Heavy Metal Review

Heavy Metal, inspired by the French comic Metal Hurlant, is a series of six episodes loosely tied together by a linking narrative. Back then, apart from the work of Ralph Bakshi (Fritz the Cat and others), animated features for adults were a rarity and this one soon picked up a cult following at midnight showings. The plentiful sex and violence, not to mention occasional substance abuse and strong language, plus a soundtrack in the eponymous genre, certainly helped. Politically correct this is not.

To get the most out of this film you’d need to be both male and adolescent, as this is prime wish-fulfilment stuff: all the women have unfeasibly large breasts (most of the time with no visible means of support) and are willing to shag our muscle-bound heroes at the slightest opportunity. In the documentary "Imagining Heavy Metal" that is included on this disc the makers are quite open about this: "We just wanted to draw boobs", says one animator.

Like just about every anthology film ever made, some episodes work better than others. Each one is the work of a different animation studio and has a distinctive look. "Harry Canyon", a noirish tale of a taxi driver in a corrupt future New York, is one of the better episodes, and shows clear foreshadowing of The Fifth Element. (Metal Hurlant may well have been amongst Luc Besson's teenage reading.) There are also similarities with the near-contemporary Blade Runner: apparently Ridley Scott had copies of the comic on set for design and concept tips. Some of the episodes are quite short, or end abruptly, like "ASHeavy Metal, inspired by the French comic Metal Hurlant, is a series of six episodes loosely tied together by a linking narrative. Back then, apart from the work of Ralph Bakshi (Fritz the Cat and so on), animated features for adults were a rarity and this one soon picked up a cult following at midnight showings. The plentiful sex and violence, not to mention occasional substance abuse and strong language, plus a soundtrack in the eponymous genre, certainly helped. Politically correct this is not.

To get the most out of this film you’d need to be both male and adolescent, as this is prime wish-fulfilment stuff: all the women have unfeasibly large breasts (most of the time with no visible means of support) and are willing to shag our muscle-bound heroes at the slightest opportunity. In the documentary “Imagining Heavy Metal” that is included on this disc the makers are quite open about this: “We just wanted to draw boobs”, says one animator.


Like just about every anthology film ever made, some episodes work better than others. Each one is the work of a different animation studio and has a distinctive look. “Harry Canyon”, a noirish tale of a taxi driver in a corrupt future New York, is one of the better episodes, and shows clear foreshadowing of The Fifth Element. (Metal Hurlant may well have been amongst Luc Besson's teenage reading.) There are also similarities with the near-contemporary Blade Runner: apparently Ridley Scott had copies of the comic on set for design and concept tips. Some of the episodes are quite short, or end abruptly, like "So Beautiful and So Dangerous" (the work of Halas and Batchelor – we’re a long way from Animal Farm here). The final episode, "Taarna", about a woman warrior, goes on too long.

The DVD
Columbia have done an excellent job with this one. The picture, an anamorphic transfer at 1.85:1 is sharp and clear with no artefacting that I could see. The 5.1 soundtrack is remixed from the four-track Dolby of the original release. The numerous songs (from the likes of Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, Nazareth, Cheap Trick, Devo, Stevie Nicks and more) may have helped sell a soundtrack album, but they are oddly de-emphasised in the mix, with Elmer Bernstein’s excellent orchestral score much more prominent. There are plenty of directional effects on the soundtrack, which is no doubt to be played at neighbour-annoying level.

The extras are aimed squarely at animation buffs, who will get more than most out of the ninety-minute rough cut version of the film, which has a very dry commentary. There are also two deleted scenes (the "Neverwhere" episode and an alternative version of the framing story). The 35-minute "Imagining Heavy Metal" documentary is pretty standard stuff, and occasionally borders on the pretentious: anyone for "the last gasp of the counterculture" before Reaganite conservatism set in? Most of the people involved make an appearance, including producer Ivan Reitman, but the film’s supervising director Gerald Potterton is conspicuously, and unexplainedly, absent. In addition, there are a glut of production photos, pencil drawings and conceptual art, single cels and layered cels, and a Metal Hurlant cover gallery.

You’ll know by now if you’ll want to own this disc, which is recommended to fans of comics, animation and SF, not to mention male adolescents of all ages.

Film
6 out of 10
Video
9 out of 10
Audio
8 out of 10
Extras
8 out of 10
Overall

7

out of 10

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