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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Ultimate Geek Fu

Surprising as it may seem, I do actually have a coherent theory of criticism. To attempt to codify it: when you, as a creative person, put your work before someone else, you are asking that person to give you something more precious than money; you are asking for their time. Therefore, you, as a creative person, have a moral obligation to your readers (or listeners, viewers, or other term as most accurately describes your audience, depending on the creative medium) to use their time well, and to deliver a creative work which does not leave the majority of your audience, at the end of that time, saying, "Oh God. There went two hours—" (or other measure of time, as appropriate to the medium and scope of the work) "—I'll never get back again."

Which brings us to Fire and Ice, Ralph Bakshi's 1983 full-length animated fantasy feature, which is described in the marketing copy as being Bakshi's collaboration with famous fantasy illustrator Frank Frazetta and "a masterpiece of fantasy and illustration," but perhaps is more accurately described as being based on a Molly Hatchet album cover.

For the record: 81 minutes I'll never get back again. Less whatever time I can credit against it by using it as the subject of this week's column.

The story, such as it is, is this: In a castle of ice, upon a throne of ice, evil Lord Chilliass sits and has seizures, or casts evil spells to control glaciers, it's hard to tell which. In his spare time he commands an army of minions from the Department of Insulting Dark-Skinned Ethnic Stereotypes, who go forth and do evil things to good people, who you can tell are good because they're all blond. But it isn't much of an evil army, because they only had the money to rotoscope about six actors, so they just use the same action cels over and over again. Or maybe they're clones.

Meanwhile, the guy from the Molly Hatchet album cover poses dramatically in the background a lot, and once in a while rides into the foreground long enough to rescue a random blond person, but never sticks around long enough to do any material good.

All this serves as preamble, to set up the great confrontation between evil Lord Chilliass and good King Helpless Baldguy, who holds the throne of the Kingdom of Fire. I don't know how. Maybe he won it in a poker a game. To weaken the King's resolve, Lord Chilliass sends his (same six) minions to kidnap the king's daughter, beautiful Princess Hugeknockers.

The princess then spends the rest of the movie alternately being captured by, escaping from, being recaptured by, and being rescued by, the six evil minions and brave warrior Pouting Blondguy, respectively, with occasional dramatic cameo appearances by the guy from the Molly Hatchet album cover. And, this is the important part: she has all these terrible adventures without once losing the three tiny triangles of cloth connected by strands of dental floss that keep this movie from being X-rated.

Meanwhile, there are battles—and more battles—and yet more battles—in which scads of good people and many more copies of the same six evil minions are killed, before good King Baldguy finally brings himself to unleash the volcano power, which both wipes out the evil glaciers and the Army of Six Minions and proves the truth of Pournelle's Rejoinder to Asimov's Other Law.
[Asimov's Other Law: "Violence is the last resort of the incompetent."

Pournelle's Rejoinder: "That's true. The competent don't wait that long."]
Eighty-one minutes.

How about you? On the specific topic of full-length animated features*, which one really stands out in your mind as the most worthless waste of time you ever saw; the one that really makes you wish you could grab the filmmaker by the throat and demand, not your money, but your time, back?

* And there's a secondary question: given the prevalence of green-screen and CGI, is it even worth trying to distinguish between live-action and animated films any more? Green Lantern, for example, is probably in contention for being the biggest, longest, and at an estimated $200M to make, most expensive animated flop to date. Is there really any point any more in trying to differentiate between, say, Iron Man and The Road to El Dorado?

Let the arguments begin.

Oh, and in answer to the question, "Who writes Ultimate Geek Fu?", here's the tagline we used to run at the end of each UGF column. With some updating, it will serve as a renewed statement of purpose:

ULTIMAGE GEEK FU runs every Wednesday. Have a question that's just bugging the heck out of you about Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate, Battlestar Gallactica, Farscape, Firefly, Fringe, Heroes, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Smallville, The X-Files, X-Men, The Man From Atlantis, or pretty much any other SF-flavored media property? Send it to slushpile@thefridaychallenge.com with the subject line, "Ultimate Geek Fu," and we'll stuff it in the queue.
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