REVIEW: Heavy Metal
Unsuspecting comic book readers raised on the EC-inspired black and white horror magazines from Warren Publishing had no idea what to make of Heavy Metal when it debuted on American newsstands in 1977. We came to understand it was a domestic version of France’s wildly successful Metal Hurlant, and introduced us to European talents and storytelling. It was mind-blowing.
The magazine’s success led to an animated feature, released in the summer of 1981, heralded by the beautiful Chris Achilléos promotional poster image, introducing us to Taarna, who has become the magazine’s unofficial mascot and most recognizable figure.
The film, like the magazine, was a series of animated shorts, an anthology of science fiction, and fantasy, with heavy dollops of violence, nudity, and heavy metal music. And like the magazine, it was beautiful to look at and occasionally made sense.
It opened to mixed reviews and modest success, leading to the less enchanting Heavy Metal 2000. Both have been restored and re-released in a fine box set from Sony Home Entertainment.
For the record, the film consists of:
“Soft Landing” adapted by Dan O’Bannon (Blue Thunder) and Thomas Warkentin (Star Trek comic strip), from their own story. This leads into “Grimaldi”, continuing the tale.
“Harry Canyon” is adapted from Moebius’ The Long Tomorrow by Daniel Goldberg and Len Blum, with music from Blue Öyster Cult, Donald Fagen, Stevie Nicks, Journey, and Riggs.
Richard Corben’s classic “Den” is brought to life here and is one of the best looking segments of the film. John Candy is surprisingly good providing Den’s voice.
Bernie Wrightson’s “Captain Sternn” follows in an original story after the hero debuted in the magazine a year earlier. Young Eugene Levy voices Captain Lincoln F. Sternn and John Vernon is his Prosecutor.
“B-17” is an original from O’Bannon with music from Don Felder.
Angus McKie adapts his own “So Beautiful & So Dangerous” with vocal work from Candy, Levy, and Harold Ramis. Music here comes from Grand Funk Railroad, Cheap Trick, Nazareth, Fleder, Trust, and Sammy Hagar.
“Taarna” closes out the film, adapted from Moebius’ Arzach by Daniel Goldberg and Len Blum. This sword and sorcery/SF tale is accompanied by music from Black Sabbath and Devo.
The film is loosely connected by an orb called Loc-Nar (voiced by the stentorian Percy Rodriguez) and it sort of works as does the entire movie. The uneven quality is a result of multiple animation houses simultaneously working on the film and there’s even one sequence that was cut because of time constraints.
It’s a time capsule of story and music so worth a look in that regard. The magazine’s heyday was over within a few years of the film’s release and it wasn’t until two years ago it regained any notoriety thanks to new management. (Ful disclosure, CEO Matt Medney and I co-wrote a novel coming out in October.)
The film has been lovingly restored in both 4k Ultra HD and Blu-ray. The animation is crisp, the color palette subtle and bold where it needs to be. This is one of the better-animated transfers I have seen. Accompanied by the swell Dolby Atmos soundtrack, every electric guitar thrum and synthesizer is nicely balanced with the effects and dialogue.
The combo pack comes with Heavy Metal in both 4k and Blu-ray and just a Blu-ray of Heavy Metal 2000. The special features from the previous Blu-ray release remain intact with the addition of Heavy Metal: A Look Back (9:20) as producers Ivan Reitman and Norman Reedus, geek Kevin Smith, actress Ebony Jeanette, screenwriter Matthew Klickstein, and HM CEO Matthew Medney chat it up. The other features include: Heavy Metal: Feature Length Rough Cut (1:30:21); Deleted Scenes (8:42); and, Imagining Heavy Metal (35:39).