So far, the ol’ Pit of Swords and Sorcery has focused on a wealth of material drawn from the gilded 1980s, but now I’m casting my memories back a few years, toward the days of Star Wars and Close Encounters, and the days when Jaws set the standard for summer blockbusters — to wit, the mid-1970s when I was writhing in the throes of adolescence, playing my first games of white box Dungeons and Dragons and reconciling myself to the notion that I would die a sad and pathetic virgin. In fact, I don’t think I actually started playing D&D until after I saw this flick, so believe me we are really talking about the dark ages here.
Into this depressing period in my life came a film that marked several milestones for me — my first viewing of a Star Wars trailer, my first experience with what might be called “adult” animation, and most importantly, my first case of lust for a cartoon character. So join us in the Pit of Swords and Sorcery for one of the more unusual entries — Ralph Bakshi’s cockeyed reflection on war, peace and jiggly boobs, as well as his homage to the great underground artist Vaughn Bodé, Wizards.
Now I’ve been kind of hard on poor Ralph B on this blog. Not that it matters — my disdain for and amusement at Bakshi’s disastrous animated version of The Lord of the Rings isn’t really even a blip on the radar of popular culture. As the creator of numerous animated classics and a true innovator, Bakshi can easily shrug off the slings and arrows thrown his way by a minor-league rpg-writer like me, especially since in making fun of his movie I’ve derived enormous pleasure and enjoyment. So in a way, I guess Bakshi’s LotR was a smashing success, what?
Well, no. It’s still kind of a travesty, but back in 1977 when I went to see Wizards at a small theater in Portland I was sufficiently impressed that I looked forward to Bakshi’s take on Tolkien, and had high hopes for the future. Though my hopes were later to be brutally crushed, that day was a pretty good one.
I went to movies by myself in those days. I didn’t have a girlfriend… Hell, I barely knew how to talk to women let alone ask them out on dates. My first attempt to do so took place when I was a freshman in high school, and consisted of my looking the girl up in the phone book and calling everyone with her surname until I got the right one, then nervously asking her if she’d like to go out with me. Unfortunately, she happened to be at her house with her football-player boyfriend, a couple of girlfriends, and their football-player boyfriends, and the sting of that humiliation still burns to this day. I will probably carry it to my grave.
My parents and I had somewhat similar tastes, but Wizards really wasn’t their cup of tea. Later that spring I’d take them to see Star Wars at the Westgate Theater in Beaverton, where it ran continuously for the next two years or so. A few years ago my friends and I went to the last show at the Westgate, Kung Fu Hustle, watching with lingering nostalgia before the whole place was torn down.
Anyway, enough rambling down memory lane — back to Wizards, which I saw all by my own little 16-year-old self several months before Star Wars. As noted, the trailers included a preview for George Lucas’ future classic, which didn’t suggest what a huge deal it would someday become, and after the trailers came a cartoon. Yes, this was in the days when they still ran cartoons before movies — this was an odd animation called Twins about two brothers who were totally different in temperament, ended up having various adventures, then were finally reunited (and as such was actually obliquely related to the main feature). I haven’t been able to find any reference to the cartoon anywhere, but I haven’t looked terribly hard. If anyone finds it, let me know — I wouldn’t mind reliving the experience, as it was actually pretty funny.
Before I throw myself into the cinematic acid trip that is Wizards, I’ll refresh our collective memories about Ralph Bakshi. He was (and still is) a premiere American animator, though he’s had mixed success over the years. Some of his best work was on TV, including a pretty cool animated series called The Mighty Heroes, which I watched as a kid in California, and of course the now-infamous Spiderman animated series, source of amusing gifs and memes to all and sundry.
Bakshi broke a few taboos when he directed an animated version of R. Crumb’s Fritz the Cat, a production fraught with legal difficulties. To this day there’s controversy over whether Bakshi really had Crumb’s permission to make the movie, with all parties having their own version of the story (personally I believe Bakshi, but that’s just my opinion). Fritz went down in history as the first X-rated cartoon, though today it’s relatively mild and Bakshi himself says that there’s more explicit material in an episode of The Simpsons than there was in this movie.
So when Bakshi obtained the rights to produce an animated version of The Lord of the Rings, alarm bells started ringing and people began grabbing their pitchforks and torches. My memory is a little sketchy from this period — God knows, I wish it was because of all the drugs and booze that I consumed during my wild teenaged years, but it’s actually just because I’m getting fucking old — but I seem to recall reading that Wizards was seen as a sort of “warm-up” to LotR, to test out animation techniques and reassure people that Bakshi wasn’t going to make Fritz the Hobbit. That Wizards turned out to be vastly superior to Bakshi’s LotR is one of those great ironies of film history. And not Alanis Morisette irony either. This is real irony.
The credits for Wizard are in that kind of odd computer-style lettering that was popular in the 60s and 70s for when you wanted to look cool and futuristic in movies like The Andromeda Strain. Using the style at the beginning of a fantasy movie gives us a clue that what we’re about to see is basically what would happen if J.R.R. Tolkien and Samuel R. Delaney had a misbegotten love child.
Our opening shot is live action, with the camera panning up to an open book with the words (once more in pseudo-computer font): An illuminating history bearing on the everlasting struggle for world supremacy fought between the powers of Technology and Magic. There’s a voiceover for those of us who have forgotten how to read, but it’s uttered by the husky and haunting voice of cult movie and TV actress Susan Tyrrell, so it ain’t all bad.
With Hawkwind-style prog-rock synth music moaning softly in the background, she goes on to tell the future history of Earth, and what a nasty future it is.
The world blew up in a thousand atomic fireballs. The first blast was set off by five terrorists. It took two million years for some of the radioactive clouds to allow some sun in. By then only a handful of humans survived. The rest of humanity had changed into hideous mutants. These mutant species floundered in the bad areas — radioactive lands that never allowed them to become human again, and made each birth a new disaster.
Basically she’s telling us that the radioactive lands ended up resembling New Jersey. The tale is accompanied by still illustrations showing us what a nightmare things were for the benighted mutants. It’s effective, giving the sense of an ancient tale being told, and I think Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings would have benefited from this technique instead of showing live actors in silhouette, but I guess that’s all water under the bridge now.
Fortunately all was not lost for future earth: Then in the good lands there came back — arising from their long sleep — faeries, elves, dwarves — the true ancestors of man. They lived happily in the good areas.
So there you have it — 2,000,000 years of future history all rolled up into one nice neat minute or so of narration. Now, with more sepia-toned still images, we get to the actual meat of the story, with the tale of how Delia, queen of the faeries mysteriously gave birth to twin wizards on a stormy day a few millennia ago.
So Delia had these two kids — one was good and nice and sweet and cool and did kind things, and his name was (wait for it…) Avatar (normally a name reserved for kids born on hippy communes or conceived at Burning Man). The other was nasty, brutish, smelly, ugly, ill-tempered, repulsive, evil, wicked, mean, nasty and generally uncouth. She named him Blackwolf.
Try naming a kid “Blackwolf” some time and you see how well he turns out.
On my reviewing of the movie I sense a certain level of elitism bordering on racism, folks. First we’re told that the world is divided between the untermensch – the ugly mutants in their run-down radioactive wastelands, and the master race — the elves and faeries who live in sunshine and peace and niceness. Then we learn that wizards are born either good or evil, and can’t change their destiny or nature — one is evil and one is good and never the twain shall meet.
