Review of Wizards (1977)

Moving picture, 80 minutes

Ralph Bakshi (writer-director).

Seen in 2016.

Millions of years after humankind is wiped out in a nuclear holocaust, dumpy posthuman mutants live side by side with elves and faeries in a world of magic, industrial technology being largely forgotten. An objectively evil wizard wants to conquer this world, so he must motivate his troops. He unearths the ultimate weapon of ancient technology: authentic Nazi propaganda films.

The iconic Bakshi fantasy epic. Plotted like an improvised TRPG session: A badly told story that should have been workshopped and storyboarded at least one extra time. Apparently there was no budget for what the director wanted, hence the extensive and repetitive chroma-keyed, mostly single-colour rotoscoping from famous live-action movies, with added horns and demonic faces over some of the silhouettes. Almost all of it looks ridiculously unconvincing, a stark contrast against the very different antirealism of the cel work. Only a couple of cuts look great, like the evil horde listening to Blackwolf just before the Nazi reveal.

One of the fantasy neo-Nazis eats an animal branded with the Star of David. The story, such as it is, makes sense only as an allegory on the importance of propaganda in a fascist society. The moral dichotomy, while superficially extreme, is undermined as you’d expect from the maker of Fritz the Cat (1972): A soldier of evil says he doesn’t want to fight because everything’s got a right to live (until he hears his side’s unbeatable), the evil wizard fights (egotistically) for healthy children, and the good wizard has a torture rack in his bedroom—and uses it—as well as a fine trick up his sleeve for the showdown. The mockery of priests in the middle of the movie is the funniest part, followed by the revelation that the central band of “good” adventurers is bringing along a faery “broad” just for her singing voice, so not for the nipples.

There is an official Wizards (1992) role-playing game, one of several connections from here to the RPG industry. Ian Miller, who drew the excellent backgrounds of the land of evil, later worked on Warhammer products, drawing some Empire cities that looked very similar. Warhammer 40,000 eventually came to include a Necron faction, likely influenced by the Wizards character Necron 99. Less specifically, watching this reminds me of early Dungeons & Dragons and Drakar och demoner, where you get a lot of humorous incidental illustrations of gnomes, halflings etc., proportioned as in this movie, similarly engaged in supremely vague monarchical roundfuckery while the world is being threatened by elemental evil. Wizards was probably a big influence on Gamma World (1978), particularly the extremely plastic concept of “mutants” as akin to goblins.

References here: Star Wars (1977), The Lord of the Rings (1978), The Incal (1980), Lensman (1984), Ronja the Robber’s Daughter (2014).

moving picture TRPG animation fiction