Welcome to The AniMAYtion Challenge, where Ashe and Branden review one animated film every weekend throughout the month of May. Each film was chosen in draft style, with Ashe recieving the first pick of round one. With the third pick of the 2015 AniMAYtion Challenge, Ashe Collins selects Heavy Metal from 1981.
So to deviate from some of the Japan made films I picked out for our AniMAYtion Challenge, my second selection is a rather controversial animated film originally produced in Canada, based off a French and American comic magazine, and was distributed by Columbia Pictures here in the US. Due to copyright issues with the soundtrack, it took them fifteen years to get this out to home video, and I was there when they released it on VHS on day one in 1996 to buy a copy. I remember seeing the preview for this off of Cinemax back in my teens. They were showing it late night, and I only saw two clips of it in the ad, both attractive and busty girls, and had to get a look, so I set my VCR. I’ve had a copy of this in some shape or form ever since.
Heavy Metal is an anthology film with a bookend story to tie all seven of the segments together. The film features a glowing orb that calls itself the Loc-nar, a glowing ball of pure evil that terrorizes a young girl with a collection of stories of dark fantasy, eroticism, sci-fi, and horror. Starting off with a segment with a Corvette being dropped from orbit by a space shuttle, we follow that down and find out it’s her father who’s brought the evil orb with him. It then kills him by turning him into a puddle of goo and begins taunting her with the stories.
We go into the future with Harry Canyon and get a noir style bit with Harry, who’s a down on his luck cab driver who gets tangled up with a girl whose father dug up the orb, and now everyone wants whoever has it dead. The Den segment features a kid who’s transported to another realm after his experiment with the orb puts him right in the middle of a power struggle with two powerful cults fighting over control of Uhluhtc. The Captain Stern story involves a notorious Captain who’s on trial for an incredible number of crimes, and his buddy, who’s supposed to get him off by testifying on his behalf, instead goes on a berserker rampage as he hulks out.
B-17 is set during World War II as we see a B-17 called the “Pacific Pearl” on a mission, and the crew gets killed off from lots of this on the plane itself. The orb shows up and animates the corpses of the crew on board who go after the two living members left. So Beautiful and So Dangerous follows Gloria, a secretary working at the Pentagon, who’s kidnapped by aliens and a robot, and their misadventures from there. The last segment is Taarna, which tells the story of the Taarakian warrior maiden who sets out to avenge an entire city that was wiped out by a clan of barbarians who were corrupted by the Loc-Nar.
The stories themselves are mostly interesting. There have been better and far worse that have come out of the magazine over the years. Taarna is probably the strongest, even though the lead character has no dialogue. Revenge can be a great story hook, and coupling it with some of the stronger animation in the film helps a lot. These are definitely geared for the teen male audience. They’re violent, have lots of female nudity, and are all designed to appeal to the horny, straight guy. Not many women are going to appreciate this film much, although I can almost bet if they do like it, Taarna is the segment they like the most.
The animation is lacking and is very hit or miss throughout a lot of Heavy Metal. You can drop that down to the fact this was animated at several different studios. They also rely a lot on rotoscoping, and you can really tell in some shots. For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, rotoscoping involves filming a live element, in the case of Heavy Metal it was a 10ft model of the B-17, and an actual model for Taarna, as well as some of the flight shots, and then tracing over that live element to create the animation cells. The technique works for the most part, particularly in the scene where Taarna gets her weapons and armor. I honestly had no idea before I looked it up that they’d filmed a model of the B-17 to rotoscope, so bravo there. They did make an effort to fit the style of the graphic novel stories to the animation segments they’re based off of. Some do a better job of this than others.
One of the things that kept this off the home video market also has to be one of the bigger selling points: the soundtrack. While the score for the film is pretty good, especially Taarna’s theme that was originally composed by Bernstein for another film but never used, the songs they picked and where they chose to drop them in really sells most of the stories here. There is a lot of late ’70s hard rock and heavy metal gold in the soundtrack with bands like Black Sabbath (pre-Ozzy), Devo, Sammy Hagar, Journey, Stevie Nicks, Blue Öyster Cult, and Grand Funk Railroad. Yes, sure you can buy the soundtrack separately from the film, but we’re a film website here people, and I appreciate when my favorite genre of rock gets included in a film.
So what can I take away from this? My teenage self loved Heavy Metal a helluva lot more than my almost-forty self. It’s still fun and I still enjoy it, but it’s lost some of that luster from when I first taped it off Cinemax back in the early nineties. This has not aged particularly well, the stories are extremely loosely based off ones that actually appeared in the Heavy Metal magazine, and I think if they’d stuck a bit closer, a number of them would be much tighter stories. Probably one of the best things about this film is the soundtrack, which is still fantastic, especially if you’re into classic or hard rock. Heavy Metal isn’t one I’d recommend to just anyone, as it’s going to have a very selective audience, but it’s one that I manage to watch at least once a year.