Revisited: Heavy Metal

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

The movie’s title sequence story (Soft Landing) begins with an astronaut named Grimaldi descending through Earth’s atmosphere in a 1960 Corvette.

This leads directly into the film’s framing story (Grimaldi) when he arrives at his home, where he is greeted by his daughter. He shows her something he brought back: a crystalline green sphere about the size of a baseball. When he opens the case, the orb rises out of it and painfully melts the astronaut. It introduces itself to the terrified girl as “The sum of all evils.” Looking into it, the girl sees how it has influenced societies through time and space. The orb, known as the Loc-Nar, forces her to watch the following stories (in order):

•Harry Canyon: Written by Juan Gimenez. In a dystopian New York City, cynical taxicab driver Harry Canyon narrates his day in film noir style, grumbling about his fares and the occasional robbery attempt (which he thwarts with a disintegrator installed behind his seat). He stumbles into an incident where a fat gangster and his cyborg henchmen murder an archaeologist. Harry grudgingly allows the murdered man’s daughter into his cab, and she tells him about her father’s discovery: the Loc-Nar, an artifact over which people are killing each other. Harry cannot afford to pay for a police investigation, so he takes the girl back to his apartment. That night, the girl strips, climbs into his bed, and they have sex. Harry awakens alone the next morning when the cops bust into the apartment looking for the girl, whose existence he denies. One of his fares that day is the fat gangster, who threatens Harry if he doesn’t cooperate. Later, the girl contacts Harry and offers to sell the Loc-Nar and split the proceeds with him. He agrees to take her to the exchange. When the gangster gets the Loc-Nar, he takes it out of its isolation case, and he disintegrates. Meanwhile, the girl pulls a gun on Harry, who is forced to use his self-defense ray to evaporate her, after which he keeps the money.

•Den: Based on the original story by Richard Corben. Dan, a nerdy teenager (voiced by John Candy) finds a round “green meteorite” and puts it in his rock collection at home. Weeks later, during a lightning experiment, the orb hurls the boy into the world of Neverwhere, where he changes into a naked bald muscle man called Den. Landing on a giant idol, he witnesses a strange ritual and rescues a nubile young woman who was about to be sacrificed to “Uhluht’c” (“C’thulhu” spelled backwards). Reaching safety, she tells him that she is from the British colony of Gibraltar, on Earth, and that her name is Katherine Wells. While she demonstrates her gratitude with sexual favours, they are interrupted by the minions of Ard, an immortal man who wants to obtain the Loc-Nar and use it to rule the world. He puts Katherine in suspended animation and orders Den to get the Loc-Nar from the Queen (the woman who performed the ritual). Den agrees after Ard tells him “If you refuse, you die, she dies, everybody dies!”, and infiltrates the Queen’s palace with some of Ard’s warriors. He is promptly caught by the Queen’s guard, but she offers leniency if he has sex with her. He complies, while the raiding party steals the Loc-Nar. Den escapes and, with the Queen and her forces in pursuit, races back to the idol, where Ard is attempting to recreate the sacrifice himself. Den rescues Katherine, and the Queen’s arrival sparks a bloody battle between her and Ard (backed by their respective armies). Den ends the battle by recreating the incident that drew him to Neverwhere, banishing Ard and the Queen. Refusing the opportunity to rule, Den and Katherine ride into the sunset, content to remain in Neverwhere as heroes with idealized bodies.

•Captain Sternn: Based on the original story by Bernie Wrightson. On a space station, a square jawed space captain named Lincoln F. Sternn (voice by Eugene Levy) is on trial on numerous serious charges (and one moving violation) presented by the prosecutor (voiced by John Vernon). Pleading “not guilty” against the advice of his rat-faced lawyer (voiced by Joe Flaherty), Sternn explains to his astonished lawyer that he expects to be acquitted because he bribed a witness, Hanover Fiste, to praise his character. Fiste takes the stand, but his perjury is subverted when the Loc-Nar, now the size of a marble, causes him to blurt out the truth about Sternn’s evil deeds until he angrily denounces Sternn to the point of suggesting gruesome execution methods (Sternn is nothin’ but a lyin’, cheatin’, back-stabbin’, double-dealin’, larcenous perverted WORM!! Hanging’s too good for him! Burning’s too good for him! He should be torn into little-bitty pieces and buried alive!). Fiste rants with such fury that he changes into a muscled giant like the Incredible Hulk, and chases Sternn throughout the station, breaking through bulkheads and wreaking havoc. Eventually, Fiste corners Sternn, receives his promised payoff for his part in Sternn’s plan to escape, and promptly shrinks back to his gangly original form (this may indicate that, rather than the Loc-Nar’s prompting, the whole event, complete with Hanover’s ability to grow and go insane, was planned ahead of time, to allow Sternn the chaos necessary to escape or fake his own death. Or, it may have played on Fiste’s suspicion that, having paid only part of the bribe, Sternn would renege on the rest). Sternn then adds a bonus: he pulls a lever opening a trapdoor under Fiste, and the Loc-Nar reenters an atmosphere with Fiste’s bodyless flaming hand still clinging to it.

