It involved a crazy blend of science fiction, fantasy worlds, and a sword-wielding woman warrior who rode atop a giant bird. It was called Heavy Metal.
Okay, I thought, I am gonna love this. I can’t wait to go see it…
Wait, what? It’s rated R? A cartoon movie? How is that possible?
Based on stories and characters from the long-running sci-fi/fantasy magazine, Heavy Metal ties together six vignettes through the presence of the Loc-Nar, “the sum of all evils” – a large, glowing green jewel that, while desired by those who seek it, destroys their lives once they possess it.
- “Harry Canyon” – a noir-ish tale set in near-future New York City featuring a cabbie, a girl, gangsters, and money.
- “Den” – a nobody nerd from Earth gets transported to another world and transformed into a strong, brave warrior.
- “Captain Sternn” – a smug, disgraced officer, on trial for a litany of heinous crimes, thinks he’ll get off because he bribed a witness. Guess again.
- “B-17” – a bomber plane suffers heavy damage in battle, but it gets worse when the Loc-Nar comes on board.
- “So Beautiful and So Dangerous” – two drugged-out alien slackers and a horndog robot attack the Pentagon and abduct a cute secretary.
- “Taarna” – a female warrior seeks revenge against a race of mutant barbarians who have slaughtered the entire population of a peaceful city.
In terms of the storytelling, Heavy Metal’s two best segments are its shortest: “Captain Sternn” and “B-17.” Watching Sternn’s paid-off witness turn wildly, violently against him is both funny and exciting, while “B-17” (written by legendary sci-fi author Dan O’Bannon) has the eerie feel of a story from the old EC Comics or Creepshow films.
The last story, “Taarna,” is probably the one most identified with the film. It’s the longest story and, probably not coincidentally, the least exciting. While it does have its moments – the bar fight between Taarna and three mutant barbarians, and her climactic clash against their leader, are both pretty bad-ass – it gets bogged down in extended scenes of Taarna flying on her giant bird, swimming nude, and slowly donning her skimpy armor (all while the people she’s setting out to protect are being killed, I might add).
In today’s age of amazing CGI animation, it’s easy to be jaded against old 2-D animation like Heavy Metal. But even for 2-D, the film’s animation quality is iffy and sub-par on several occasions, though other times it’s impressive in its style and scope.
Despite its title, Heavy Metal has a decidedly un-metal soundtrack, featuring songs by Journey, Stevie Nicks, and Devo next to Nazareth and Black Sabbath. But it’s still a great compilation, and it turned me on to the music of Sammy Hagar, Blue Oyster Cult, and Ronnie James Dio-era Sabbath.
I watched Heavy Metal countless times as a young adult. My buddies and I, during my college-age years, would pop it in the VCR while downing a few brews, enjoying it in a group environment. And surely, I had a better time watching Heavy Metal with my friends when I was 20 and rocking a good buzz, rather than the way I watched it for this review: alone in my living room, in my early 40s, sober, while my family was asleep.
Despite generous amounts of science fiction, horror, boobs, gore, and more boobs, Heavy Metal is uneven in its storytelling and animation quality. But if you’re a guy, it’ll appeal to your inner 14-year-old, and it’s worth seeing at least once. (Avoid the awful sequel Heavy Metal 2000.)
Jeff over at Dinner with Max Jenke summed up Heavy Metal almost perfectly in his comment on my teaser post for this review: Heavy Metal doesn’t hold up very well, but to boys (now men) of my generation, it will always have a special place in our hearts.
* Heavy Metal co-screenwriter Len Blum also wrote Howard Stern’s biopic Private Parts.
* The boys at South Park do an awesome send-up of Heavy Metal in the episode, “Major Boobage.” Check it out here.
* For the last couple of years, there’s been rumblings of a new Heavy Metal film being developed, featuring segments by A-list directors such as David Fincher, Guillermo del Toro, Zack Snyder, and Gore Verbinski. Here’s hoping…
Is it suitable for your kids?Negatory. Despite being an animated feature, Heavy Metal includes gobs of nudity, sexual situations, graphic violence, drug use, and profanity. (The irony here is that Heavy Metal is rated R, but middle-school boys are its target audience.)
Will your FilmMother want to watch it?Since the whole Heavy Metal universe revolves around male adolescent fantasy, I’m guessing no…unless she’s big into sci-fi/fantasy adventures.
* Director: Gerald Potterton
* Screenwriters: Dan Goldberg, Len Blum
* Stars: John Candy, Rodger Bumpass, Richard Romanus, Harold Ramis, Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy
* MPAA Rating: R
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