Case Number 21890: Small Claims Court

HEAVY METAL (BLU-RAY)

Sony // 1981 // 90 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // July 29th, 2011

The Charge

Louder and nastier than ever.

The Case

Full disclosure: Before receiving this review assignment, I had neither seen Heavy Metal nor read an issue of Heavy Metal magazine. However, I did know the film contained three elements which I have varying degrees of affection for: an anthology format, sci-fi elements, and a memorable Elmer Bernstein score. It sounded interesting, but I'm afraid I just wasn't able to get with the program. Disappointingly, this unconventional slice of animated juvenilia has aged rather poorly.

Much like the the magazine which inspired it, the film version of Heavy Metal is largely focused on delivering distinctive alien creatures, copious amounts of gore, and an equally generous supply of nudity. It delivers all these elements with gusto, but the thin nature of the stories being told simply makes the film feel like a cheap excuse to provide horny teenage fanboys with 90 minutes of mostly-uninterrupted stroke material.

The short stories are woven together by some rather odd connecting tissue: a giant green orb pins a teenage girl to the wall of her home and tells her a bunch of dark, violent, sex-filled stories. All of the stories just so happen to involve the orb (which supposedly represents universal evil) in some way.

The tales include...

Harry Canyon
A taxi driver witnesses a violent situation, gets involved with a potentially untrustworthy young woman and finds himself fleeing from savage gangsters.
* Alien creatures: Tons of 'em all over the city.
* Gore: The taxi driver has a death-cab which kills annoying passengers in horribly violent ways!
* Sex/Nudity: The taxi driver totally gets it on with the damsel in distress!

Den
A story about a scrawny 18-year-old guy who gets transported to another planet and is given a large, muscular body. Our hero then proceeds to rescue a virgin from a human sacrifice ceremony before getting recruited on a mission to retrieve the green orb.
* Alien creatures: Yes indeed, including some sentient animal-men!
* Gore: The orb totally melts some people!
* Sex/Nudity: More than your adolescent brain can handle! Our John Candy-voiced hero gets it on with both the human sacrifice girl and the evil alien queen!

B-17
A bomber full of dead airmen transforms into a bomber full of zombies! That's all you need to know, since this segment is very short.
* Alien creatures: Not really. But zombies!
* Gore: Zombie gore!
* Sex/Nudity: Nah.

Captain Sternn
A tiresome story in which a murderer/rapist space captain is put on trial. The case seems like an open-and-shut deal, but Sternn has a few tricks up his sleeve.
* Alien creatures: Nope, though a guy does transform into a bizarre-looking hunk.
* Gore: Not so much. A dude's arm is torn off towards the end.
* Sex/Nudity: 37 rapes are mentioned, but fortunately none are actually depicted.

So Beautiful, So Dangerous
An excessively silly story in which a hot earth-woman is sucked up into an alien spacecraft. While there, she strikes up a romance with the ship's robotic captain.
* Alien creatures: Indeed, and they're doing a bunch of space cocaine!
* Gore: A little bit, but nothing too startling.
* Sex/Nudity: Thrill to the sight of graphic human-on-robot lovemaking!

Taarna
Easily the best tale (partially because there's an interesting story being told, partially because the animation surpasses most of the other sequences, partially because Elmer Bernstein's score is just magnificent during this sequence and partially because it contains the film's only non-sexist female character), this is the story of a warrior woman who is called upon to save the world from bad guys.
* Alien creatures: TONS OF ALIENS!
* Gore: TONS OF GORE!
* Sex/Nudity: TONS OF NUDITY!

Everything wraps up with a rather silly coda which is likely to inspire sighs of dismay. To its credit, the film does attempt to tackle some larger themes about humanity and isn't entirely a shallow slice of pencilled excess, but the "lesson learning" moments are largely undercooked and trite. Additionally, most of those lessons are pretty thoroughly undercut by the film's frequently violent, misogynistic point-of-view.

Heavy Metal is one of the most inconsistent-looking animated films I've seen, as the different segments were all done by different artists at different animation houses. As a result, some moments look pretty cool while others look simply terrible. The same more or less applies to the 1080p/1.85:1 transfer. This is a dingy, dirty-looking movie much of the time, so it's occasionally a little difficult to tell whether the transfer or the source material is to blame. It's not as disappointing as the blah The Secret of NIMH transfer, but it's pretty heavy on grain and generally looks pretty soft much of the time. The audio is also hit-and-miss, as most of the rock songs included (by Journey, Devo, Black Sabbath and the like) sound pretty pinched and flat. Bernstein's score fares a little better, but still doesn't sound as vigorous as it ought to. Dialogue wobbles a great deal, with some lines sounding crisp and others sounding as if they were recorded in a bathroom stall. Supplements are ported over from the previous special edition DVD: a full-length rough cut version of the film, a fun documentary entitled "Imagining Heavy Metal" (Which contains this revealing statement from one of the animators: "We just wanted to draw boobs.") and some deleted scenes.

I wanted to like Heavy Metal, but this very much seems to be one of those, "you had to be there, man" sort of films. The weak sound is a point of concern for fans, but otherwise the Blu-ray release is worth checking out. Those simply curious are advised to opt for a rental.

The Verdict

Guilty.

Review content copyright © 2011 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 70

Perp Profile
Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (French)

Subtitles:
* English
* English (SDH)
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks
* Rough Cut
* Documentary
* Deleted Scenes

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0082509/combined