For a movie that later on portrays the bad guys using Nazi ideology and racism, Wizards has an odd sense of morality. Consider this — if certain individuals and races are born inferior and/or evil, then isn’t it a good idea to suppress or exterminate the “bad” ones? As with its philosophy of “Magic good/technology bad” (which we’ll explore in detail later) Wizards presents a slightly schizophrenic and contradictory worldview. And given Bakshi’s stated motivations for writing the film (see below), the whole situation seems even crazier.
So as he grew up, Avatar spent most of his time conjuring bunnies for his mom and bringing her flowers and nice greeting cards on Mother’s Day. Blackwolf on the other hand was a mutant and therefore naturally evil, and never visited Delia, choosing instead to torture small animals (no, really… that very line is in the movie), listen to Scandinavian death-metal and hang out with the cast of Duck Dynasty.
Finally, Delia snuffs it. Avatar tries to save her, but fails, grief-stricken. Where others see tragedy Blackwolf sees opportunity however, and he steps forward to take over as leader. Unsurprisingly, Avatar has a few things to say about all of this, and the two begin a ferocious battle, still in static images, but with a 60s rock-concert lightshow running in the background.
Of course Avatar kicks his brother’s ass and banishes him to the land of Scortch to hang out with all the other genetically-inferior mutants. Being the good villain that he is, Blackwolf doesn’t take his defeat lightly. “The day will come, my brother,” he declares, striding off into the shadow, “when I will return and make this a planet where mutants rule!”
Okay, I won’t belabor the point, but come on! Apparently a planet where mutants rule is bad and a planet where elves and faeries rule, keeping the mutants penned up in the fantasy equivalent of the Warsaw Ghetto is good. Just because the elves are better looking than the mutants is no reason for them to lord it over everyone else… Unless of course you ask an elf in which case he’ll just silently stare down his long, aquiline nose at you, slathering you in disdain, knowing that in a half century or so you’ll be getting the senior discount at Denny’s and he’ll be barely out of adolescence.
Now, to the present, in the land of Scortch 3,000 years later. A lot of the backgrounds in Scortch were produced by fantasy artist Ian Miller, who illustrated (among other things) Michael Creighton’s Eaters of the Dead, and a whole mess of Warhammer novels and game books from Games Workshop. Wizards represents some of Miller’s early work, and these backgrounds are pretty kickass. Personally, I found that they clashed a bit with Ralph Bakshi’s more cartoony, Bodé-inspired images, but damn… They do give this flick a nice look.
In the palace of Scortch One, Blackwolf now sits on his throne, imperiously instructing his minions in a scene that kind of reminds me of Darth Vader talking to the bounty hunters in Empire, released a few years later.
Blackwolf’s not a bad-looking villain, though his animated incarnation is somewhat simplified compared to the painstakingly-drawn pictures from the prologue. He’s tall and emaciated, with grey skin, a long white beard and a hollow, red-eyed face. He’s gone pretty thoroughly bald, but hell what do you expect from a guy after 3,000 years? And oh, yeah — his arms are all bone, with no flesh on them. It’s an odd look, and one wonders how he actually moves his arms at all, unless he really does have muscles and tendons but, similarly to Venture Brothers’ Phantom Limb character, they’re simply invisible.
“The time has come,” he rasps. “Kill!”
Damn, but Blackwolf’s got some pretty decent minions, since that’s all the instruction they need. There are three assassins and two of them — a clumsy-looking frog-guy and a horned devil wearing what appears to be a German pickelhaube, are expendable mooks. It’s assassin number three, the red android called Necron 99, who merits further attention.
Clearly, Necron’s design was inspired by Bodé’s character Cobalt 60, and when I was younger I was somewhat pissed off at Bakshi for appropriating the look in such a blatant fashion. Since then of course I’ve learned that Bodé and Bakshi were buds and much of Wizards’ look and feel is simply an homage by Bakshi to his friend. That said, check it out — it’s like Necron and Cobalt were separated at birth, man. What the hell?
(A side note here — during my research for this piece I discovered that we really dodged a bullet regarding Cobalt 60. A few years ago, hack director Zack Snider who brought us the atrocious but funny 300, the acceptable cinematic version of Watchmen and the crime against humanity and good taste that was Sucker Punch, was in negotiations to film a live-action version of Cobalt 60. Apparently the deal fell through, as I haven’t heard anything about it lately, so I hope we can count ourselves lucky that Snyder didn’t rape another batch of audiences with his subtle-as-a-brick-to-the-face style of filmmaking.)
The three assassins ride out through more Ian Miller backgrounds, past what looks like the unseelie court’s red-light district where disturbing faerie hookers solicit squat goblin-looking things, but draw back in fear as Necron slowly rides past. Necron proceeds out of Scortch, through battlefields and past Blackwolf’s gathering armies, finally entering the good lands where the elves and faeries have no idea what’s about to happen.
In a lovely sylvan grove, an old faerie wise man reads to his people from an ancient book: My children, the only true technology is nature. All other forms of man-made technology are perversions. The ancient dictators used technology to enslave the masses…
Okay, here comes my other rant about Wizards. All through the movie we hear about how horrific and “perverse” man-made technology is, and how nature and peace and love are the only things we need. Yet over and over again we see the “good” faeries using the very “man-made” technology that they supposedly abhor. The village elder himself is reading from a book, which is manufactured from paper, leather, twine and other “man-made” substances. Later on we see the faeries defending themselves with “man-made” weapons and armor, and at the very end of the movie…
Well, never mind. We’ll save that one for later. For now I’m just struck at how irritated, over three decades later, I am at the movie’s lack of internal consistency. Of course, it’s still a cool movie, but hell it can be frustrating.
So before the elder can give us more faerie propaganda about how evil “techology” is, Necron shows up and blows him and his followers to kingdom come. Mind you, I found his speech a bit annoying, but I think that blasting him with an automatic weapon was a bit harsh. I might have just walked out, or at least told the elder to shut up and stop reading from a goddamned book if he finds technology so fucking evil…
Never mind. Back to the movie. Necron and the assassins’ campaign of terror continues, snuffing out more elf and faerie leaders, preparing the way for Blackwolf’s forces while in the background a kind of merry jazz ensemble plays.
Necron enters a moonlit forest, seeking out more victims. In the forest are two elf scouts, Weekhawk and his friend whom everyone else knows as Deadmeat. Now to the untrained eye, it might seem that both Weehawk and Deadmeat look exactly the same, as if they’re both drawn from an identical character model (or perhaps all of Weehawk’s clan are clones? The possibility is never explored). However, if you know what to look for, it’s easy to tell them apart, as Deadmeat has an earring in his left ear, and Weehawk has an earring in his right ear. Simple, huh?
Given the criticism some leveled at Bakshi for making his movie look too much like Vaughn Bodé’s art, I think it’s only fair to point out the design of his elves. These are definitely not in the Tolkien mold. They’re short, dark and kind of tough-looking and a few years later the comic series Elfquest was sometimes taken to task for copping the look and feel of Bakshi’s elves. Of course, like the criticisms of Bakshi, such suggestions are a little off the mark. While there’s a superficial resemblance between the Pinis’ elves and those of Wizards, they also differ in a lot of areas, and if Marv and Wendy Pini used this movie for inspiration, so what? They took their creation in a different direction and made it theirs, regardless of its origins. In all fairness, the same can be said for Bakshi’s use of Bodé’s designs.
As they bounce through the forest on their weird two-legged mutant horses, Necron opens up, shooting Deadmeat out of the saddle and pursuing Weehawk. Our hero is no slouch. He manages to elude Necron, then draws an arrow and nails the assassin’s mount right in the eye. And yes, bow and arrow are both pieces of man-made technology, aren’t they? I guess if he really believed all that bullshit that the dead elder was spouting he’d have just thrown a rock.
