Wizards 35th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review: Artwork Trumps Story

Recommend for animation fans.
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Wizards found writer/director Ralph Bakshi expanding his scope as an artist.  His previous films were social satires set on the urban streets of 1970s New York.  With Wizards, he blended science fiction and fantasy for a story set over two million years into the future after a nuclear holocaust devastated life on Earth.  The film is quite interesting as it challenges expectations for an animated film.

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During the prologue, the narrator (an uncredited Susan Tyrrell) reveals that over those many millennia most of humanity's ancestors became mutants while a small number evolved into creatures such as fairies, elves, and dwarves.  After 3,000 years of peace, Delia, the queen of the fairies, gave birth to twins, the kind Avatar (Bob Holt), whose voice as a grown-up sounds like Peter Falk, and the wicked Blackwolf (Steve Gravers).  Upon her death, the brothers battled for the throne.  Avatar was victorious and Blackwolf was exiled.

The story jumps another 3,000 years ahead as Blackwolf plots another takeover.  His robot agent, Necron 99, assassinates the President, and his minions spread across the land.  Avatar leads the charge against Blackwolf with the President's daughter Elinore (Jesse Welles), whose skimpy, tight-fitting white dress makes the PG rating baffling, the elf Weehawk (Richard Romanus), and a reprogrammed Necron 99 who becomes known as Peace.

Although Blackwolf has a large mutant army at his command, it's a special weapon that he thinks will lead him to triumph: reels of Nazi propaganda films and a projector augmented by his magic.  Blackwolf projects the images onto the sky to inspire his forces and strike fear into his enemies.  Avatar learns of the device and his foursome head off through the lands to stop Blackwolf's diabolical plan as the battle between magic and technology commences.

The film appears on Blu-ray in commemoration of its 35th Anniversary, but 20th Century Fox hasn't invested much in the celebration.  The video has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at 1.85:1.  Colors have bright hues and the blacks are deep.  Edges are as sharp as they are drawn.  The image shows wear and damage throughout.  There are occasional bits of dirt and scratches, and white specks abound, especially in scenes requiring double exposure for animation and effects.  The audio is available as DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 but the source limits the output.  Music can be heard in the rears, but there's not much in the way of a surround experience.  It's a front-heavy track for the dialogue and effects.  The battle scenes offer a muddled mix of loud noises and characters screaming. 

The main extras are from the 2004 DVD release: a commentary track by Bakshi and "Ralph Bakshi - The Wizard of Animation" (SD, 34 min) where he sits for an interview covering his career and outlook on the film.  There is some overlap between them.  There are also two trailers, a TV spot, and stills galleries.  The disc is housed in a 24-page digibook with an introductory note from Bakshi and artwork.

Bakshi's work on Wizards is intriguing.  He combines styles of animation, yet is always able to get his ideas across artistically.  Some scenes contain static drawings, particularly during the prologue.  The Nazi footage is superimposed on the sky while animated figures run about.  In a way to deal with budget limitations, he and his team rotoscoped battle scenes from old films.  The blackened figures appear monstrous. 

The amalgam of different styles is the most compelling aspect of Wizards as the substance of the script is limited.  Though I would recommend the film for animation fans, it doesn't stand up well because the characters are one-dimensional, the dialogue is perfunctory, the plotting is sluggish, and the themes heavy handed.  Aside from the artwork, the ideas of the film are better than their execution. 

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