A Step Beyond Science Fiction
Heavy Metal represents Columbia's latest entry in their Collector's Series line of special edition DVDs. It represents yet another stunning achievement in the realm of utterly complete discs—one's that are simply loaded with extras. As such, it is a must acquisition for fans of the movie, and fans of animation.
Columbia has been ramping up production of special edition DVDs of late and I, for one, am glad to see it. Think Taxi Driver: Collector's Edition, Ghostbusters: 15th Anniversary Edition, Immortal Beloved: Special Edition, The Big Chill: 15th Anniversary Collector's Edition, Hard Eight: Special Edition, The Thirteenth Floor: Special Edition. Now add to those the forthcoming Resurrection: Special Edition, Seventh Voyage of Sinbad: Special Edition, The Last Picture Show: Special Edition, Cruel Intentions: Special Edition and this disc, and Columbia seems to be on a roll.
Rather than a complete, distinct film in and of itself, Heavy Metal is more a conglomeration of several distinct vignettes. Each story contained in this film is drawn from the early works of Heavy Metal Magazine either directly or indirectly. The film itself was largely conceived by executive producer Ivan Reitman, who was busy working on Stripes at the time. Fascinated by the magazine, he approached some friends in the industry about the possibility of making a film drawn from the images on the page. Assured that it could, in fact, be done, production work began.
Essentially, the film is written for a male, teenage audience, with plenty of the elements teens crave. Naked women (all of which are well endowed), rock and roll, drugs and violence. Cool! I guess that's what you get when you let a lot of animators and creative people loose from the conventions of the day. In fact, as Heavy Metal was made in 1981, there really were very few "conventions" of the day—at least as we know them. Remember, this was pre-Reagan, pre-politically-correct and post-cultural revolution. One of the interviewees on the accompanying documentary called this film a "last gasp of the counterculture revolution." It is hard to disagree with that, especially since we have seen nothing like this film come out of Hollywood since that day in 1981.
Not being a huge fan of animation, or anime, it is hard for me to judge the work done here. However, it is pretty clear that a lot of this animation is done rather crudely. A lot of that can be attributed to two major factors: first, the budget of this film was likely rather small, especially when compared to the mega-budgets of the Disney animated titles; second, the delivery date was moved up rather severely toward the end of the production cycle. That said, a lot of this work was rather original and ingenious, according to the documentary included on this disc.
One of the nice things about the movie is the variety of the stories. Each story was a self-contained unit of its own, beholden to its own director. As such, each has its own style and sensibility. I find this t be rather refreshing. There are six or seven separate stories, which are pulled together by the use of a framing device, a common thread, represented by the Loch-nar, a little green ball that represents all things evil in the universe. It is a bit of a sappy convention, but when you need a crutch, you grab the closest thing that you can use, which is what happened here. The production team needed something, anything to tie these stories together. Otherwise we would have had a movie like Creepshow with several separate short stories put onto film. I guess it's a crude distinction, but I prefer the crutch of the former to the purity of the latter. Also of important note is the way in which Heavy Metal has influenced other films which came later. The segment titles Harry Canyon, which is about a New York City cab driver in 2031, is clearly reminiscent of both The Fifth Element and in an atmospheric sense Blade Runner.
The video of this disc has been remastered and presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio that has been anamorphically enhanced. It is beautiful, to say the least. The colors are rich and deeply saturated, while the blacks are deep and dark. There is no digital overenhancement or ringing present and edges are largely clean. This is easily as good as this film has looked in a long, long time. In fact, this film didn't make it to home video for many, many years due to rights issues with a lot of the songs used in the soundtrack. It was then theatrically re-released back in 1996 with a SDDS digital soundtrack. It was also released on Laserdisc back in 1997. For many of you, this may be your first opportunity to own this in any home video format, and it couldn't be better.
Which brings me to the sounds themselves. The list of talent involved in this film runs long and deep. The soundtrack includes songs from the likes of Black Sabbath, Devo, Sammy Hagar, Stevie Nicks, Blue Oyster Cult, Journey, Donald Fagan and many, many more. The score itself is a bit of an undiscovered gem by Elmer Bernstein. And the voice-over work was done by the likes of John Candy (Uncle Buck, Planes, Trains and Automobiles), Harold Ramis (Stripes, Ghostbusters), Joe Flaherty (Used Cars, Happy Gilmore), and Eugene Levy (Splash, American Pie). Nearly all the voice talent was associated at some time with the Second City troupe, and later SCTV. In fact, many were dragged over to do voiceover work from the set of Stripes by Ivan Reitman or Joe Medjuck.
The best part of this Collector's Series disc is the plethora of extras included. The disc includes a voiceover by Carl Macek reading his book "Heavy Metal: The Movie." It also includes a documentary titled "Imagining Heavy Metal" which runs approximately 35 minutes. The disc also includes deleted scenes, including a rough cut of a entire additional segment which was cut form the movie titled Neverwhere Land, and an alternate framing sequence which can be heard with or without commentary by Carl Macek. There is a segment called "Artwork of Heavy Metal" which includes 26 pencil drawings, 59 conceptual art stills (two of which are animated), 29 single cell stills, and 191 layered cell stills which expose some of the layering techniques used during the animation process. There are also 18 production photos of behind-the-scenes work that was done on the film and a segment that contains all the Heavy Metal Magazine covers from 1977 through 1999. But the best extra on this disc is the entire full-length rough cut of the pencil drawings used to get the look and feel of the production prior to the final production stage. This rough cut can also be viewed either with or without a full commentary by Carl Macek.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There is little to gripe about with this disc, unless you don't like the film. Sure, the many stories are a bit sophomoric, but if you know what to expect going in, then it shouldn't be that big a deal. Some of the voiceover work is a bit crude, as is the animation itself. So what. Lean back and enjoy it! As much as I love films like Nights of Cabiria and Elizabeth (which we watched again last night) and Saving Private Ryan, every now and then, I need to just kick back and relax and laugh a bit. Frankly, I enjoyed this a lot more than a lot of comedies I have seen lately, including There's Something About Mary. For a bit of brain candy, it's hard not to like Heavy Metal unless your wife's at home.
As I stated at the opening, this is a juvenile, pre-pubescent fantasy film with lots of violence, sex, drugs and rock-and-roll. If that does not appeal, then watch Pinocchio with the kids. If it does, run, do not walk to your local store and pick up a copy of this disc. It is masterfully filled with extras and is the second best special edition (from the standpoint of content) I have ever seen. Oh and the best was Columbia's Ghostbusters. Man, I love these guys!
The disc is absolutely acquitted. The movie I could take or leave. That said, it's a really cool disc. Did I say it was cool? Really cool!
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Scales of Justice
• Documentary: Imagining Heavy Metal
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