Necron and his mount tumble into a ravine, but Necron is only wounded. He sneaks back and starts tracking Weehawk, finding him in a clearing where he’s set up a ring of torches and is praying over his mount Westwind, who has apparently dropped dead of exhaustion.
Now I understand sentimentality as much as anyone, but if you’re being chased by a ruthless, relentless cyborg assassin, shouldn’t you wait before having an elaborate funeral for your loyal mutant horse? Well, who can understand elvish culture anyway?
(And actually it isn’t really a funeral anyway, since Weehawk’s mount Westwind comes back, sound as a new dollar, a few scenes later. Go figure.)
Necron muffs the deal though, stepping on a twig and triggering a ferocious attack by Weehawk, who throws himself at the assassin, sword whirling (sword? You mean a sword that was made by a blacksmith who used TECHNOLOGY??? Sorry…). Necron and the enraged Weehawk tumble over a cliff and into a river. Is it the end for Weekhawk? I think not.
So now we’re in the kingdom of Montagar, at the disturbingly phallic tower of the now-ancient good wizard Avatar, where he lives in slobby splendor with his apprentice and the object of my adolescent lust, Lady Elinore.
While the years haven’t been kind to Blackwolf, they’ve been absolutely brutal to his brother. Avatar is now a short, paunchy dwarfish creature in a green smock and a floppy wizard’s hat pulled down over his eyes and held up only by his gross, oversized ears. His nose is swollen and red, his feet are gigantic (and prehensile, as he often holds his cigar with them), his hands clumsy meathooks, and he has taken up smoking.
In fact, Avatar has gone so far to seed that he looks a lot like Vaughn Bodé’s other signature character, Cheech Wizard. Another homage, I guess, but hell — couldn’t Bakshi have picked another Bodé character to copy? Cheech Wizard is kind of creepy.
Avatar’s voice is provided by veteran voice actor Bob Holt, who performed in more Saturday morning cartoons than I can count, and according to imdb based Avatar’s voice on Peter Falk’s Columbo.
(Now unfortunately I can’t get that last fact out of my head… I keep waiting for Avatar to start to leave a room, then turn around at the last second and say something like “Just one more thing… I got this nutty notion… Maybe you killed the professor, then framed Mrs. Johnson! Nah, it’s too far-fetched…”)
Lady Elinore on the other hand… Woof, woof, woof! While she’s not based on any specific Bodé character, she’s a Bodé babe through and through, though I think one of her distant ancestors may also have been Betty Boop. She has purple faerie wings, thick black hair, big blue eyes, full red lips and the most alluringly buxom figure imaginable — melon-sized breasts straining against her flimsy white faerie-stripper-lingerie garment, softly flared hips, a shapely ass and pale, sculpted thighs…
Excuse me. I’ll be in my bunk.
No, never mind. Sorry, the teenaged me was in the driver’s seat for a moment there.
Elinore’s voice is provided by actress Jesse Wells, who had a decent run of TV roles back in the 70s and 80s but currently has no imdb entry, so I’m not entirely sure what she’s been up to since then. She gives the sexy elf babe a sultry but giggly voice which appealed to me at 16, but I now find a little annoying. Then again, I wouldn’t mind what she sounded like if she was saying something like “Hey, big fella… Wanna show a faerie princess a good time?”
So Avatar is scanning the distance with a telescope, then shares his concerns with Elinore’s father the president of Montagar — a guy in a top hat wearing a clown mask (no political commentary here… no sirree Bob) — worried that his scouts haven’t yet returned from their mission.
“They’re really late now, aren’t they old wizard?” giggles Elinore. “Bad magic, isn’t it? And if they don’t show, you’ll know-no-more-than-you-did-be-fore [yes, that's exactly how she says it]. Tee-hee-hee.”
Or maybe, just maybe they’re effing dead and Blackwolf’s assassins are on their way. Have you thought of that Miss Faeries-don’t-wear-bras? Hm?
Okay, so Elinore’s a hottie, but that doesn’t mean that she’s necessarily portrayed as smart, which also kind of bugs me, as if a woman can be pretty or intelligent, but not both. Sigh. I have to keep reminding myself that this thing was made in 1976…
The president’s pretty concerned about all this, as frankly what sensible head of state wouldn’t be? He wonders — justifiably I think — whether Montagar should start arming up.
Avatar thinks this is just a waste of time. They’ll never be able to convince the people of the danger, and besides, he says, science and technology were outlawed “millions of years ago, and we must admit it’s been a peaceful world since then.”
Outlawed, huh? What’s that thing you were just looking through on your balcony, Avatar? The product of peace and love and magic? Hell, no. It was a fucking telescope.
Unaccountably the president then has a fit, demanding to know more lest he banish Avatar. Clearly Elinore has daddy wrapped around her shapely little finger, for she talks him down, explaining that Avatar’s teaching her all kinds of magic ‘n’ stuff, and can make her a “full-fledged faerie, and as you can see I’m only half-way there.”
Okay, I’m just going to leave that line alone. Some of my best friends are faeries.
Avatar starts explaining his past while below, the fearsome Necron 99 is clambering up the side of his tower.
Now we’re back to still images and our sultry-voice narrator. Blackwolf lurked in Scortch for 5,000 years (wait, I though the title card said 3,000 years… Oh hell, I give up trying to keep track of what happened when), gathering an army and attempting to fulfill his promise to conquer the good guys and put the mutants in charge. Summoning demons from hell for generals, he unleashed his armies. Unfortunately, despite their demonic leadership, Blackwolf’s troops were pretty pathetic, getting bored or distracted before retreating in disorder, and the elves and faeries didn’t even have to use harsh language to drive them back.
Now we cut to one of the funnier pieces in the movie, a scene with a gas-mask clad mutant named Max mourning over his slain companion, Fritz (apparently a reference to Bakshi’s involvement in the Fritz the Cat movie).
“They killed Fritz!” he screams. “Those lousy, stinking yellow faeries! Those horrible atrocity-filled vermin! Those despicable animal warmongers! They killed Fritz!”
Max then opens upon the enemy with his pistol, screaming for vengeance, only to have Fritz stand up, tap him on the shoulder and explain that he’s fine (his voice is by our distinguished director, Ralph Bakshi, by the way).
Max doesn’t like this. “Damn. There you go again, stepping on my lines, raining on my parade, costing me medals! Damn!”
Of course in his frustration, Max then accidentally shoots Fritz dead.
“They killed Fritz!” he screams. “Those lousy, stinking yellow faeries! Those horrible atrocity-filled vermin! They killed Fritz!”
And so on. Yeah, it’s still funny even after all these years.
Blackwolf is unhappy with his army’s performance, and I certainly know how he feels (I played Wizard Kings this past weekend, and both Dale and Victor took me to the cleaners, slaughtering my elvish armies to the last unit, then dividing the world up between them. Those horrible atrocity-filled vermin…). He sends his legions out to scavenge for lost technology, eventually locating all sorts of cool tanks, bombers, missiles, guns, grenades and artillery. Everything’s in surprisingly good condition even after 10 million years, but no matter.
Unfortunately, even the best lost military tech means jack if you’ve got uninspired mooks to carry it, so Blackwolf keeps searching for something to motivate his legions and give them the edge they need to overwhelm a huge kingdom full of unarmed, inexperienced farmers and half-naked faerie babes.
Avatar believes that Blackwolf has solved his problem and now has what he needs to inspire his mutant forces, which is why he sent out Weehawk and Deadmeat. The clown-faced prez thinks this is a load of hooey, but before he can start ranting again, Necron 99 clambers over the balcony and shoots him full of holes.
