In the far, far distant future in which 'Wizards' is set, Earth is a complete apocalyptic wasteland. And when I say distant, I mean really, really distant. Like two million years into the future, after radioactive clouds leftover from a nuclear war have finally subsided. All that remains are the technological remnants of our present and most recent past. Whatever humans survived evolved into hideous mutants, wandering barren landscapes like wild, aimless animals. It's a dreadfully gloomy omen that's also marked by a great deal of portentousness and lacking any nuance in the delivery. The message is pretty clear: we, as species, are doomed if we persist on the path we're on.
An unidentified narrator continues to deliver the exposition, which is also shown to viewers via some elaborately hypnotic stills. Apparently, in what was just-a-minute-ago believed to be an inhospitable future, there are few idyllic areas still available but overrun by fairies, elves and dwarves, which we are told are the true ancestors of humans. This begs the question of how exactly nuclear winter would eventually awaken them from their slumber. It's also a little difficult to imagine at least a small pocket of survivors avoiding the wastelands and retreating into these Eden-like territories. But such questions are not really the point here. The gist of it is that humans possess a mean streak, so their ugly insides are now mutants outside.
Anyhow, after thousands of years of peace and tranquility, the queen of the fairies gives an immaculate birth to twin wizards. They are the complete polar opposites of each other, with Avatar (voiced by Bob Holt) acting the benevolent, compassionate son linked to nature and having a talent for magic. As if his name weren't enough of an indication, Blackwolf (voiced by Steve Gravers), on the other hand, is a dark mutant who spends time by his lonesome and tortures animals, having an affinity for technology and other sinister things. As you might have guessed, the two brothers are bound to battle one another in all-out war for control of the lands, each relying on their particular talents for success. And they do, which is where our plot comes in.
Mixed with a little bit of Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings' — a small fellowship is on a quest into the mouth of the beast — and his own unique blend of artwork, Ralph Bakshi created a rather original vision of sci-fi fantasy, which ignited a widespread interest in the genre during the late 70s and early 80s. 'Wizards' was intended as his break into the family-friendly mainstream of animation, and to some extent it works. Missing is the adult-oriented, urban quality seen in his previous films, like 'Coonskin' and especially 'Fritz the Cat.' But some elements still remain, such as Avatar's voluptuous and scantily-dressed companion, Elinore (voiced by Jesse Welles). There's also the copious amounts of on-screen violence and footage from the propaganda films of Nazi Germany. Despite its PG-rating, there's little doubt younger viewers would ask questions once the movie's over.
The post-apocalyptic animated film proved, at least in Bakshi's mind, that he could make the same quality movie he had made for adults also accessible for children. Frankly, that's debatable. The moral is definitely blatant and easy to recognize: magical nature creatures are good, while technology and industry come with an evil, dark side. But the Nazi imagery and videos complicates things somewhat. Bakshi's next project, 'J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings,' would actually prove to be a major influence on kids, as it did on yours truly. Nonetheless, 'Wizards' is an amusing if not at least quaint animated film within the Bakshi canon and has grown into a cult classic with the magic to entertain.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment releases Ralph Bakshi's 'Wizards' to Blu-ray as a simple yet attractive white digibook with Peace on the front cover. The Region A locked, BD50 disc comes at the end of a 24-page booklet, filled with pictures of the movie, some concept art and information about the production's history. At startup, the disc goes straight to the main menu with full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
Though not likely to impress many, Ralph Bakshi's 'Wizards' conjures up a rather strong and generally pleasing AVC-encoded transfer.
Considering its age and budget, the picture quality is probably as good as it will ever be, which is none too shabby. Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, colors are noticeably vibrant and full-bodied with particularly emphasis on the softer pastel hues. Primaries are cleanly rendered without the slightest hint of bleeding or chroma noise. Contrast isn't the sharpest, but it gets the job done and is consistent throughout, with crisp, intense whites in every scene. Blacks could also be a bit deeper, but they appear fairly deep and accurate. The artwork is very well-defined, given its unique style, and looks great on high-def video. Fine lines and object detailing around characters as well as in the background are resolute and reasonably distinct.
All in all, the cult animated classic is a definite upgrade from previous incarnations.
Like the video, the audio for 'Wizards' won't likely test one's sound system, but bearing in mind the source, this DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack actually has quite a bit to offer and comes with a good deal of activity.
The lossless mix stays true to the original monaural design, for the most part, by being a front-heavy presentation. Hence, surrounds are silent during the movie's runtime as would be expected. Imaging is wide and expansive with great balance between the channels and never coming off as artificial or forced. The music of Andrew Belling, in particular, fills the soundstage with excellent clarity and fidelity. The mid-range is clean and detailed while low bass is appropriate and adds some depth to the score. Dialogue reproduction is strong and well-prioritized.
Altogether, the animated film sounds terrific on high-resolution audio.
Supplements from the DVD are ported over for this Blu-ray edition and accompanied by an attractive digibook.
Ralph Bakshi's 'Wizards' may not capture the same appeal and audience it did 35 years ago, but it still manages to entertain with its eccentric, psychedelic artwork which animation fans can appreciate. Filled with unusual characters and a unique design, the post-apocalyptic sci-fi fantasy was the director's first attempt at family-friendly material and continues to be admired today as cult classic of daring animation. The Blu-ray arrives with an improved audio and video presentation, but supplements are pretty weak considering the release is intended to celebrate the movie's 35th Anniversary. The digibook, however, makes up for some of that disappointment, and fans are sure to love it.