Judge Clark Douglas's story proposal: Some aliens meet some naked women, and then everyone blows up!
Louder and nastier than ever.
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…
So Beautiful, So Dangerous
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.
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