Avatar responds quickly — not quickly enough to save the president, but quickly — zapping Necron with magic and knocking him out. Having just seen her father mercilessly shot down before her wide, expressive blue eyes, Elinore freaks out, throwing herself on Necron and tearing at his clothes.
(Now I wouldn’t mind having Elinore throw herself on me and tear at my clothes, but I really don’t think I want to murder her father to get it.)
Weehawk now shows up a bit late to the game, rushing into the room and falling on his knees telling Avatar he’s failed both him and the president. Fade out on the scene of tragedy and fade back in on Scortch One, where Blackwolf’s minon, a lizard-man named Larry sees Necron’s little red light go out, then runs to go tell his master.
Blackwolf’s sitting on his throne in the middle of a huge swastika (a swastika! Aha! I think I know where this is going now!) playing with a couple of skulls. Larry tells him that Necron’s history. Blackwolf is delighted — that means that all of the free world’s leaders have been assassinated and his plan can begin in earnest.
“The remaining countries are now ruled by second-rate incompetents,” he says, “so confused that even now they blame the killings on those within their own ranks!”
Okay, enough about the current state of the Republican party. On to Blackwolf’s master stroke.
He strides through his fortress, past giant dynamos, swooping bombers, rows of armored vehicles and marching legions and lizard-guys throwing up Nazi salutes.
“It’s time to strike,” Blackwolf hisses as sirens blare ans summon his forces. “Sieg heil!”
And just in case Bakshi’s symbolism isn’t hammered home quite well enough, we cut back to Larry who’s wolfing down raw meat from a hanging side of beef, and when he scampers off we see that there’s a star of David branded on its side.
Okay, okay — we getit. We get it!
Two more of the gasmask mutants then discuss their mutual feelings. The fat one (it’s always the fat one, isn’t it?) says he doesn’t want to fight anymore, and has decided he loves birds and butterflies and flowers. His companion tells him not to worry, that Blackwolf has a secret weapon that makes them invincible, and then the fat gasmask mutant dutifully shoulders arms and happily marches off to Blackwolf’s Nuremburg Rally.
Blackwolf strides into his projection room where a couple of pixies are chained to a hand-cranked generator.
“It will never work!” declares the female. “People don’t want war. It destroyed this planet, it’s people and all records of past civilizations!”
“Heh-heh-heh-heh-heh,” chuckles Blackwolf, uncovering what appears to be a 16mm movie projector. “Not all records, as you’ll soon find out!”
What follows is something of an acid trip. Blackwolf throws open the curtains of his projection booth (emblazoned with a giant swastika, naturally) and addresses the troops.
“Attention, members of tomorrow’s master race!”
And with that we get the first of many pieces of stock footage, repurposed to the world of Wizards. The first is a recolored segment from Sergei Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky, that originally showed an evil Teutonic musician pounding away on a big pipe organ (no, really, it did… Go see the movie… It’s a long story).
The music gets everyone’s attention and Blackwolf’s legions stop shooting craps and picking up whores to listen. More processed footage from Nevsky follows (siege engines and knights with wings, devil horns and red eyes added, for example), as well as more repurposed sequences from (I kid you not) Zulu. While it’s all pretty trippy it is also far more convincing than the legions of rotoscoped guys in gorilla masks that passed for orcs in The Lord of the Rings.
Once the stock footage army has assembled, Blackwolf continues. “The time has come as I promised! The time when I reveal to you, my loyal followers, the ancient secret of war. The key to creating hysteria. Fear. GODDDDDSSSSSS!”
Yeah, that’s how he delivers it. Blackwolf’s voice, by the way, is from Steve Gravers, who passed away only a year or so after Wizards was released. Another veteran TV actor, Gravers was active in dozens of shows from the 1950s onward. Wizards was not his last role — he was active up until the very end, acting on Charlie’s Angels and a horrible possessed-auto movie called The Car before heading for the big retired actor’s home in the sky.
Having fired up his troops, Blackwolf then zaps the pixies, forcing them to crank the generator, powering the projector and providing his drooling legions with what they’ve been missing all these years — Nazi propaganda.
And so it is that, watching footage from Nazi newsreels and The Triumph of the Will, while listening to the Horst Wessel Song, Blackwolf’s troops are driven into a National Socialistic frenzy and thus driven to vent their righteous rage upon the elves and faeries who stand in the way of mutant lebensraum.
Yeah, we get it all. As pictures of Hitler, Junkers 88s, Panzer IVs and Focke-Wulf fighters scroll past them, the mutants throw their arms around each other, start foaming at the mouth, jumping up and down and praising Blackwolf, their beloved Fuhrer to the skies. Now I feel sorry for the elves and faeries.
Next we see an animated map of Blackwolf’s attack on East Elfland. It’s actually a pretty cool map, and it only appears on screen for a second or two. Fortunately, through the magic of modern DVD technology (there’s that word again, dammit), we can freeze-frame and learn more about the world.
East Elfland is the first victim. In the peaceful, tranquil forest, untouched by the evils of nasty technology and genetically-inferior mutants, a faerie leader gives a speech to her people.
“Blackmark’s armies come again!” she cries (and she does say “Blackmark” so it might be a misread or another word for Scortch… I like the latter myself). “Our cousin elves are already in the trenches. It’s our loved land too. For elfin and faerie-land united we fly!”
I believe that this was the slogan of Trans-Dimensional Airlines back in the 70s, wasn’t it? At least until 9/11, after which it became “Shut up and be grateful we’re even letting you on board.”
And so off fly the faeries in a rush of pixie dust. Now we dissolve to the trenches where grim but extremely short elves in armor attempt to peek over the edge.
In one trench, a grizzled veteran named Alfie sucks on his pipe and reassures his greenhorn trenchmate Peewhittle (no, really… The damned elf’s name is Peewhittle. Jesus, if I was stuck with a name like that I’d want to die in battle too) that the enemy is a big pushover.
“Blackwolf must have lost one million men here the last time he tried to invade! And if Blackwolf’s stupid enough to try it again he’ll lose twice more! Them goblins and demons just look mean, but they’re yella! They got no cause to fight. They always give up and run with our arrows chasin’ ‘em all the way home! Hee-hee-hee! It’s always been that way and it’ll always be the same. In’t that the truth, boys?”
While I think that referring to Blackwolf’s troops as “men” is a little misleading, it’s obvious that Alfie’s confidence is misplaced, for a few moments later the fired-up neo-Fascists storm the trenches using classic Blitzkrieg tactics while wah-wah guitars play in the background. World War II stock footage (with horns stuck on the German helmets) now runs, interspersed with images of Blackwolf’s demon cavalry and flying serpents.
The technology-hating elves now don their helmets (technology), strap on their breastplates (technology), string their bows (technology) and draw their swords (technology) and prepare to meet the assault.
Things go okay for them until Blackwolf turns on the magic movie projector, sending images of Third Reich mayhem directly over the battlefield, terrifying the poor wittle elfs and scaring them so much they throw down their weapons and run away like a bunch of pussies. The demons and mutants slaughter everyone but Peewhittle, who is left shivering in the trenches amid the slain bodies of his fellow elves.
Back in Avatar’s palace of phallitude, the good wizard is busy inspecting Necron 99 and denying Elinore’s pleas to torture information out of him. When Avatar tells her that torture is immoral and against the Geneva convention, Eliniore replies that all she wants to do is waterboard him, and that, as we all know, isn’t really torture.
No, Avatar says, he’s managed to extract sufficient information from Necron’s brain. Blackwolf has a magic dream machine that inspires his armies, and it must be destroyed. Elinore and Weehawk are both raring to go, but Avatar just climbs into bed saying he’s too old for this kind of shit and to wake him up when the world goes kablooey.
