Heavy Metal

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1981

Columbia Pictures

Directed by Gerald Potterton

Produced by Ivan Reitman

Screenplay by Daniel Goldberg/Len Blum

Based on original art and stories by:
Richard Corben
Angus McKie
Dan O’Bannon

Thomas Warkentin

Bernie Wrightson

Music by Elmer Bernstein

Strictly for those of you weren’t around in the 1970’s here’s the thumbnail history of “Heavy Metal”, the magazine which served as the inspiration for HEAVY METAL, the movie. In France sometime around 1976 or 1977 there was this magazine being published called “Metal Hurlant” which featured extraordinarily illustrated stories of dark fantasy, horror, sword & sorcery and science fiction. Drug use, nudity, sex, extreme violence and mature language were major and welcome elements of these stories. “Metal Hurlant” was licensed by an American publisher who called the American version “Heavy Metal” and history was born.

“Heavy Metal” the magazine was where I discovered the incredible artistry of Jean Giruad aka Mobius, H.R. Giger, Phillip Druillet and many other European artists. Richard Corben I had already discovered thanks to Warren Publishing’s “Eerie” and “Creepy” magazines but “Heavy Metal” exposed me to a whole new dimension of Corben’s work and thank Odin for that.

HEAVY METAL the movie came along in 1981 and I have fond memories of seeing it during it’s original theatrical run. I went with about half a dozen friends and to enhance our enjoyment of the movie we took along quite a lot of alcohol and various recreational pharmaceuticals as well. Not that we were alone. We saw HEAVY METAL in a Times Square theater and as anybody who was a movie goer back then will tell you, booze and drugs went along with the movie going experience down in Times Square. But I have seen HEAVY METAL a number of times since then in a sober state so be assured that this movie review is one written by a reviewer only biased by his experience and opinion.

First of all, let’s cut to the chase: is HEAVY METAL a good movie? Not in the conventional sense. It’s a movie that is designed to just recreate the visual style of the various artists represented in animated form. The animation is married to the music of various musicians popular at the time. Check it out: Devo. Blue Oyster Cult. Journey. Stevie Nicks. Cheap Trick. Black Sabbath. Grand Funk Railroad. And many more besides. But the problem I have with the soundtrack is that we just get to hear snippets of the various songs and you never get the sense that they’re actually used to enhance and provide additional emotional content to what we’re seeing on the screen. The exception being Journey’s “Open Arms” which I think is used very well in the “Harry Canyon” sequence.

But what exactly is HEAVY METAL all about you ask? It’s an anthology of eight stories, all linked together by the MacGuffin of The Loc-Nar (voiced by an uncredited Percy Rodriguez) The Loc-Nar is a green glowing sphere that declares itself to be The Sum of All That Is Evil. In the framing story “Grimaldi” we see an astronaut launched from a space shuttle and landing on Earth via a vintage Corvette who takes The Loc-Nar to show his daughter. The astronaut is promptly killed in an horrific manner by The Loc-Nar who then proceeds to tell his daughter all about the havoc it’s wreaked across the universe in the following stories:

“Harry Canyon” is my favorite story and its about about a cabbie living and working in the dystopian New York of 2031(voiced by the great Richard Romanus) who gets caught up in a war between rival archaeologists fighting for possession of The Loc-Nar. I think the reason I like this story so much is that I’m convinced that it inspired Luc Besson’s “The Fifth Element.” The animation is easy on the eye and while the story skimps on characterization (the girl who gets Harry involved in the plot is never even given a name) it’s pretty cool. It’s easy to see why Besson swiped it for his story. Be advised there’s animated nudity, mature language and sex in this segment. But then again, this whole movie definitely isn’t for the kidlets.

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“DEN” John Candy provides the voice for the main character in this John Carter knock-off about a dorkish Earth kid who is transported to the world of Neverwhere due to his finding in his backyard what he thinks is a green meteorite but is actually The Loc-Nar. On the world of Neverwhere, the dorkish kid is transformed into a seven foot tall bald warrior of Herculean proportions (and sexual stamina) who has to keep The Loc-Nar out of the hands of two rival wizards battling for it. The “DEN” segment is a lot of fun because of John Candy’s narration. Because even though as Den, the dorkish kid appears to be a mature man, mentally and emotionally he’s still a kid and his narration is indeed that of a kid who suddenly finds himself the hero in an adventure straight outta Edgar Rice Burroughs. And I absolutely love the closing scene of this segment: “On Earth, I’m nobody. But here, I’m DEN.

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“Captain Sternn” Oh, man, is this segment an absolute hoot. On a gigantic space station orbiting Earth, Captain Lincoln Sternn (Eugene Levy) is on trial in Galactic Court for 12 counts of murder in the first degree, 14 counts of armed theft, 22 counts of piracy, 18 counts of fraud, 37 counts of rape and 1 moving violation. But he’s confident that he’ll beat the rap. You see, he’s got an ‘angle’ in the form of Hanover Fiste (Rodger Bumpass) who has agreed to perjure himself as a positive character witness for pay. But under the influence of The Loc-Nar, Hanover condemns Sternn in court and transforms into a Hulkish monster that rampages through the space station trying to kill Sternn. This segment is played strictly for comedy and it’s done very well indeed. I especially love Hanover Fiste’s rant when he’s put on the witness stand. Hanover totally loses it and every time I see this part of the movie, I lose it as well.

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“B-17” is a straight-up horror story in the tradition of those classic EC horror comics or Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone.” I do believe that it is also the shortest segment. The pilot of a WWII B-17 bomber finds himself trapped on his damaged aircraft with his crew who have all been killed and turned into zombies.

“So Beautiful and So Dangerous” is another segment played strictly for laughs. Mysterious mutations are infecting the United States and a prominent scientist is summoned to the Pentagon to try and explain this. The cat spies The Loc-Nar which is being wore as a necklace by a bosomy secretary and attempts to rape her just before the both of them are sucked up into into a gigantic spaceship pilot by a couple of aliens voiced by Harold Ramis and Eugene Levy and whose chief engineer is a robot voiced by John Candy. There’s really no point to this segment except for the the human/robot sex and drug use but this is that kind of movie so what more do you need?

“Taarna” is the longest sequence and relates the legend of Taarna, last of the race of Taarak The Defender. Any of the race of Taarak has no choice but to answer the call when those who are unable to defend themselves ask for the aid of the Taarkaian. The Loc-Nar, which has now expanded to the size of a small moon crash-lands near a village and transforms the peaceful villagers into blood-thirsty ravagers who rampage throughout the land. It is up to Taarna, an Amazonian warrior woman, assisted only by her faithful avian steed to stop these ravagers.
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HEAVY METAL is an absolute blast of a movie if you don’t take it seriously. It’s a really goofy movie that’s just made for you to have a good time. The different styles of animation based of the art styles of the different artists ensures that you have a lot of eye candy to look at and the vintage 1980s soundtrack gives you just as much ear candy as well. HEAVY METAL isn’t a movie that I would call a masterpiece of animation but it is a whole lot of fun to watch. Pair it with Ralph Bakshi’s “American Pop” for a Friday or Saturday Night Animation Double-Feature.

90 Minutes

Rated R: This is NOT an animated movie for the kidlets so put them to bed before your and your spouse watch it. There’s plenty of profanity, nudity, sex , drug use and graphic violence in this one. Especially in the “Taarna” segment.