The Space Oddities column celebrates its 1 year anniversary with a visit to Law and Chaos: The Stormbringer Animated Film Project
Each month, Raz Greenberg reviews an overlooked piece of science fiction, fantasy or horror – be it a film, a television episode, a comic or a game – one that should have gotten more attention when it first came out and should still be remembered, in his opinion. This month, he reviews the art book for one of the greatest never-made fantasy films.
The history of genre cinema is full of never-made projects that make fans’ imagination run wild. What if Alejandro Jodorowsky had directed the Dune film? What if Harlan Ellison’s script adaptation of Asimov’s I, Robot had been made? What if the producers of the third film in the Alien franchise had used William Gibson’s script, instead of whatever it was they let David Fincher work with?
Another question we can add to this list is what if, in the early 1970s, Wendy Fletcher had made her dream project come true – Stormbringer, a feature-length animated adaptation of Michael Moorcock’s* acclaimed Elric of Melnibone novels?
Unlike Jodorowsky, Ellison or Gibson, Fletcher was hardly an established name at the time she set on making the film of her dreams. A talented young artist, who was already a longtime fan of comic books, cartoons and genre literature, she went into her first year in college with one goal in mind: to use its facilities and staff to make Stormbringer happen. With the support and encouragement of Moorcock himself, as well as the Los Angeles science fiction community, she managed to produce an outline for the film and hundreds of illustrations. But as time went by, with very little progress made on the animation itself and her college studies falling apart, she eventually left college and let go of her dream.
Like other great artists, Fletcher (who in the meantime became Wendy Pini following her marriage) managed to build a new dream on the ruins of an old one. With her husband Richard she began publishing Elfquest, an independent fantasy comic book published to this very day with a huge fan community and readership. But she never quite left Stormbringer behind. In 1987, she published Law and Chaos: The Stormbringer Animated Film Project, a book devoted to her work on the film.
Ellison’s I, Robot film is often given the title of the greatest never-made science fiction film. Law and Chaos is probably the greatest art book devoted to a never-made fantasy film. It opens with Pini’s descriptions of her youth in which she discovered Moorcock’s novels and her early artistic influences. These influences spread across a very wide spectrum – from the great masters of Art Nouveau and Japanese woodblock printing to Walt Disney and Osamu Tezuka (Pini is notable for being one of the first American cartoonists influenced by manga) – and go a long way in explaining the beauty and richness of the illustrations seen later in the volume. After describing her college ordeals, detailing some of the planned logistics for the production and telling the story of its sad demise, Pini gets to the meat of the book – a detailed outline of the film’s plot, accompanied by her concept illustrations.
How can one describe this section of the book? “Breathtakingly beautiful” doesn’t seem to do it enough justice. Pini’s portrayal of Elric was clearly inspired by the pulpy cover illustrations of Moorcock’s novels, yet it carries a more nuanced, delicate quality rooted in Pini’s fine-art sources of inspiration. Even when he is driven mad, there is always a sense of noble dignity to his design. Supporting characters as Elric’s companion Moonglum or the women who become his great, tragic loves, also get a top artistic treatment, full of emotion and life. And then there’s the scenery – which Pini presents in loving detail, from the courts of the decadent kingdom of Melnibone through the mortal kingdoms of men to more hellish landscapes, artfully visualizing Moorcock’s world. All Illustrations are accompanied by Pini’s notes on a variety of issues related to each scene – camera work, soundtrack, color and character motivations. It really makes readers wish the film had been made.
Alas, it did not happen. But in the absence of the film itself, Law and Chaos provides a great read. In fact, it is a must-read: for every aspiring animator or illustrator, for anyone interested in filmmaking and certainly for every fan of either Moorcock’s novels or Pini’s comics.
Where to get it: long out of print, Law and Chaos is now available FOR FREE on the internet. Reading it requires installing a Flash plug-in, and the online edition takes advantage of the technology, “animating” several of the illustrations in the book. On the downside, some of the pages take time to load. But it’s well-worth your patience.
And if you like this… Wendy and Richard Pini have TONS of free stuff for you on the net, starting with Pini’s graphic-novel adaptation of of Edgar Allan Poe’s Masque of Red Death, plus ALL the issues of Elfquest published prior to 2013 available on the official Elfquest website. That’s hundreds of pages for you to read and get hooked.
* On a related note, be sure to check our interview with author Michael Moorcock on this very site!