Avatar doesn’t take much convincing to change his mind, and immediately they start planning their next move. As Elinore crouches alluringly above him, Avatar asks her to sit there for a few hours while he figures it out.
And of course, rather than punching him and calling him a sexist old man, Elinore complies, posing like a centerfold. Sheesh. There’s a part of me that’s kind of sorry that I notice this kind of sexist shit more easily these days, but for the most part I’m glad I’m a little more discriminating than I was at 16.
Avatar plans to reprogram Necron 99 and rename him Peace, “in the hopes that he will bring it” and use him to guide our three heroes to the machine’s hiding place.
More narration now. Weehawk spends a night saying goodbye to his tribe, while Elinore assures the other winged ones that she will return as Queen of Montagar (so men are presidents and women are queens? It’s an odd system they have in Montagar) and a full-fledged faerie.
Avatar leads the bound Necron… No, sorry, “Peace”… down the stairs, telling him to behave himself, lest he face painful consequences. “I got stuff that’ll take 20 years to kill you,” he says, “and you’ll be screaming for mercy in the first five seconds.”
Jesus. This is the wizard of peace and love and flowers and rainbows? I’m starting to sympathize more and more with Blackwolf and the mutants.
Peace doesn’t want this, though, and agrees to cooperate. “Peace,” he says, “wants love. Wants free. Will help.”
Avatar brings Peace to his old mount — the one that took an arrow through the eye — clearly resurrected through Avatar’s dark necromantic arts and relatively whole save some stitches and an eyepatch. Weehawk doesn’t trust Peace, but Avatar assures him that his powers are mighty while levitating himself into his horse-thing’s saddle but landing backwards.
Elinore, being the fluff-brained bimbo that she is, giggles and says (once more in an exaggerated girly voice), “He’s gettin’ older but not much bolder! Tee-hee-hee.”
Okay, I wouldn’t throw her out of bed for eating crackers, but Elinore does have her annoying aspects. Damn you, age and maturity…
And so our slightly shorthanded Fellowship departs (reduced from nine to four due to the same budget restrictions that reduced the mutant mounts legs from four to two).
“Sing us a song, Elinore,” Avatar asks the suddenly-sulky faerie. (At this point during my original viewing back in ’77 I distinctly remember a woman in the audience loudly exclaiming, “Oh, brother!”)
“I don’t want to,” she pouts, apparently realizing that she hasn’t packed any hair care products.
“But that’s why we brought you,” Avatar says, busily digging himself in even deeper. “Come on!”
Oh, Jesus… This somewhat appalling bit of sexism goes unnoticed (most of the amazon-types I’ve known over the years would jam a foot or two of steel through my ear if I had the temerity to say something that patronizing, but I guess that Avatar and I move in different circles), and Elinore obliges, singing the following haunting tune (sung by Baywatch’s Susan Anton) over a brief montage of the devastation that the war has wrought:
Time renews tomorrow,
When we’ve used today.
It will find the sorrow
And wash it all away.
Love can play a new tune
On this carousel.
It may be tomorrow,
But only time will tell.
No one has the answer
To give away or sell.
Tomorrow holds the secret,
But only time will tell.
As we pan past a long line of elvish prisoners in the middle of a bombed out city, we see a family of faeries seeking shelter in a tree. The faeries’ child asks where daddy is and mommy tells him that he’s out guarding their home since their side has lost the war. When the kid asks why they lost mom tells him, “Because they have weapons and technology. We just have love.”
Oh, bloody hell… I’m going to resist the urge to start ranting again, but this whole sappy, saccharine scene with its sappy, saccharine music puts me in mind of a line from comedian Jack Handey, who said: “I can picture in my mind a world without war, a world without hate. And I can picture us attacking that world because they’d never expect it.”
Anyway, back to the comic relief. Hundreds of elves are standing in line, guarded by Blackwolf’s troops and tanks. Several of the gasmask-wearing mooks are trying to figure out what to do with all the prisoners, and want to ask the local priests how to proceed.
A couple of mooks kick down the doors of the temple, which is stuffed with “holy objects that they’ve saved for millions of years.” Yup, you guessed it — the “holy objects” include a Coca-Cola sign, a baseball glove, an Oscar (TM) statuette, jukebox, TV, old fashioned telephone, etc.
The two mooks eventually find the priests, two dwarvish-types in robes and bowlers who are snoozing in the back of the temple on an old tapestry bearing a CBS-TV logo.
“My sons, you say you are the victors, but there is only one victor” intones the first priest, pointing up, “and that’s Him.”
The mooks insist on an answer, but the priests tell them that they must first observe sundown and pray. And pray they do, howling and babbling, whacking each other with sticks, doing the old soft-shoe, wheeling each other back and forth on improvised crucifixes, dousing each other with water, bowing, bobbing, jumping, etc. Eventually, after five hours the mooks lose patience and just shoot all the prisoners and blow up the temple, which is what we pretty much expected from the beginning.
Back to Scortch One, where Blackwolf is talking to a hot dark-elven woman who lounges unhappily on a couch.
“Will the birth be soon?” he asks.
“Very soon, my lord,” says the not-pregnant-at-all-looking elf.
“You are young to be queen,” Blackwolf replies, “but deliver me a son and you shall help me rule this planet.”
“I don’t want to rule this planet, lord,” she says. “Just our kingdom is enough.”
“Enough?” Blackwolf demands. “Enough for mutants to stay in their place, huh? Laden with radiation so our bodies crawl with hell? We will live in the good lands. My son will grow where there isn’t death in the very waters we drink and the air we breathe.”
Now consider this exchange – what’s Blackwolf asking for, really? A safe, clean place to raise his children in, free of death and disease. The Nazi allegory starts to break down here — a people’s desire to live in health and happiness is a long way from racist fascist lebensraum. But more on that later.
Blackwolf approaches his wise men, a trio of greenish mutants who make Python’s Spanish Inquisition look competent. He asks them whether his son will be human or mutant. They assure him that it will be a mutant, and Blackwolf displays his horrific lack of good judgment skills by believing them.
“The next one won’t be!” he snarls, stalking off. His future queen rushes after him, crying out not to have her son killed.
“It is not his fault!” she sobs.
Whoa, my head is now spinning. We’ve been spending most of the flick talking about how inherently evil and inferior mutants are, and now we’re trying to create sympathy for them as victims of Blackwolf’s eugenics. The fact that he’ll kill his son if he’s a mutant is contradictory, but that doesn’t really bug me, since villains of this type are usually hypocrites, and Blackwolf’s worse than most.
Meanwhile, our heroes are now riding perilously close to the domain of the mountain faeries, which neither Peace nor Weehawk think is a good idea.
“Faerie bad. Not good. Go around,” Peace says, summing up my feelings very precisely.
Avatar vetoes the suggestion and into the faerie domains they go. Weehawk notes that elves and faeries are bad blood cousins, which kind of contradicts the solidarity they’ve been showing all through the movie, but no matter.
A bunch of faeries now starts to follow the companions. These are somewhat different from the ones we’ve seen up to this point — they’re a bit more like Victorian flower faeries, and consequently even more irritating. Needless to say, Elinore thinks they’re cute but Weehawk sensibly tries to gut one with his sword, with little success.
The faeries get even more aggressive. One transforms into a giant pink rat and menaces Weehawk, while the others levitate Avatar and Elinore’s mounts into a tree. As they do, a rifle falls from Avatar’s pack, and Peace discreetly picks it up. Uh-oh? Is he contemplating mischief, or even worse… shenanigans?
By now Avatar’s had enough. He orders the faeries to stop saying, “Even in the houses of elves I’ve seen more sophisticated magic!”
