The Summer of ’83: Fire and Ice

Fante’s Inferno celebrates summer movie-going by revisiting the films of the Summer of ’83.

Fire and Ice

Fire and Ice Movie Poster

Release Date: August 28, 1983

Directed by Ralph Bakshi; Screenplay by Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway based on characters created by Ralph Bakshi and Frank Frazetta

Starring Randy Norton, Cynthia Leake, Steve Sandor, Sean Hannon, Susan Tyrell, Maggie Roswell, Stephen Mendel

It’s fitting that I’m winding down my retrospective on the films of the Summer of ’83 with Fire and Ice because it was the last film I saw in theaters as that summer ended.  With that screening in the final week of August 1983, two and a half months of movies, comic books, video games and hanging out with friends segued into to the beginning of the upcoming school year.  Watching Fire and Ice again this past weekend not only brought back the memory of that last week of summer vacation, but also how the film and Frank Frazetta’s artwork influenced me at the time.

The film is about the war between the evil Queen Juliana of Icepeak and King Jerol of Firekeep.  Juliana and her son Nekron cover the earth with a wave of glaciers, decimating Jerol’s army as it inches closer to overtaking Firekeep.  Juliana and Nekron send a delegation to Firekeep under the guise of eliciting Jerol’s surrender, but kidnap his daughter Teegra in order to force her into a marriage with Nekron.  Teegra escapes from her captors and meets Larn, a survivor from Jerol’s army.  Teegra is recaptured by Juliana and Nekron’s sub-humans, and Larn attempts to rescue her from Icepeak with the help of Darkwolf.

There’s surprisingly little dialogue in the film’s 81 minutes, but the action is non-stop.  Fire and Ice gives life to the fantasy worlds depicted in Frank Frazetta’s incredible paintings (in one shot in the film, Darkwolf is reminiscent of Frazetta’s iconic painting of the Death Dealer), and the animation techniques used in of Fire and Ice blew me away back in 1983.  All of the character action was rotoscoped – live action was filmed, then each frame traced onto animation cels, lending a more “realistic” effect to the animation.  This film is one of the reasons I still prefer hand-drawn animation over today’s computer generated animation, and I enjoyed watching The Making of Fire and Ice for the parts of the behind-the-scenes film that show the process of rotoscoping as Bakshi directed live actors in the scenes that would be traced for the final animated sequences.

Watching it again made me wonder why Bakshi et al didn’t include more scenes with Darkwolf.  Each of his scenes brought out more of the Frazetta-esque feel, heightening the action and excitement of the film, especially going into the final battle at Icepeak.  The character of Teegra is drawn in the classic Frazetta style seen on many a fantasy novel cover.  Watching Fire and Ice this past weekend, I laughed when I remembered that during my second screening of the film in August 1983 the projectionist intentionally made one scene between Teegra and Larn out of focus because my friend Rob and I were the only people in the audience and he didn’t think it was appropriate for two eleven year olds to watch.

I was impressed at the level of talent involved in Fire and Ice’s production: director Ralph Bakshi had a strong track record of films prior to Fire and Ice (Fritz the Cat, Wizards, American Pop, The Lord of the Rings, Heavy Traffic, Hey Good Lookin’), Frank Frazetta was the absolute master of fantasy art, and writers Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway had written great comic book stories for Marvel and DC.  But the names that truly surprised me in my research were those of two of the film’s background painters: James Gurney (Dinotopia) and Thomas Kinkade.

The August 1983 release of Fire and Ice also coincided with my first attempts at picking up a paint brush.  My two favorite paintings by that time were Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and Frank Frazetta’s The Silver Warrior.  My weekly routine included checking out the fantasy and science fiction sections of our local Waldenbooks, and it’s safe to say most of my paperback book purchases were based on the cover paintings more often than by the author or story.  I can’t imagine how many hours of the Summer of ’83 I devoted to buying art supplies at the old Larchmont Art Shop and sitting at my drawing table with a set of acrylics and canvas boards trying to copy the works of Frank Frazetta and Bill Sinkiewicz in the hopes of one day painting covers to fantasy novels and comic books.  What I would give to relive one of those carefree summer days again.

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