Heavy Metal is an animated film released in 1981 with a seriously bitchin’ soundtrack… and that’s actually about it. The movie is based on a comic book magazine I’ve never read and adapts (most of) its stories from the comics. I’ll be here all day if I have to actually talk about what happens in the movie.
To try to sum it up, there are 6 segments within the film; bookended by a green alien smoky ball of energy who loosely ties into the segments, explaining the segments to a frightened young girl whose astronaut father was killed by the energy ball… but little to nothing is explained. Apparently the energy ball is called the Loc-Nar. The movie opens with a flying car in space which never appears again. It’s a god damn mess as far as the story goes and it’s an anthology film so really don’t even worry about it. There’s a reason this movie has a cult following… lots of reasons actually. Anyone that has MST3k style movie riffing sessions needs to put Heavy Metal at the top of their list of movies. That’s where this movie really shines the brightest.
The soundtrack is fucking great; Cheap Trick, Devo, Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult just to name a few. I have to also mention the epic title track “Heavy Metal” by Sammy Hagar. It seems like that’s this film’s biggest legacy but there’s more to it than just the incredible soundtrack. The drawing style is sort of sketchy; it’s nothing special but it’s charming and distinct. It may turn some people off but I have a feeling I can’t be the only person out there that appreciates the look of the film. Backgrounds are pretty well done, there’s some pretty creative character/object design going on here and oh, there was something else.
There’s naked ladies in this cartoon.
It’s pretty laughable how often the women in this movie get naked; or for that matter what reasons. It happens a lot. As far as the actual stories/segments of the movie, hands down my favorite is the first story that’s told, Harry Canyon. It’s a film noir tale in the future about a New York cab driver who gets mixed up in the affairs of a scientist’s daughter and some gangsters. It’s well done enough in my opinion, I think Harry’s a pretty likeable character; he doesn’t get enough screen time to really be called a developed character but no one in this movie get enough to screen time to do that. For my money, that’s the best sequence.
Heavy Metal very quickly into the second of its tales, titled Den, runs out of steam. An archetypical nerdy teenager is thrown into a fantasy world and becomes a big buff bald man voiced by John Candy. This is pretty bare bones and there’s no rock song accompanying it. While probably the weakest segment of the film, it is still very riffable. Next up is Captain Sternn, a decent segment albeit a little short for my tastes. A cocky space captain who looks like Superman stands trial for, and I quote, “12 counts of murder in the first degree, 14 counts of armed theft of Federation property, 22 counts of piracy in high space, 18 counts of fraud, 37 counts of rape… and one moving violation.”
He pleads not guilty and has a witness he bribed come forward. His witness, holding the Loc-Nar (that green energy ball from before), begins causing him to tell the truth and quickly turn on the accused. He becomes a big angry hulk monster and chases Sternn through the space station until it just kind of ends when Captain Sternn is cornered and pays him the money… and then releases a trap door, ejecting him and the Loc-Nar. This one starts out strong but it just kind of ends without any real resolution. I would’ve liked it a lot more if it had been longer and more fleshed out.
The animation in this movie can range from above average to laughable at times. Sometimes things can look choppy, depending on the spot, but the animation is just as all over the place as anything else in the film. There’s some more stuff using clipart, the car in the beginning and later on in the film when a ship hurtles through space. I like the clipart segments but it’d been done before in the intro to The Grateful Dead Movie and even I think on Sesame Street before that. Nothing in here is really terrible and I won’t call it bad animation, its just kind of lacking in certain areas of the film. Despite the fact that they hit snags every now and again, and I imagine budgetary issues, it still manages to be awesome. The look is classic 80’s animation.
Little to nothing is explained as far as the overall film goes, what little there is loosely tying each indivual segment together. The only thing that really ties it together is the Loc-Nar and the way it all comes full circle at the end. It is held together with mostly little bits of dialogue here and there but even if you know the details of the story, there are still plot holes galore. It’s not exactly the best example of an anthology film in a sense of oneness. The Loc Nar, when it is making things happen in the stories, is just doing things at random and seemingly has no limit to what it can or can’t do. A lot of the time, though, you’ll just find yourself saying things like, “Aw man, weren’t those fighter pilot zombies friggin’ awesome?”
The film’s final segment, Taarna, really tries to wrap everything up, suggesting the Loc-Nar are a barbaric alien race. Some people probably claim this is the film’s finest hour. I like the Taarna segment, but for me some of the earlier segments pack a bit more of a punch. But the Taarna segment is still good. Action fantasy, sci-fi, breast filled, and did I mention Taarna’s bird creature? The Taarna character is mute but her flying… bird… creature… it makes the most hilarious shrieking noise. It sounds like a human being; one of the most hilarious moments of the film. But when the bird is shot down… thats when it truly becomes hysterical.
It’s astounding how funny this bird sounds.
So the Loc-Nar is defeated, and the Loc-Nar terrorizing the young girl in the prologue/epilogue is destroyed. The bird comes back to life somehow and whisks the girl away… and her hair changes color because… Taarna’s spirit is inside her… I don’t know. It just happens.
It’s not really something you should go into looking for logic or consistency but those who know how to use Heavy Metal properly will get a lot out of it. This movie desperately needs a rifftrax and the best way to watch is with some friends and a couple cold ones.
Unlike say, the Ralph Bakshi musical anthology film American Pop, released the same year oddly enough, Heavy Metal isn’t meant to be a showcase for the music. Heavy Metal is meant to be out of this world, show animated naked ladies, science fiction, and fantasy, and then showcase its music. In that order. And on that level, it kind of does succeed. The music may be the best thing about this film, but it’s not the only great thing about this film. It’s got a ton of flaws, which help make it such a riffable film and a great one to put on with a group and have some drinks with.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for every song on the soundtrack. Drink again when you catch yourself tapping your foot.
Take a Drink: for every set of boobs and/or naked chick. Drink again if you question what the motive behind getting naked was.
Drink for major boobage.
Take a Drink: every time someone is double crossed.
Take a Drink: every time you recognize John Candy, Eugene Levy or Harold Ramis. (One for every different character you can recognize them as)
Do a Shot: if you spot the USS Enterprise
Do a Shot: when Taarna’s bird creature dies