Weehawk lets this slight slide by, but the faeries continue with their antics. Eventually Avatar calls up the powers of magic and nature to sweep the faeries away. In the confusion, Peace slips away and nearby meets up with his two fellow assassins.
Avatar continues whipping up a storm, knocking faeries left and right until at last one of the more sensible faeries whips out a magic wand and casts a counterspell, stopping Avatar’s magic cold. The faerie then smiles adorably (or at least he thinks he’s adorable. I just want to squash him with a flyswatter).
The sky clears and Avatar, Weehawk and Elinore find themselves in the middle of a faerie feast.
“Please forgive us for the behavior of some of our more care-free brothers,” says the faerie who thinks he’s so fucking cute. “I’m Sean, leader of the Knights of Stardust, protectors of Dolan, king of the mountain faeries.”
Sean’s voice probably sounds familiar, because it was provided by a young actor by the name of Mark Hamill, who would one day go on to fame in movies like Corvette Summer, The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia and The Star Wars Holiday Special.
Eventually Avatar stops being annoyed, and discusses their mission with Sean while Weehawk walks away in disgust to go talk to the horses.
“We’ll eat alone, lest we sit with fools,” he says. Yeah, I knew I liked Weehawk, despite his dumb name.
Weehawk realizes that Peace has gone missing and raises the alarm, but it’s too late. From the forest automatic weapons fire cuts down Sean and next thing we know Elinore is magically imprisoned with her arms sunk in two blocks of stone, leaving Avatar and Weehawk to chase after her, knowing that Peace has turned on them. Or so they think, anyway.
Avatar and Weehawk race into the mountain faeries’ caves, but Weehawk falls into a pit, leaving Avatar to go on alone.
“You must save Elinore,” Weehawk’s voice echoes up from below. “Hurry, old fool!”
While Avatar rushes off to save our zaftig heroine, Weehawk blunders around in the darkness, eventually facing a gigantic multi-legged insect-demon thing, but just as it’s about to finish him off, a volley of gunfire erupts from the darkness, killing the beast.
Badly wounded, Peace staggers forward mumbling, “Faerie bad. Not good.” He almost falls into the abyss, but Weekhawk pulls him back and they lie together, exhausted.
Now on to the faerie bondage scene, with the captive Elinore still trapped and surrounded by a crowd of faeries calling for her blood. The king, surrounded by his bodyguard of hot barbarian faeries, calls for calm.
“Will it be brother against brother here, too?” he demands. “Only humans kill their own kind!”
(Let me take a moment to stew at this species-ist, ignorant remark… Okay, back to the movie.)
“She allowed technology and death into the golden circle!” shouts a rather haggish female faerie. “She is a traitor!”
Elinore takes umbrage at this, giggling (and Bakshi himself must have really enjoyed what giggling does to Elinore’s breasts) and telling the faeries that she doesn’t take this kind of shit from anyone, no matter how badass their king is.
Furious, Elinore blasts some of the angry faeries with magic, eliciting even more calls for her blood.
By now Elinore’s on a roll, realizing that she now has “full faerie power” and animating one of the statues on the column imprisoning her. The statue goes berserk, beating on faeries and threatening to provoke a massive riot.
Avatar arrives just in time to throw himself on the faeries’ mercy while the animated statue starts humping Elinore’s leg. He didn’t kill Shawn, but is on a mission to save the world and if the king would be so kind as to let him and Elinore go, well, so that they can at least try to defeat Blackwolf, even though clearly the mission is doomed…
While he talks, the statue-thing starts clambering all over Elinore and she does her best to avoid it, without success.
“I have always been very good,” she says, kicking at it, “and can be even better sometimes…”
In the middle of Avatar’s speech, the image of Blackwolf appears, shouting, “My brother lies!” and a faerie arrow strikes Avatar in the arm. He takes it like a man, which impresses the king, who notes that he has kept his word not to use violence, and so can leave along with Elinore.
With that Avatar and Elinore are transported into the frozen wastelands, where Elinore discovers that her somewhat abbreviated garments are inadequate to northern weather. Avatar conjures her a poncho, giving her the first decent clothing she’s managed for the entire movie. Note however, that he doesn’t bother to conjure actual shoes for either one of them, which strikes me as a bit of an inconvenience in a frozen wilderness.
The next day Avatar and Elinore dig themselves out of a snowbank and keep slogging on in the general direction of Scortch. When they’re confronted by riders, they prepare for a last stand, Elinore drawing her sword and Avatar preparing his magic (which I hope works better than it did on the faeries).
The riders are revealed to be Weehawk and Peace, who have been searching all this time, and finally get our happy couple off the glacier.
More narration now, with an 80s montage of the rest of the journey. Traveling through the mutant lands, our heroes discover that the mutants are all gone. Well not all gone…
“All they left were their wives,” we are told, “hurling insults and rocks as the party passed through.”
Hey, don’t mutant wives get to fight, too? Well, I guess if the heroes are sexist, then the villains will be as well…
As they pass through the desert, Avatar and his companions are captured by a bunch of Arabic/Asian freedom fighters, led by a very loud viking-dwarf named Apu (no, really), who grabs Avatar and swings him around like a flag, bellowing, “AVATAR! FATHER! MOTHER! PEACE! LOVE! GRANOLA! HIPPIES! WEED! BURNING MAN!”
Well, not quite that bad, but close. It seems that the companions have stumbled upon the last surviving elves, who have taken weapons from Blackwolf’s forces and are massing for a final assault on Scortch One.
Avatar doesn’t think much of this. He smacks Apu out of frustration with his suicidal plan, but the general takes it well, telling his followers not to hurt Avatar, and telling them that in the old days Avatar traveled the land, curing sickness and helping the bereaved. Why he never helped the mutants isn’t really explained, but I guess no one’s perfect, huh?
“And now,” Apu continues, “we have our messiah back again! He’s going to destroy his brother for us. With what? A woman-child, one elf, and a moron robot.”
Hey, you have to admit it’s a pretty accurate description. Disgusted, Apu stalks into his tent, leaving Avatar to walk sadly into the night, feeling totally pwned.
Later that evening as Elinore and Peace look out to sea they’re attacked by one of Blackwolf’s spells, a massive red-eyed cloud that tries to seize Elinore. Avatar drives it off and then becomes Mister Buzz-kill, telling Elinore that it’s all her fault — her kind words took Peace’s mind off his internal battle with Blackwolf, allowing the wizard to attack.
We don’t have much respite after that, as one of Blackwolf’s tanks attacks. Peace tries to defend Avatar but — Surprise! Surprise! — Elinore draws her sword, kills Peace, and jumps into the tank, riding away with the gasmask mooks and leaving poor Avatar to wonder what the hell went wrong.
Shattered by Elinore’s betrayal, Avatar accompanies the rebel army on their awesome Ian Miller-designed ships as they sail to attack Scortch, but wanders around mumbling to himself, in full Heroic BSOD mode. When Weehawk tells him that they have to swim to Scortch to complete their mission, he pretty much goes along with all the enthusiasm of a damp dishrag.
Fortunately we aren’t subjected to the sight of Avatar swimming in that ridiculous outfit of his — we cut to the action after he and Weehawk have made it to Scortch and are both completely dry. Of course Avatar is still vapor-locked, mumbling nonsensically and generally carrying on like Mitt Romney after election night. As they approach Scortch One, Avatar decides to brighten the place up a little by conjuring some nice flowers, an approach which Weehawk finds slightly objectionable.
