Tag Archives: Animation

Rock & Rule (1983)

Rock and Rule Movie Poster

Release Date: August 12, 1983

Directed by Clive A. Smith; Written by Peter Sauder, John Halfpenny and Patrick Loubert (Story)

Starring Susan Roman (Angel), Gregory Salata (Omar), Don Francks (Mok); vocals by Debbie Harry (Angel), Robin Zander (Omar) and Lou Reed (Mok)

Rock & Rule is an animated film that I initially planned on including in my retrospective on the films of the Summer of ’83, but didn’t get to in time.  Although it had a theatrical release in Canada in August 1983, it had a very limited release in the U.S. but developed a cult following when it ran on cable TV.  It’s amazing how vividly I remembered Rock & Rule even though I only saw it once in my life prior to this week’s screening, and that was back around 1985 on cable TV during a marathon game of Dungeons & Dragons.  The details and the quality of the film stuck with me over the years, and each time I watch a traditional hand drawn animated film, I’ll measure it up against Rock & Rule.

The opening credits set the film’s tone as dark clouds part to the sounds of thunder, lightning and the heavy synthesizer of composer Patricia Cullen’s score.  As I watched this, my first thought was “Does it get more 80’s (in a good way) than this?”

Fading rock superstar Mok (who looks like he was modeled after Mick Jagger and/or Keith Richards) travels the world seeking the voice that will sing the Armageddon Key and open a doorway to the underworld.  He finds that voice in Ohmtown, where bandmates Angel, Omar, Dizzy and Stretch play an empty dive club.  Mok invites them to his mansion, drugs Omar, Dizzy and Stretch, and kidnaps Angel when she refuses to leave her band.  Angel’s bandmates snap out of it and follow Mok’s zeppelin to Nuke York to save Angel.

This film was better than I remembered, and what struck me the most about Rock & Rule when I screened it this week was how the film’s production hit on all cylinders.  The animation and photography of Rock & Rule combined classic techniques developed by Disney in the 1940’s with the state of the art computers available in the early 80’s.  But what’s most impressive is the level of musical talent associated with Rock & Rule.  Debbie Harry.  Lou Reed.  Cheap Trick.  Earth Wind & Fire.  Iggy Pop.  None of them could be accused of phoning it in for a cartoon.  They went all out in the songs they contributed, and their enthusiasm for the film is evident in the documentary The Making of Rock & Rule.  I only have one criticism of the film: the animation of the characters in the scenes in which they were singing had a lack of movement that took away from the energy of the music.

When I think of the animated films I’ve enjoyed over the years, several that immediately come to mind are Heavy Metal, American Pop, Watership Down and Fire & Ice.  As much as I still enjoy each of those films, Rock & Rule holds up better than all of them thirty years later.  It had great animation, a cool score, and a great soundtrack.  Unfortunately for all of this praise, the reality is that Rock & Rule didn’t find a theatrical audience due to lack of interest by U.S. distributor MGM.  But despite the lack if distribution and low box office, 30 years later Rock & Rule is still well crafted movie and a must see for fans of animation.

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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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The Summer of ’82: The Secret of NIMH

Fante’s Inferno revisits the Summer of 1982, considered to be the greatest movie summer for fantasy and sci-fi fans.

The Secret of NIMH

Release Date: 7/2/82

Directed by Don Bluth; Written by Don Bluth, John Pomeroy, Gary Goldman and Will Finn; based on the novel Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien

Starring: Elizabeth Hartman, Derek Jacobi, Arthur Malet, Dom DeLuise, Peter Strauss, Paul Shenar, Aldo Ray, John Carradine

See the trailer here.

The Secret of NIMH is one of my favorite animated films of all time along with Watership Down, Fire and Ice, and Heavy Metal.  One thing that always concerns me when I revisit an animated feature from the 70’s or 80’s is the possibility of losing the excitement I had for the film when compared to present day animation.  Luckily this didn’t happen when I watched NIMH earlier this week.

As amazing as 3D animation looks, I still have more of an appreciation for the technique of 2D, hand drawn animation.  I still consider The Secret of NIMH to be one of the best examples of traditional animation in the last 50 years, and I say this knowing that many Disney fans will disagree with me.  One thing I forgot over the years was how striking the background paintings were.  Each of them stood on their own as more than just background, they were works of art that set the mood and tone of the film.

One game I like to play when I research a film on iMDb is a “where are they now” of the cast.  Of the films I’ve revisited so far in my Summer of ’82 series of posts, the cast of The Secret of NIMH surprised me the most.  I easily remembered Derek Jacobi as Nicodemus and Dom DeLuise as Jeremy the crow, but I was surprised to find the voice of Mrs. Brisby was Elizabeth Hartman, who earned an Oscar nomination for her performance as Sidney Poitier’s blind love interest in the 1965 film A Patch of Blue.  Other surprises were Shannen Doherty and Wil Wheaton as Mrs. Brisby’s children Teresa and Martin, and Peter Strauss as Justin.  Aldo Ray was the voice of Sullivan.  And how about John Carradine as the Great Owl!  Don Bluth and Gary Goldman pulled out all the stops with this film (their first animated feature after they left Disney) and they definitely invested in a great cast.

I was surprised The Secret of NIMH was given a G rating considering many of the darker elements in the film.  I remembered the scene of the rats going through the tests at NIMH as being too much for a child to be able to handle at a young age, but even scenes such as Mrs. Brisby’s meeting with the Great Owl and her first encounter with the rat Brutus might scare the bejeezus out of out of a young child.

Thirty years later, The Secret of NIMH doesn’t only hold up, it reminds me of why I love animation.  The story, characters and especially the animation drew me back in and brought me back to my local theater back in 1982.  All I needed was a large Coke and a 1/2 pound bag of strawberry Twizzlers.

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