•B-17: A World War II bomber makes a difficult bombing run with heavy damage and casualties. As the bomber limps home, the Loc-Nar rams itself into the plane, and raises the dead crewmembers as rampaging, flesh-hungry zombies. The pilot is the lone survivor. After the Loc-Nar rams the plane, the pilot puts the plane on auto pilot and leaves the cockpit to survey the damage. While at the rear of the plane, the zombie crew attack the pilot who runs back into the cockpit and locks the door. When it becomes obvious that the zombies will defeat the cockpit door, the pilot dons a parachute and barely escapes through a trap door in the deck of the cockpit. Unfortunately the pilot lands on a desert island populated by more zombified airmen.

•So Beautiful, So Dangerous: Based on the original story by Angus McKie. A scientist (Dr. Anrack) arrives at the Pentagon for a meeting about mysterious mutations that are plaguing the United States. At the meeting, Dr. Anrack tries to dismiss the occurrences, but when he sees the green stone (Loc-Nar) in the buxom stenographer’s (Gloria’s) locket, he starts behaving erratically, goes berserk, and attempts to sexually assault her. In the sky above, a colossal starship with a smiley face design breaks through the roof with a transport tube and sucks up the berserk Dr. Anrack and by accident, Gloria. The ship’s robot is irritated at Anrack, who is actually a malfunctioning android, but his mood changes when Gloria arrives. Supprisingly Gloria is not shocked at being sucked up by the ship and instead is annoyed by the encounter, commenting “who is going to pay for my dry cleaning?” With the help of the ship’s crew of burn-outs (the pilot and co-pilot) the robot convinces Gloria to stay on board and talks her into having “robot” sex. She even reluctanly agrees to marry him (provided they have a Jewish wedding). Meanwhile, the burn-outs snort a massive amount of plutonian nyborg and fly home completely stoned, zoning out on the cosmos and passing space junk. Too stoned to fly straight, they crash land in a huge space station, though they think it was a nice landing.

•Taarna: Inspired by Moebius’ Arzachstories. The Loc-Nar crashes onto a planet and into a volcano. At the base of the volcano, a religious leader and his followers have assembled to worship. The Loc-Nar causes the volcano to erupt a green, foamy substance that flows down volcano and swallows the worshipers and their leader. The leader changes and his followers are corrupted by the green slime and change into mutated murderous barbarians. The leader organizes the mutants into an army who ravage a peaceful, prosperous city. The city elders, who consist of scientists and statesmen and lack an army, desperately try to summon the last of a warrior race, the Taarakians. Taarna, a strong, beautiful warrior maiden (the last of the Taarakians), receives the summons and goes to an ancient temple where she swims across a pool and collects a sword and a tight fitting, revealing leather uniform. She arrives too late to stop the massacre and resolves to avenge the city. After leaving the city, she stops at a tavern and orders a drink. The tavern’s patrons of mostly mutants see her as easy prey and try to gang up on her so they can sexually assault her. She decapitates them with a single swing of her sword, giving the rest of the mutant patrons a message. Her search leads to the barbarians’ stronghold, where she is captured, stripped naked, tortured and left for dead by the leader. With the help of her avian mount, she escapes and confronts the barbarian leader. Though wounded, she defeats him and in one last effort, then flies into the Loc-Nar, destroying it.

As the final story ends, the Loc-Nar terrorizing the girl is similarly destroyed, blowing the mansion to pieces. Taarna’s mount, reborn into a younger form, appears outside and the girl happily flies away on it. It is then revealed that Taarna’s soul has been transferred across the universe and through time to her. This is further signified by the change in hair color the girl now exhibits and the appearance of the Taarakian crest on her skin. Thus the girl is revealed to be the next Taarakian herself.

REVIEW:

Have you ever watched a film and could just tell that it was a product of its time? One that captures the era so well, you wish you could go back in time and really relish in it? I think that is what Heavy Metal tries to do, not necessarily with the “plot”, but more so with the atmosphere it creates, as well as some things that one could only et away with in the early to mid 80s!