They sneak through the lower city past the by-now expected images of Nazi-esque atrocities and nasty mutants wearing swastika armbands, and so on. Eventually Avatar completely breaks down and strides out, doing tricks for a mutant feldmarschall and his creepy looking doxy. Larry the lizard-man (remember him?) tries to warn the guy, but being a dumb Nazi mutant he ignores the danger until Weehawk shows up, gutting him with a sword and going all Wuxia action hero on the mutants who try to pile on and even going so far as to kick a fuckin’ mutant’s head off. Holy shit — Weehawk continues to blaze a trail of badassery all the way from Montagar to Scortch.
Larry the Lizard jumps Weehawk and slices his arm. Once more the mutants prove themselves to be pretty dumb, as Larry now thinks he’s killed Weehawk and rushes into the castle, muttering “Master! The enemy is dead! Master loves Larry! Master feed Larry!” Say what you will about Larry the Lizard, you have to agree that he is at least extremely goal-oriented.
Avatar is standing next to the fallen fieldmarshal, and looks distraught, but he allows Weehawk to lead him as they follow Larry into the heart of Blackhawk’s fortress.
Meanwhile on the beaches it’s D-Day as elvish resistance forces storm ashore. There’s a brief shot once more adapted from the movie Zulu in which a couple of Blackwolf’s scouts (Zulu warriors with horns painted on — what kind of message is that sending?) spot the enemy before all hell breaks loose. The elves have pretty much given up their crappy WWI tactics and now advance, fully armed and armored in Conan the Barbarian style, against Blackwolf’s tanks and artillery. Yeah, the elves may be doomed, but they’ve finally learned how to dress themselves stylishly.
More footage from El Cid, Alexander Nevsky and Zulu follows, interspersed with shots of Blackwolf’s mutants as the bad guys moves to engage our now totally-badass mofo elf army.
The rotoscoped enemy army from three other movies finally attacks and the elves give a fine accounting of themselves, standing firm and sending the enemy reeling back, chopping down demons, mutants and gasmask mooks and fighting to the last. And just when it seems that they might win the day…
Three guesses, folks.
Yes, Blackwolf turns on the magic movie projector and the rotoscoped stock footage from El Cid and Zulu is replaced by rotoscoped stock footage from Patton, Kelly’s Heroes and WWII newsreels. Stunned by the terrifying images and blown apart by superior weaponry, the elves are slaughtered and Blackwolf’s armies advance in triumph.
Keep in mind that, despite the extensive use of stock footage and other varied cost-cutting measures, the battle scenes in Wizards are far more effective than those in Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings, released just a few years later. I admit that the images from other movies are a little jarring (especially if, like me, you’re a big fan of the movies that were used for the footage), but the battle scene is still action-packed and quite comprehensible, as opposed to the cinematic trainwreck in the later film.
Blackwolf himself doesn’t seem to be terribly happy with all this, and just watches grimly as Avatar and Weehawk creep up on him. Weehawk’s pretty much given up on the mission by now, telling Avatar that he can’t fight Blackwolf — he’s just too strong. Avatar agrees, but hell, it’s in the script… He has to face his brother down in single combat. Luke Skywalker wasn’t due to face Darth Vader for a few years yet, so someone has to act as an example after all.
Avatar urges Weehawk to find the projector and destroy it, and tell Elinore that “Avatar will die with her tonight. Even if we win.”
And so with that jolly thought swimming through his age- and drug-addled brain, Avatar stands up, whistles and shouts, “Hi!” to his brother.
And so it begins…
“You have aged, old fool,” Blackwolf says. “The world is mine!”
And just as he’s about to snarl, “Shall we dance?” we cut back to Weehawk as he scurries through more Ian Miller backgrounds, eventually spotting Elinore crouching, weeping in a cell. He leaps down on her, shouting, “Slut!”
Okay, okay… I really don’t think “slut” is the best thing to call her right now… Bitch maybe (though it’s kind of rude). Traitress definitely. But not “slut.” I mean, what the hell’s wrong with being a slut? Some of my best friends are sluts. And faeries. And some are slutty faeries.
Just as Weehawk’s about to gut poor Elinore like a trout, Blackwolf’s queen (remember her?) shows up, cradling her infant son in her arms (he’s swaddled so we don’t see what kind of mutant he is… it probably turns out that he’s one of the gasmask mooks, which means that Blackwolf’s queen might strayed from the path slightly).
“Stop, elf!” she cries. “Blood on blood! Fathers and sons dying! Brothers and lovers spilling false hate and rivers of life flowing away! Fool elf! Think your sword is always quick? But what else? Think!”
My god. Something tells me she’s been rehearsing that speech for weeks.
Weehawk hesitates at this, as who wouldn’t, giving Elinore a chance to explain. Blackwolf was able to control her mind and forced her to kill Peace, and she was unable to prevent it.
Aw, come on… You knew that all along, didn’t you?
And so Blackwolf’s unnamed queen and son flee the fortress, and out of the movie. Unfortunately we don’t see them again, though they certainly look like interesting characters to follow.
(And if I were writing this as a Wulf story or something, you can bet your bottom dollar I’d have written a scene in which the queen comforts Elinore in ways that only a woman can… But then again, I make no bones about my various perversities…)
Meanwhile, Blackwolf is still busy monologuing.
“The trouble with you, my brother, is that you’ve always been too good.”
(Now isn’t that just the quintessential “evil brother” line of dialog? It deserves some kind of award, I think.)
Avatar takes this in stride. “That may be,” he says, “but I still think I look more like ma than you do.”
Blackwolf isn’t amused, and is still in villain speech mode.
“There is no need for me to destroy you,” he continues. “Surrender. Surrender your world.”
Yeah, like the elves would go along. They’ve already decided that Avatar’s kind of a dork and are busy outside fighting to the death.
Avatar replies with a slow clap. “You always did need an audience, you sap. Let me tell ya. I ain’t practiced much magic for a long time. I wanna show you a trick mother showed me when you weren’t around, to use on special occasions like this.” He rolls up his sleeves. “Oh, yeah. One more thing. I’m glad you changed your last name, you son of a bitch.”
And with that, Avatar, wizard of peace, lover of nature, hater of technology, defender of magic and foe of destructive engines and machines, draws a Pistole Parabellum 1908 Luger and blows a couple of nine millimeter holes in his brother’s chest.
(And what’s that about his last name? Hell, they have last names? And if they do, what the hell are they?)
Yes, after our near-feverish anticipation of a massive wizard’s duel, Avatar goes all Indiana Jones on Blackwolf and pops a cap in his wizened old ass. Blackwolf doesn’t even get a death speech before he falls and — predictably — his massive villain-fortress begins to crumble.
Avatar ditches the luger and gets ready to die, but Weehawk shows up just in time to tell him the truth, that Elinore’s not a traitor, and together the trio escape just as the magic movie projector blows up, taking Scortch One along with it.
“It is done!” Weehawk yells, providing some of the most unnecessary plot exposition in cinema history. “It is done! The world is free!”
And now with one last narrative interlude, we’re told that the shadow creatures faded away or crawled back to hell, and the mutants fled or were mercilessly cut down by the vengeful, genetically-pure elves. While there was some rejoicing, we’re told, most simply wanted to return home. Hitler, the narratrix says, once more pounding home the message with an oversized plot hammer, was dead again!
They could live once more in peace in the land they loved so much! God-given. Amen.
And, might I add, free of the threat of genetically-inferior mutants to mess up their perfect world since, after all, only the beautiful and the pure should be allowed to live in health and safety. The rest of us get to scrape out our existences in the living hell of Scortch.
In the epilog, back in the green and lush good lands, Weehawk captures Larry the Lizard, but Avatar tells him to just set him free. Larry goes bounding happily off into the forest, where he is probably shot a week later by the elvish purity squad.
