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THE SPINE OF NIGHT (2021)
Directed and written by Philip Gelatt, Morgan Galen King.
Starring Richard E. Grant, Lucy Lawless, Patton Oswalt, Betty Gabriel, Joe Manganiello, Patrick Breen, Larry Fessenden, Jason Gore, Maggie Lakis, TomLipinski, Nina Lisandrello, Rob McClure, Malcolm Mills, Abigail Savage, Jordan Douglas Smith, Olivia Pecini
When I was a kid, for Christmas, my school set up a projector in the gym and played Ralph Bakshi’s THE HOBBIT for us. I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. I had seen all kinds of animation as a kid. From Bugs Bunny to The Jungle Book, but this…this was completely different. Somewhere along the way, the style Bakshi’s THE HOBBIT was filmed in, called rotoscope, seemed to die away. But fear not. Someone out there remembers how cool that style of animation was and that someone has produced an epic animated fantasy horror masterpiece called THE SPINE OF NIGHT. While it’s pretty evident what I thought of it, here are my thoughts anyway.
A powerful and evil force makes its way across the land. It originated from a far off place, but has travelled thousands of miles to invade and conquer all that stands in its way. Wielded by a powerful wizard, the force transforms men into drones and is a danger to all life on Earth. Only a small group of heroes of iron will and strong armaments stand in the force’s dominion over all. The battles will be many, and bloody, and epic, and will span through the ages.
THE SPINE OF NIGHT is a throwback kind of film, but hopefully will revive a type of animation that seems to have been forgotten through the years. Some amazing animated films have been made through the rotoscope method, which basically films real people going through the motions and then superimposes animated figures over the forms. The result gives the animated characters more weight and real world movements than any simulated CG cell plopped out by Disney or Pixar. If you’ve seen the HEAVY METAL MOVIE or Ralph Bakshi’s THE HOBBIT or any of Bakshi’s other films like FIRE AND ICE or FRITZ THE CAT, then you know what rotoscope is, even if you might not have known that’s what it was called. If I understand it right, this method of animation is not only more realistic, but also faster to process. Maybe I’m wrong about this. Still, films made with this method look unlike anything you’re bound to find.
Like those rotoscoped fantasy epics of yesteryear, THE SPINE OF NIGHT tells an enormous story the spans from the dawn of time to what seems to be the very end of it. It depicts the war between the gods and titans, the creation of the universe, and the distinction between good and evil. It charts a horrifying journey as a cave woman attempts to transport a spark of life that ends up being twisted into terrifying lengths and exploited to enslave entire populaces. It shows monumental battels between warring armies set against gorgeously painted backdrops. Everything about this film screams an epic scope modern movies only attempt to do. There are no limits to this animation, only in the minds of those who created this modern animated masterpiece.
THE SPINE OF NIGHT can be enjoyed for it’s wonderfully intricate story, told in disjointed parts jumping for beginnings to endings and middles, but never really getting convoluted enough to lose you. Then again, if you’re just looking for something to admire as a visual smorgasbord, this one’s going to satisfy those hunger pangs as well. I understand there is an entire generation who are unaware of this style of cartooning and it may be off putting to some, but I got a warn and fuzzy feeling as every vivid and rich scene played out.
And brutal. Man is this a brutal little film. People are hacked to bits, burned into embers, pulverized, smashed, sliced, and diced. THE SPINE OF NIGHT pulls no punches and shows every bloody, gruesome detail. This is carnage you just can’t get away with in live action. The carnage depicted here is unlike anything you’re bound to see and I loved every second of it.
Adding to the fun, THE SPINE OF NIGHT sports a fun cast of voice actors. Patton Oswalt, Lucy Lawless, Joe Mangianello, Richard E. Grant, and of course, the one and only Larry Fessenden all offer up their vocals for this wide cast of characters. Sure, recognizing these voices kind of takes you out of the film, but only as much as it does in regularly animated features. All of the cast are giving their all and taking this film deathly serious. One can tell the cast of geek celebs believed in this project. It’s evident in every scene they are in.
I expect THE SPINE OF NIGHT to become another sleeper hit like FIRE AND ICE, HEAVY METAL, and other rotoscoped flicks before it. There’s something infectiously underground and appealingly grungy to the way this animation works. There’s a coolness to it that makes it so much more than your typical animation. There was a lot of amazing work put into the brutal, bloody, and brash fantasy epic. I encourage you to seek it out and hopefully it’ll feel as much of a breath of fresh air to you as it did for me. How often do you get to watch a new fantasy horror cartoon? The answer, not bloody often. So enjoy it!