Sunday, November 16, 2008

Film Review - "Heavy Metal" (1981)

Heavy Metal
Gerald Potterton

This is a huge cult classic 80’s relic, and damned if it isn’t downright fuckin’ rad. Based on a hugely popular sci-fi/fantasy comic series ‘for adults’ (not as in pornographic – more akin to a more modern and more serious EC comic) that was a smash hit in the 70’s and 80’s, this is a very R-rated animation anthology (with each segment being done by different artists, thus having a different style). The basic wraparound storyline is about a malevolent green orb (called the Loc-Nar) that is, essentially, the root of all evil in the universe. It is highly sought-after, despite the fact that it pretty much kills anyone who comes in contact with it. The first story is about Harry Canyon, a cabbie in a super-futuristic New York City complete with flying cars, robots, and ‘illegal aliens’ that actually are aliens… The place is still a dump, though. Anyway, Canyon gets caught up in some nasty mob business when the Loc-Nar finds its way into the Big Apple. The second story is about Den, a geeky teenager (played hilariously by John Candy) who finds the Loc-Nar and experiments on it, only to be transported into an alternate fantasy dimension where he becomes a muscle-bound hero fighting to save the girl. The third story is about the trial of Captain Lincoln Sternn, the most despicable man in the galaxy, guilty of twelve counts of first-degree murder, fourteen counts of armed robbery, twenty-two counts of deep-space piracy, eighteen counts of capitol fraud, thirty-seven counts of rape, and one moving violation. The fourth story is about a WWII plane filled with dead soldiers who are returned from the dead as zombies when the plane comes in contact with the Loc-Nar. The fifth story is about two stoner aliens and their horny robot sidekick (the latter of which is once again played to hilarious perfection by John Candy). The sixth, final, and longest segment is an epic action-fantasy story about a warrior woman who goes to battle against a cyborg tyrant and his violent armies, threatening to destroy the world.
Sure, this movie is little more than an entirely gratuitous teenage male fantasy, but dammit, it’s a really fun movie to just relax and watch. There’s loads of fairly graphic cartoon sex and super-graphic cartoon violence, but that sort of thing is a lot of fun every once in a while.
The acting is pretty notable, mostly for the fact that John Candy, Eugene Levy and Harold Ramis all play several characters apiece and offer their comedic genius (and, though he doesn’t act, Ivan Ghostbusters Reitman produced the film).
The soundtrack is another place where the film shines. I love when we see good licensed music in a cartoon. Black Sabbath? Devo? Blue Oyster Cult? Cheap Trick? Hell yeah! Add to that an awesome score by Elmer Bernstein (who was probably one of my favorite film composers), and you’ve got a soundtrack that makes everything else five times cooler.
The animation is really kickass here, too. It’s got that 80’s feel to it most of the time, which I just love, but it’s also really ahead of its time in some certain places. As stated earlier, each segment has its own distinctly different animation style; the Den segment is clearly inspired by Frank Frazetta, while the Captain Sternn segment has a cheesy, cartoonish style with big eyes, square jaws, etc. and the WWII segment is drawn realistically, with some very grotesque gore and genuinely creepy zombies.
Is it a profound, thought-provoking film? Hell no. Is it without artistic merit? Not necessarily. Putting aside personal tastes for a minute, I feel that this film is a great time capsule from the early 80’s and an important part of the history of American animation. Now, as far as personal taste goes… I seriously love this movie. As much of a dumb, testosterone-laden film this could have been, the guys making it knew not to take it too seriously, so it has a great sense of humor about it that makes it so much more enjoyable and memorable in the long run. This honestly deserves every ounce of its cult classic status. It’s not even a guilty pleasure for me; I wear my status as a hardcore Heavy Metal fan with pride.
RATING: 10/10

1 comment:

  1. "Sure, this movie is little more than an entirely gratuitous teenage male fantasy..."

    What about a gratuitous teenage female fantasy? ;) It's the warrior-woman, Taarna, who ends up kicking a ton of male ass and riding off on a big bird-lizard-thing at the end (and so does the little girl, if I remember correctly; she ends up becoming the next Taarna). I've actually heard of some people who've named their daughter Taarna, which is kind of cute and probably not the worst name they could be given....

    Seriously, wouldn't you like to have a big bird-reptile-thing to fly around on? I know I would.

    Anyhoo, I really need to see this film again. BTW, you've seen "The Fifth Element", right? That has a LOT of similarities to Heavy Metal the comic and Heavy Metal the movie, visually and story-wise. It also has one of the best, if not THE best, scores I've heard in a science fiction movie.