WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
This curiously gawky and sophomoric animated film, created in 1981 from the comic magazine called Heavy Metal, is a celebration of hormones and clichés. It's the kind of film that might have appealed to a certain audience (i.e., teenaged males who thrive on gore and sex) at a very specific period in our recent history. But time has not been kind to Heavy Metal, and even though it's doing fairly well at midnight showings here and there, its appeal is no doubt boosted by audiences infused with various mind-altering substances. Watching it sober in your home theater, you'll more than likely find it uneven and ridiculous.
Heavy Metal contains six awkwardly linked animated short films. The first story follows a New York cab driver, in the vein of Fifth Element, as he helps an alluring woman who has a terrible secret. It's a mildly amusing story but strangely hollow. The second story is a slightly more interesting tale about a boy (voiced by John Candy) who becomes a huge muscle man in a fantasy world and, similarly to the first story, saves a gorgeous woman from certain death. By now, as you watch this bimbo give her naked self over to her rescuer, you'll start to understand the overriding theme of Heavy Metal. The third story is about a Clark Kent type aboard a space station, on trial for all kinds of horrible offenses. You'll recognize the voice of John Vernon (Animal House). It's a strange, unfulfilling story that goes everywhere except a direction that makes sense. The fourth story is about a WWII bomber pilot that parachutes into a land of ghouls. Nothing new here, and it ends just as it starts getting interesting. The fifth story marks a return for John Candy, playing a robot who dabbles with, you guessed it, a beautiful woman aboard a druggie-piloted spacecraft that resembles a smiley face. It's silly, but if you get off on hand-drawn nudity (with the animator's saliva still smearing the cels) and sophomoric humor, then you'll love it. The sixth story is about a female warrior, piloting a flying beast, avenging herself on a gaggle of barbarians. You might get a thrill out of her leather thong and frequent animated nudity. Finally, the narrative linking device, some nonsense about an evil green basketball, will leave you scratching your head.
The animation itself is sloppy and jerky, appearing as if it was put together at approximately 10 frames per second than the more fluid 24 frames. The drawing lacks any flow or grace, as if perpetrated by pens not accustomed to cels but rather to canvas. The voice acting is fair, with a few standouts, but mostly the acting is uninspired. The music is far from heavy metal, occupying that bland zone of early 80s pop. I'm uncertain whether the filmmakers even intended to feature a heavy metal soundtrack, but if so, they're efforts are laughably in vain. The music, although not horrible, severely dates the film.
Viewing Heavy Metal makes you appreciate the original comic magazine more than anything else.
This Superbit presentation is devoid of extras, allotting the bulk of its disk space to its video quality and its Dolby Digital and DTS audio tracks.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Columbia TriStar presents Heavy Metal in seemingly the same anamorphic-widescreen transfer that the original release featured. We still get the film's original 1.85:1 theatrical presentation. We also get the same hazy, dated look, and the relatively dirty, shifty appearance. I performed a direct comparison of the older release and this one, and found no discernible difference on my 65-inch screen. Animation always fares particularly well on DVD, and in this case, the original release is perfectly satisfying. Colors are rich on both, blacks are deep, and edges are sharp. However, there is significant grain and smudging.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The disc's Dolby Digital 5.1 track seems to be the same as the one featured on the original disc. A direct comparison brought few revelations to my ears, except for some finer clarity at the high end. Surround activity was identical on both discs' Dolby tracks. The DTS adds perhaps the slightest of improvements in depth and dimensionality, bit I might have been fooling myself. I doubt I'd have noticed a difference in a blindfolded test.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
All of the terrific extras on the original disc are gone.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
Avoid it. Go for the original special edition, which, if you get all nostalgic about this sci-fi hormone fest, provides a better home theater experience overall.