An ILLUMINATING history bearing on the everlasting struggle for world supremacy fought between the powers of TECHNOLOGY and MAGIC.
Mom and Dad stuffed me in the car and drove to the seedy side of downtown Houston. I was eight years old. The fire hydrants still had their fading coat of bicentennial paint. My mother nervously looked out the window of the red beetle as we passed dilapidated buildings. Finally a neon marquee came into view, attached to a molding theater. It didn't look like a place that that showed cartoons.
The theater was dank and sticky and musty, but the red velvet, gold tassels, and exquisite balcony hearkened back to better times. They were showing a double feature. We were late, but were really only there for the second show. We saw the tail end of the first picture, which was confusing and disturbing - a little gem called Phantom of the Paradise. It was a mix between Rocky Horror, Phantom of the Opera and Faust. Needless to say, at eight years old, I didn't get it.
Finally, the main feature began - Ralph Bakshi's Wizards. Honestly, I don't remember anything about that viewing. It was too overwhelming, but the feeling of 'wow' stayed with me the rest of my life. My mother spent a good deal of the time with her hands over my eyes. She swears to this day that there was a scene in the movie where the wizard Avatar was running around pantsless with his penis hanging out. I've watched the movie countless times - and even looked for a more mature version - with no luck. But it was basically an indie style art house film at the time with a very small release, so we very well may have seen a cut of it that never made it to the present incarnation. Later I learned that my father had seen Fritz the Cat some time earlier in the same movie theater, so penis may very well have been a recurring theme at the place.
By the 80s they were playing Wizards on cable, and I saw it many times. It's great. I was enchanted by Avatar's Peter Falk-like speech, Elinore's bubbly nipples, Peace's soulless eyes, and the narrator's airy, wistful voice. It's incredibly emotional stupid and funny and sad.
"Where's daddy? What's he doing?"
"He’s guarding our home son. There's been a war and this land is lost."
"Why can't we fight and win mommy?"
"Because they have weapons and technology. We just have love."
I never was into a mix of fantasy and science fiction as a kid - especially for role playing games. I didn't like the vanilla to mix with the chocolate either. Wizards was wonderful to watch, but I would have never run an RPG in the setting. But these days I have a more mature palate, and I wonder what a game would be like based in the lands of Scorch and Montagar. I'll have to ponder more on that.
Looking back on it now, some of Wizards is hard to watch. The pacing is clunky, the art styles sometimes don't mesh well, and the roto-scoping can be atrocious. We take for granted so many visual technologies. The road between Bakshi's Avatar and Cameron's is a very long one - just about the same length from a boy to a man.