BE DESTROYED, and then goes to bed. Slutty insists that her father must be avenged, and threatens Avatar with her sword, but at no point does her tone ever sound anything other than airheaded and playful. Avatar suggests that she sit, stradling him on his bed with her breasts trying their darnedest to fall out of what passes for a top in Fairyland, but would probably class more as a sort of scarf in our pre-holocaust world, for a few hours and let him think up a plan. Slutty, taking a page out of Debbie Does Dallas, responds with a befuddled “Well… All right.”
The elf guy (whose name I still haven’t worked out) finds this scene as weird as I do and interrupts. Avatar renames Necron 99 “Peace”, or perhaps he meant to rename Slutty as “Piece”, but anyway, he sends the town whore and the mighty elf warrior off to pack while he “reasons” with Peace. This results in another non-animated segment, wherein I finally learn that Slutty’s real name is “Eleanor” and Elf Dude is “Weehauk.” Seriously? Isn’t that a town in New Jersey? “Weehauk”, “Avatar”, “Necron 99”, “Darkwolf” and “Eleanor”? Hm. If memory serves, this movie was made slightly before Lord of the Rings, so it’s really a coincidence that Ralph Bakshi will go on to make a movie whose major characters are named “Frodo”, “Aragorn”, “Gandalf”, “Smeagol” and “Sam”.
Avatar explains to the bound Peace that “This has been the biggest bummer of a trip I’ve ever been on,” which is really saying something since they haven’t left yet. Or maybe Avatar is talking about all the LSD used in the production of this movie. He makes some pretty devastatingly creepy threats about what he will do to Peace if he screws them over, explaining that it “will take twenty years to kill you, and you’ll be screaming within five seconds.” Our hero, ladies and gentlemen. Peace responds that “Peace wants love, wants free, will help.” Great. He’s going to be one of those “cute” talks-like-the-mentally-handicapped monsters. Avatar reassures his friends by doing some magic. Like all the other magic he’s done so far (summoning cigars and decanting wine), it’s stupid and frivolous (He levitates himself into his saddle on the back of the anteater-horse-thing), but he ends up facing the wrong way, prompting Slutty to point out, “He’s getting olda but not much bolda,” in what seems to be some kind of Blackspoitation heroine impersonation. Ah, the seventies.
Avatar demands a song from Slutty, because “That’s why we brought you.” Because, y’know, she’s a girl. So that whole “Avenge my father’s death” thing, yeah, we didn’t really give a damn about that. She hands off to Judy Collins to do the singing, which leads to a montage of the good and kindhearted freakish demihumans cowering and lamenting how their land is now in the grips of Darth Vader and his army, and that they have no hope of resisting them, because “They have weapons and technology; we only have love.” This leads to a scene with the gas-mask-wearing mentally handicapped soldiers in Vader’s army. They’re searching a church to find some priests, since Darth Vader believes you really need to have organized religion in order to be an evil empire.

Hitler Plus Jesus Equals World Domination.
Because Hitler Plus Jesus Equals World Domination

They find a couple of Obviously Jewish Stereotypes priests, who appear to worship the CBS Eye (Because it’s THE FUTURE, get it?), and explain that they’ve only got time for war, not for taking care of prisoners, and would the priests please find something to do with all the civilians they’ve captured. The priests procede todo a weird little song and dance prayer number which I think was intendedto be sort of pythonesque, but instead manage to just be sort of offensive to your relgious sensibilities, regardless of whether you’re christian, jewish, muslim, hindu, buddhist, or a worshiper of Whoops, the God of Serendipitous Calamity. Basically, if you could form a good analogue between religion and race, this would be the equivalent of a blackface minstrel show. The retarded soldiers get tired of waiting, or maybe have an attack of good taste, and blow up the church instead. For some reason. they don’t decide to exit it first.

