30 August 2006

Heavy Metal (Columbia-Tristar, 1981)

Heavy Metal came out at a time when people weren't really making animated films -- except for the Disney studios -- and certainly not adult-oriented musical animated films with just the barest excuse for a plot.

Naturally, it became a "cult hit."

Many of my friends in high school watched this show. They went on and on about it, doodling the large-breasted vixen from the poster on their binders. Somehow, despite frequent midnight showings and its release on both VHS and DVD, I managed to avoid seeing it until very recently. I wish I had continued to avoid it.

The film is a series of vignettes, tied together by the glowing green orb that calls itself Loc-Nar, the sum of all evils. Aside from the opening sequence, "Harry Canyon" which seems to be the inspiration for Bruce Willis' part in The Fifth Element, only one of the vignettes really appealed to me: B-17 about a bomber pilot plagued by zombies. Not only was the sequence tense and greusome, but the animation was much more crisp and focused and the plot had a very Twilight Zone feel to it.

Unfortunately, the other sequences feature varying combos of large-breasted women and bloody violence; most are so tedious that I very nearly dozed off a few times. I think there were two things I should have had before waching this film: 1. something to chemically alter my consiousness and 2. lived life as a 14 year old boy. I really don't think this film is meant to appeal to anyone watching it straight/sober or any adult who didn't first see it and love it as a hormone-riddled teen.

That said, I'm sure there are fans out there; I'd love to hear why.


Buy Heavy Metal on DVD (widescreen) from Amazon.ca

1 comment:

Brian said...

That's a fair review. I saw it when I was about ten years old, and I loved it - except for the zombie bomber crew bit. That scared the willies out of me.

I saw it again when I was about 25, and wondered how I could have possibly sat through the whole thing - except for Harry Canyon (I still love all the background details that were in the street scenes) and the zombie bomber bit (fantastic animation and it still scares the willies out of me, but I don't mind anymore).

I think maybe it was popular because it wasn't Disney or an attempt at emulating Disney. There weren't many non-cute animated films produced in the West at that time, and apparently they were all done by Ralph Bakshi. There was Lord of the Rings - very very bad, but it's interesting to look at the early rotoscoping techniques, Wizards - which I still haven't seen, but I'm told is great. Since you've just watched Heavy Metal, I'm sure you can understand my hesitation in watching something fairly obscure that people have told me is great. Oh, I did like "American Pop" and it's whole thing of stepping through generations of a family history in parallel to popular music in each generation. I need to see that again, see if I still like it.

Yeah, I did digress. What was I saying? Not much out there that wasn't by Disney, and what did exist was hard to find. So suddenly here is this sci-fi sex-heavy rock and roll movie with a killer (or very painful, depending on your opinion of the rock scene circa 1980) soundtrack, and some people were very pleased. It wasn't a shirtless mouse or a pantsless duck, so it must have been good. At least, that was the view among the shaggy hair and Levis crowd of the time.

Let me think, what else might have made it popular? Most (maybe all) of the stories were adaptations of stories that had been in Heavy Metal magazine, so most of the people who read Heavy Metal back then would get to say "Oh cool, it's Den but moving!" Really, the main thing I enjoyed about the Den sequence was John Candy providing the narration and main character's voice.

Heavy Metal was promoted as a mature cartoon back when "mature" basically meant "boobies". In the (dear lord has it really been) 25 years or so since then, I think our standards have gone up. Little kids like me were already watching Japanese animation on the non-network stations that was noticeably better than what we were seeing Saturday morning on ABC. What was that one I loved so much? "Star Blazers"! That was it! Thank you, IMDB. Anyways The flood of anime (well, the better anime) since then has produced a much broader spectrum of animated films. Heavy Metal can't compete with that, although the presence of boobies and spaceships will continue to make it popular with 10 year old boys of all ages.

And that's a little bit about why I loved Heavy Metal as a 10 year old boy, but as a 34 year old man can barely imagine sitting through the whole thing. And probably an indicator why I shouldn't post replies to blog entries at 1:00 a.m.