What is this about?

A cult classic featuring a thumping metal soundtrack, this animated extravaganza centers on a menacing meteorite thought to be the root of all evil.

What did I like?

Soundtrack. Blue Oyster Cult, Journey, Cheap Trick, Stevie Nicks, Nazareth, Devo, Riggs,  Sammy Haggar, Black Sabbath, etc. No, this is not the lineup for some music festival, but rather artists that contributed to the soundtrack. That is an all-star lineup, no matter when you are watching this flick. Aside from the astonishingly great animation, one could just listen to the music and be mesmerized. I know that I often time crank Don Felder’s “Heavy Metal (Takin’ a Ride)”. I wonder if one can find this soundtrack anywhere. After I post this, I think I’m going to go have a look.

Variation. With anthologies, it is important to note the differences in styles. Take for instance, Fantasia. Not only does each section have a different composer, who had their own style of composition, but the animation for each was totally different, as well. You would never confuse “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” with “Rite of Spring”. They were totally different styles of animation. In this film, the styles aren’t that varied, but there is a distinct difference. An example would be the “Captain Sternn” and “So Beautiful…” segments. They have a more, shall we say, Saturday morning cartoon look to them, as opposed to the other segments which have a more theatrical animation (at the time) style to them. Then of course, there is the B-17 segment, which was actually taken from real life ad then turned into animation with the help of rotoscope, much like the animated version of The Lord of the Rings. With all these different styles, an animation student can go to school watching this film.

Dangerous curves. The female body is a thing of beauty. Apparently, the filmmakers and animators think the same way, because in just about every segment, they take the opportunity to draw naked, curvy, voluptuous women, complete with hard nipples and, in one case, matching carpet. They even go so far as to make sure that one of the females dresses very slowly and seductively…if what she is wearing can be called getting dressed. As an adult, I feel I should say that this is sexist, misogynistic, blah, blah, blah. However, I can’t help but revert to the teenage boy who would watch NC-17 (back then, they were X) movies through the scrambled cable. It is that thinking that leads me to believe this was made for a purely male, adolescent audience. Who else would appreciate so much gratuitous boobage?

What didn’t I like?

Loosely connected. Since Loc-Nar is telling this frightened little girl of his exploits throughout the galaxy and whatnot, wouldn’t it serve a purpose for these stories to actually be connected? As it is, the only real connection is that Loc-Nar appears in them. A few happen to transition with him in it, but that isn’t enough of a connection for my taste. I guess I just would have liked it better had there been something saying this evil happened here, so beware, or something along those lines.

Candyman. John Candy has a great voice. As a kid, I enjoyed waking up and watching Camp Candy on Saturday mornings and I still enjoy his movies to this day (good and bad). I’m not sure if there was a budgetary reason behind this, but why must they use Candy for every voice? Ok, I exaggerate. Eugene Levy and a few other no name people provided some other voices, but Candy was at least 4 or 5 characters, if I’m not mistaken. Would it really have been so hard to call someone else in to do some voice work? Again, nothing against Candy, I just don’t think using the same guy to do half the voices like this is a good idea.

5 seconds of realism. With all of the great animation to be seen in this film, as well as techniques that were still finding their footing, it seems odd that at the end, we get this one scene of live action. I question that decision because it didn’t do anything to the “story”. The film starts off with an astronaut dropping from the spaceship in his car. Now, had that been live-action morphing into rotoscope or something along those lines, it would have been cool, but this random scene, which is maybe 5 seconds in length, of live action speaks of laziness on the behalf of the animators, to me.

I’m not sure if it is still published, but if you can believe it, Heavy Metal is actually based on several short stories from the magazine of the same name. Truthfully, there isn’t much else to say about this film. If you’re a fan of 80s rock, animation, and gratuitous boobage, as well as some violent sci-fi, then this is the film for you. Otherwise, you’d be better served moving along to something else. I hear there’s a new Barbie video coming out. Perhaps that would be more to your liking? Ha! Seriously, though, this film does have some issues here and there, such as the size of Taarna’s breasts. In one scene, she looks as if she’s a DDD, and the next she could be down to a B-cup. Small animation errors like that hurt the film, but I still had a good time watching. If you get the chance, I highly recommend you give this a shot!

4 out of 5 stars

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One Response to “Revisited: Heavy Metal”

  1. […] it was strange. Also, I feel as if this was something that could have very easily been a short in Heavy Metal, but was instead held off until the “right time”. There isn’t enough here, […]

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