Oh, right.Back at Mount Doom, it is revealed that Blackwolf’s about to be a daddy: he’s got a ridiculously hot wife who is very pregnant. A strange mutant with a ridiculously hot wife and plans to rule the world’s greatest power? How am I supposed to believe that sort of crap?
Here, Darth Vader explains that he wants to conquer the world so that Mutants will finally be free from having to live in the shadows as an oppressed sub-class just because they’re hideous, hideous freaks. This really humanizes Vader and makes him seem like one of those modern well-intentioned extremists, like Magneto or Poison Ivy or Michael Moore. Of course, it would be a lot more convincing if the whole rest of the movie didn’t establish the evil brother as having simply been born pure evil with a lust for evil and conquest. Also, he then finds out from his magi (Because he’s the brother who hates magic and believes in technology) that his son is destined to be a mutant, so he shrugs, says “Eh, the next one will be human,” and implies that he’s going to have the baby killed. Way to humanize the villain, movie.
We finally return to our heroes, who are approaching a faerie forest that Peace doesn’t like. It seems that Elves and Fairies don’t get along, and these particular faeries might be mischievous. Except that I thought that Slutty was a fairy. In fact, I’m quite sure she mentioned it explicitly at one point. But these faeries are tiny little naked things. I’d almost suspect that this was a translation issue, like the way that old Japanese imports often use the word “star” when they mean “planet”, except that English is this movie’s first language. Anyway, the faeries play with our heroes for a bit while Peace looks sad. Everyone’s laughing and having a good time, and then, out of nowhere, Avatar becomes finds this playfulness annoying and summons all the forces of hell to smite the faeries. Our hero, ladies and gentlemen.

Our hero, smiting some playful faeries. It’s weird, like that tunnel scene in Willy Wonka, or that scary Yoda moment. Basically, it’s like when you’re playing with a cat, and the cat decides that it is done playing, and when you fail to intuit this, she explains it to you by defleshing your arm. Only he does it with ALL THE FORCES OF HELL. Fortunately, just as he draws back to smite, an especially fey faery summons a great feast, which instantly calms Avatar down. He explains that his name is Shawn, leader of the Knights of Stardust, a FABULOUS order of tiny little warriors. Avatar is still annoyed, but Slutty shoves his head between her boobs and this makes him happy. But then someone assumed to be Peace starts shooting the place up, and Slutty suddenly disappears into bondage high in the mountains.

Brokeback Wizards Weehauken falls into a pit which he has to fight and climg his way out of, which is entirely black and featureless, either because it makes it more dramatic, or because Bakshi got tired of drawing backgrounds, there he fights an invisible enemy because Bakshi also got tired of drawing enemies. The monster finally shows itself as a giant spider or possibly the hair monster from Looney Tunes. But Peace shows up and shoots it before he collapses for some reason. Weehauken then mounts him and falls asleep on top of him.

Pussy Power!Slutty is put on trial for bringing the evils of technology into Fairyland, and the resulting death of Shaun the Fey. She sort of giggles at the idea of being held responsible for her actions, and then heaves her breasts around a bit, which causes her to glow red and shoot an energy beam out of her crotch.
Pussy Power!Taking this to mean that she’s come fully into her powers, Slutty then animates a gargoyle, which immediately turns on her. Avatar shows up and fails to do anything about the gargoyle, but does protest his important cause. Then, for no clear reason, Darth Vader materializes, shouts, “He lies!” then vanishes. Which causes someone to shoot Avatar in the shoulder with a tiny little arrow. The fact that this did not prompt Avatar to go on a killing rampage is taken by the King of the Faeries to mean that he can be trusted, and lets them go.

I swear I had no idea I would get the chance to do this when I started this review

After getting lost in the mountains, Avatar and Slutty meet back up with Weehauken and his new boyfriend Peace, and then they meet up with some viking elves who are planning to attack Darth Vader, but Avatar objects to them just adding to the fighting, prompting some more backstory about how Avatar, in his younger days, roamed the earth, spreading the gospel of love and peace, and then they get attacked, in turn, by a giant evil cabbage, a bird, and a rotoscoped tank. In an utterly bizarre turn, Peace attacks the tank, and Slutty murders him, then jumps in the tank and rides off.
Avatar gets all mopey over Slutty’s betrayal, and Weehauken basically has to drag him through the next part of their mission, into the stronghold of Darth Vader and his band of Nazis, which means we get treated to a scene of a bunch of mutant Nazis intimidating a young foot-tall winged faery into removing her top to sate their perverse sexual desires:

Because Ralph Bakshi knows how to creep me the fuck out with animation.

