With a framing story about a glowing green orb claiming to be the embodiment of all evil, the film shuttles through eight episodic tales of sci-fi adventure, each fueled by some of the most wretched rock music to emerge from the 1980s. The most consistent trademark is an abundance of blood-splattering violence and wet-dream sex, the latter involving a succession of huge-breasted babes who shed their clothes at the drop of a G-string. It's all quite fun in its rampantly brainless desire to fuel the young male libido, and for all its incoherence Heavy Metal remains impressive for the ambitious artistry of its individual segments. Courtesy of producer Ivan Reitman (who'd just scored a hit with Stripes), voice talents include several Canadian veterans of Second City comedy, including John Candy, Harold Ramis, Eugene Levy, and Joe Flaherty. --Jeff Shannon
To fully appreciate Heavy Metal, one has to understand the era it came out in. At the time, most animation, at least what was seen in the US, was frequently of the "family entertainment" variety seen in Saturday morning cartoons and TV commercials. Apart from Ralph Bakshi, most animators were basically shackled by the need to present something that was "rated G". Heavy Metal took the exact opposite route. It was a liberating experience for the animators working on the film to be allowed to draw things they usually weren't allowed. And they got paid to do it, too!
After the opening Soft Landing sequence, we're introduced to the Loc-Nar, a glowing green orb responsible for all the evil that has plagued the universe (or at least, that which has plagued the human race). The various stories contained in the film are told by the Loc-Nar to a young girl, as examples of it's awesome power.
The stories include the film noir homage Harry Canyon, the male "wish fulfillment fantasy" of Den (which demonstrates the versatility of the late John Candy, who voices both Dan, the science nerd who gets transported into an alternate dimension by the Loc-Nar, as well as Den, the Conan/He-Man-esque beefcake that he is magically transformed into), the highly amusing Captain Sternn (trivia: the voice of the prosecutor is done by John Vernon, the actor who portrayed Dean Wormer in Animal House), the EC-esque B-17 (aka Gremlins, which went through so many script revisions, it's a miracle it got finished at all), the bizarrely hilarious So Beautiful And So Dangerous (ok, maybe there's some truth to the juvenilia charges during this segment, but only a corpse could keep from laughing at this piece), and revenge scenario of Taarna (imagine a tougher, sexier version of Xena, only about a decade and a half earlier).
While there IS some element of juvenilia here, it's no worse than any other movie that's been released by any major studio during the last 25 years. In fact, I bet it's a little more cerebral than most of those other movies. Harry Canyon is a rather crafted film noir homage, while some elements of Taarna are clearly patterned on Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns. And while there are a couple sex scenes and a certain amount of excessive violince in Heavy Metal, again, it's nothing compared to some of the garbage that's shown on cable TV these days. I'd certainly rather watch this than Basic Instinct or No Way Out.
This movie is a classic piece of animation. Yeah, some of it's rough around the edges, but that has a lot to do with Columbia's decision to move up the deadline so they could have the original movie out in time for the summer 81 season. One has to consider the scope of the undertaking, and the relatively short time that was at hand to create it.
Look at the "travelling sequence" during Taarna, where she's shown riding her mount (a sort of large bird creature) over a rolling landscape, and consider that it was done WITHOUT the use of any kind of computer generated work. It's explained in the audio commentary on the rough cut of the film, as well as during the documentary how it was done, and why it didn't quite turn out as planned). No one had ever done anything like that, and it had to all be done by hand.
Really, you can't take this movie too seriously. It's a movie that exists soley to entertain. There's no big message or point to the movie. Just put the DVD in the player, turn out the lights, turn up the volume LOUD, and just enjoy the trip.
It should be noted, that this disc also contains some of the best bonus features I've seen on any DVD. Besides the regular movie, you get a full length "rough cut" of the film, consisting of storyboards, pencil tests, and some completed animation. The only audio for this rough cut (besides the optional audio commentary, by Carl Macek, who also does a completely different commentary for the finished movie) is the dialog. There's long stretches of silence, but it's worth watching, as there's lots of bits of dialog that were cut from the final movie (we learn, for instance, that Katharine, like Den, was also transformed when she was transported to this mysterious alternate universe). It's also interesting to note that the stories weren't always in the order that they were in the final movie.
There's also a half hour documentary with interviews from many of the filmmakers involved in making the film. We finally find out why we see a model of a house blowing up at the end (because they didn't have time to finish the animation for that one bit), and also why Cornelius Cole's Neverwhere Land was cut from the movie (either for reasons of length/continuity, or because Cole didn't finish it in time, depending on exactly which version of the story you wish to believe.
You also get a few minutes of deleted scenes, most notably the above mentioned Neverwhere Land, which was originally supposed to link Captain Sternn and B-17. There's also a few minutes that surround an early version of the framing story (in whence the Loc-Nar was actually the power source of a magical merry-go-round, and the various objects on the merry-go-round related in one way to the stories...ie, there's a taxicab, Taarna's mount, etc...each time the girl takes a ride in a different vehicle on the merry-go-round, she experiences a different story).
And finally, you get all Heavy Metal covers up through 1999, plus various bits of production drawings, cels, etc.
In short, this is a classic film that should be viewed by all fans of animation and/or heavy flicks. Prudes and conservatives who get cranky at the very thought of a movie being ruined by a little too much flesh or blood (and really, there isn't THAT much of either in this film) or a little warped humor (ok, there's PLENTY of that here) are advised to keep away. I just wish they had restored Neverwhere Land to it's original place between Captain Sternn and B-17.