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Blu-ray Review: The Spine of Night – “A fabulous, old-school treat”

Directed by Philip Gelatt and Morgan Galen King
Starring (voices of) Lucy Lawless, Richard E Grant, Patton Oswalt, Betty Gabriel, Joe Manganiello

“Look to the stars, Ghal-Sur. Tremble before the immensity of the night!”

Oh, boy, was this a fabulous, old-school treat! I’ll say right off the bat that this is a film with a specific appeal to a certain fandom, and not for everyone, but those of us who love – and indeed miss – that kind of thing, will rejoice in this. Epic, animated, cosmic fantasy with buckets of blood and body parts flying, casual nudity and trippy visuals, all delivered in that arresting mix of rotoscoped animation over live footage, with hand-drawn and CG inserted backgrounds. Yes, this is indeed old-school, and totally rocking that 1970s and 80s vibe from the like of Bakshi’s animated Lord of the Rings or the wonderfully demented Heavy Metal. Not a style we see much of these days, and I suspect some new to it may not take to it, but those of us who grew up on the aforementioned flicks (often watched on dodgy VHS bootlegs!) will be in animation heaven.

Rather than one single, grand quest epic, or a struggle against one tyrant, Spine of Night, while one film, feels almost like several smaller tales linked together (perhaps reflecting the lone period it took to make it, or Gelatt’s background in the excellent Love, Death and Robots anthology series), taking us across centuries of conflict and struggle between different people on the same world, linked by a sacred blue plant, which, with the correct knowledge, has remarkable abilities and powers, powers some serve but others covet and desire to use for their own ends.

We see Tzod (voiced by Xena herself, the fabulous Lucy Lawless), the bare-breasted priestess of a simple tribe of swamp dwellers, who can work magic with the use of the plant and her incantations. Her people are slaughtered by the forces of Lord Pyrantin (voiced by Patton Oswalt), lead by Mongrel (Joe Manganiello), who want her alive for the information – and power. This is the start of a series of struggles that takes place across centuries – the plant has astonishing abilities, but it is so often wanted by the wrong people, for the wrong purposes, bringing death and misery instead of spiritual enlightenment and wonder, with Tzod setting forth on a long journey to a remote, frozen mountain, source of the plant and its Guardian (Richard E Grant, clearly enjoying himself!), on a quest to try to break this centuries-long cycle of misuse and destruction.

Visually, Spine is a total feast, and the obvious love for that now largely bygone era of Rotoscoped adult animated films is very clear. Also very clear on the making-of documentary included among the extras (plus a couple of shorts as well) is that Gelatt is One Of Us. In fact it’s probably fair to say most of those involved in creating this film are also One Of Us – they’re fans, they love those same influences we do, and this really is a labour of love (some seven years to create), and wanted to share in that love one more time, and Spine really does let us wallow in that guilty pleasure! As I said, this may not be for everyone, but those of us who loved Heavy Metal, or Laloux’s Fantastic Planet, this is just a total gift, bringing back a style of both story and rotoscoped animation that has largely vanished from film-making today, while the extras, especially the making of segments, show just how much of a labour of love this was to make, and that shows in the finished film.

The Spine of Night is released on DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital from October 24th by Acorn Media International.

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