Elinore informs Weehawk that she and Avatar are going off on their own now, to form their own kingdom. Weehawk’s the new king of Montagar, and he can just ignore the dictates of those stupid presidents and “elected” legislators.
Weehawk thinks this sounds ridiculous and just the tiniest bit creepy. “You and Avatar married, my queen?”
Avatar doesn’t think that marrying a hot busty brunette who’s young enough to be his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great (etc.) granddaughter is at all strange. He has at least 1,000 years or so left, and he intends to fill them with the fleshy delights of Elinore’s voluptuous body.
Well, he doesn’t say that exactly but I know just what he’s thinking. At least it’s what I’d be thinking in his place.
Weehawk just shrugs and rides off to go be king, leaving Avatar and Elinore to contemplate the complexities of their future life together.
“Come on,” Avatar says, “let’s make it.”
Elinore giggles (of course) and says, “Avatar, you’re getting older and much bolder.”
“C’mon!” Avatar replies. “I mean let’s make it out of here!”
“Suuuure you did,” Elinore says, and we cut to credits and an encore of her elf song from the beginning of the movie sung by that Baywatch actress.
Wizards is an odd movie, and I found the whole thing downright schizophrenic on many levels. Above all else, it’s both a good movie and a bad movie at the same time. Good for its images, animation, voice acting and overall mood, but bad due to the ham-handedness of its story and its contradictory messages.
And it’s the messages that bug me more today than they did in 1977.
Let’s see. We establish a world where there are some races born good (elves and faeries) and some that are born evil (mutants). There are two wizards who represent the same good and evil, and came into the world that way. Good will always be good and evil always evil with no hope for redemption.
So the good, pretty people get to live in the nice lands, where there’s sunshine and green grass and forests and flowers. The ugly people get to live in the blasted, radioactive wasteland, and if they try to leave and live in a better place, they are mercilessly slaughtered.
Then the evil wizard takes over the bad guys’ land and indoctrinates them with Nazi ideologies that claim just what the movie’s story espoused — that some races are genetically superior to others and that they must exterminate the “inferior” races to gain enough room to live and prosper.
It seems to me that the good, kind elves were the ones practicing Nazi eugenics, isolating mutants and forcing them to live in apartheid-style homelands from which they could never leave. Yet it’s the “evil” mutants who adopt the Nazi’s ideologies and the “good” elves who kill them for trying to find better lives.
There’s a lot of cool material about Wizards on the net (for example, it was originally called War Wizards, but Bakshi changed the name at George Lucas’ request in deference to the upcoming Star Wars). Bakshi himself says that Wizards was partially intended as an allegory of the founding of the state of Israel, which gives that whole “God-given” line at the end a somewhat unhappy political twist.
I won’t get into the details of the mid-east situation because it’s complex and controversial, but I will at least say that all sides have their own point of view, and valid and rational arguments can be made for everyone. Reducing the mind-numbingly labyrinthine Arab-Israeli conflict to a story as simple-mindedly black and white as Wizards seems to do the entire situation an injustice. And if Bakshi is portraying the Israelis as peaceful elves and faeries who shun violence and weapons, and the Arabs as murderous mutants who embrace Nazi ideology, I really have to take exception.
And that’s all the dancing in that particular minefield I intend to do today, ladies and gents.
I won’t get too mad about the whole “technology vs. magic” dichotomy, but it’s a very flimsy device. As noted, the elves do use technology, and they use it quite extensively. Had Avatar said that “technological weapons were banned thousands of years ago,” I might not be quite so upset, but the story didn’t make any subtle distinctions. “They have weapons and technology, and all we have is love.” Riiiiight…
And so it is that, at the end, all the love and magic in the world is helpless against technology. The elves on the beaches were on the verge of annihilation before Avatar blasted Blackwolf with his Luger (which he probably lifted from the dead mutant fieldmarshal, though we didn’t actually see him do it). It’s something of a turnaround and a contradiction, but it could have been a very interesting story element, that in order to defeat your enemy you have to take up his own weapons, even though you hate yourself for doing it. However, that kind of subtlety wasn’t adequately explored.
In the years since its release, Wizards has remained a solid cult favorite, even as the far more ambitious Lord of the Rings has been either forgotten or (as in our case) laughed into obscurity. Its psychedelic imagery and magic vs. technology plot still appeal to younger audiences, while its sexy heroine and Bakshi’s homage to his friend Vaughn Bodé attract comic book and anime fans. Elinore herself remains popular with fan artists and (as you can see) cosplayers.
In 1992, Whit Publications even came out with a Wizards rpg, and produced several supplements (for Montagar, Scortch and other locations), but today the game got at best mixed reviews and is hard to find today — I myself have yet to score a copy, and I like to think I’ve got a nice collection of obscure rpgs. I’d be interested to see it, if only to learn some of the details of the world that the writers developed.
More recently, in 2004 there was talk of a Wizards graphic novel, with chapters produced by various famous underground artists, then in 2008 Ralph Bakshi himself started discussing a cinematic sequel to the original. Though neither project seems to have borne fruit, rumors of Wizards 2 continue to circulate, and despite my now-mixed feelings about the original, I’d probably be first in line when it finally sees the light of day.
So like most things that I loved in my youth, my fondness for Wizards has been tempered somewhat by the experience and cynicism of old age. Though a few rough patches show, the movie still appeals to me, so strong was its influence over my teenaged years.
And Elinore. I mean, come on people. Elinore. Rowwf!
And again we’ve reached the end of another installment — too soon for some, too late for others. Stay tuned — I hope to review some bizarre rpgs soon and look forward to looking at the two competing versions of Conan the Barbarian very soon. Peace out, homies.
Sword and Sorcery Rating:
Though it has many of the tropes and expresses them well — blood, violence, swordplay, wizardry and voluptuous women (though there isn’t much beefcake on display… sorry, ladies) – Wizards hews more closely to the Tolkien model than that of Robert E. Howard, so I’m limiting it to three swords. On the other hand, what’s there pretty much satisfies this reviewer’s craving for sword and sorcery mayhem.
While not intended as a comedy, Wizards is fairly light-hearted and has some very good comic moments, especially the gasmask mook scenes such as “They killed Fritz!” and the scene with the two wacky dwarf priests. Overall however, the movie’s pretty grim and serious but isn’t bad enough to merit unintentional comedy.
Wizards, for all its discussion of peace and love and non-violence, is actually pretty much soaked in blood. I mean hell — six billion people die in the first minute or two. Then there’s war, mayhem, assassination, sword fights, kung fu, stabbings, shootings, immolations, mass murder… Hell, Weehawk fuckin’ kicks a guy’s head off! Yeah, this gets three swords.
Though in places Wizards is pretty sexy, it’s mostly in terms of window dressing. Elinore is one sexy faerie, and until Jessica Rabbit came on the scene, was the hands-down winner of my personal “What cartoon character would you most like to have sex with” competition. Most of the other women such as Blackwolf’s queen and the faerie king’s bodyguard, are also gorgeous and Bodé-esque, but as I noted, there aren’t that many sexy and underclad guys (I really have to be equitable here) and despite all the cute female flesh, there’s no sex at all. Still, kudos to Bakshi for introducing me to Lady Elinore in all her fleshy glory, so an extra half sword for that.
Despite my more nuanced view of the movie as I get older and less interesting, Wizards still has that certain something, and remains pretty engaging. Perhaps the pieces fit together roughly and the message is contradictory, but Wizards continues to be greater than the sum of its parts. Bakshi accomplished something with Wizards that he failed to do with The Lord of the Rings, and the world is a better place for it.