Avatar gets increasingly melancholic as the violence increases, because he’s into love and peace and all that jazz, and then the viking elves attack. But because Bakshi doesn’t particularly care for animation, the animated elves fight mutants played by rotoscoped humans who hover above the backdrop and are seen only in this weird sort of lithographic style. For some reason, the mutants are attacking on horseback, despite the fact that (a) they have tanks, and (b) We’ve established that horses have been replaced by weird bipedal anteater things.
In the close shots, the mutants turn back into animated mutants with guns, and manage ot kill a lot of the viking elves, but it’s not at all clear to me who’s winning in any given scene, especially with the continual changes in the art style. As before, they roll out the World War II stock footage, and the elves just stand around flabbergasted as they’re blown to pieces. I’m not really sure what’s going on here, whether the projected images are meant to be magically able to actually kill the elves, or if it’s just a distraction.
Avatar sends Weehauken off the destroy the projector, and then plans his suicide, on account of Slutty’s betrayal. He finds Slutty and prepares to kill her, but Darth Vader’s Ridiculously Hot Wife stops him, and makes an incoherent, rambling speech about blood and death and fathers against sons and being fast with your blade, and this confuses Weehauken long enough for Slutty to explain that when she’d fondled Peace earlier, it had allowed Darth Vader to hypnotize her, because of Peace’s mental link to the forces of Evil.
Now, the climax of this movie is one of the more awesome twists I’ve ever seen, so I’m actually going to put it below the jump…

The “final battle” between Avatar and Darth Vader is one of those low-action talky battles, with Vader entreating his brother to surrender the world to him, and Avatar giving Vader One Last Final Chance to– No, wait, actually, he doesn’t. Avatar came here to kill his brother, and has absolutely no interest in any other possible outcome. He explains that he hasn’t practiced much magic in some time (Which is a strange claim given that we’ve established that Avatar can’t be bothered to pour his own drinks without using magic), but that there’s one particular trick he learned from their mom while Vader was off being evil.
So, what is this trick? Does he whip out some amazing spell that stops all of Badwolf’s evil machinations? Does he unleash the power of LOVE AND PEACE to negate all of Blackwolf’s evil? Does he knock him from the ramparts, then reach out his hand to save him only to have his evil brother let go rather than owe his life to someone non-evil?
Have you ever watched the 60s Batman series? Every episode, the villains capture Batman and have him at their mercy, and every week, they stick him in a ludicrous and easily escapable death trap. And every week, you’re sitting there, shouting at the screen, “Why don’t ya just shoot him?”
Well, when someone asked Ralph Bakshi this question, he discovered that he didn’t have a good answer for it, and so he did something a bit unorthodox.
Avatar, who has been fighting with his sleeves the whole time, says, and his choice of words makes me notice that he sounds an awful lot like Columbo, “Just one more thing: I’m glad you changed your name, you son of a bitch,” and he pulls a gun out of his sleeve, and shoots Badwolf dead.

Our hero. Murdering an unarmed man.

And because that’s all the cliche-busting we can do in one movie, the death of Badwolf makes his castle explode, and the projector along with it. We switch back to still sketches and Judy Collins comes back to tell us how the elves slaughtered the remaining mutants (Our heroes!), and that “Hitler was dead again,” and that everyone could go back to their peaceful lives.
Instead of setting off home with Weehauken, Avatar and Slutty decide to get married and start a new kingdom. With the promise of hot midget-on-fairy-slut sex, they ride off into history…
So, Wizards, for its climax alone, is worthy of a place of honor in my hall of eschatological movies. But let’s really think about this here. Aside from that climactic scene, this movie is a mess. The animation is frequently cheap, and a lot of the rotoscoped stuff seems to be there for no reason other than to creep you the fuck out. The hamhanded message of the movie seems to be “Technology bad, nature good,” except that it undermines this pretty much every step along the way: there’s the overblown attack on religion (It’s not inconsistent to say that technology is bad and *also* religion is bad, but you’re going to have to actually explain what you’re doing, instead of having offensively overblown Jewish stereotypes CBS worshipers put on a minstrel show in which they spank each other, water each other with a flower pot, reenact the Passion, prostrate themselves , and do a tap number (Seriously, had they managed to finish the prayer, I think instead of “Amen”, it would have ended with them shouting, “The Aristocrats!”). And, protip, if your message is “Technology bad, nature good,” You are not allowed to have a gun save the day. Character motivations is all over the place, and they really play the “The enemy soldiers are mentally handicapped” gag way too often.
But hey, who am I to judge?

One thought on “Aruman? Really? (Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards)

  1. Otranom

    “Darth Vader does not approve of renaissance festivals.”
    This will continue to make me laugh every time I watch this movie, go to Faire, or watch Star Wars 3-6. Thanks!

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