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Heavy Metal: Special Edition

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Review by Aaron Beierle | posted January 5, 2000 | E-mail the Author
The film:
Although I'm not much of a fan of this adult cartoon, with its occasional sex and violence, I do think that Columbia/Tristar has made a DVD that is important and like their "Ghostbusters" disc, really pushes what the format is capable of. The film was made in 1981, when the "Heavy Metal" magazine on which this film was based caught the eye of director Ivan Reitman, who brought the project to Tristar. Most of this review will be spent going over the wealth of supplements that are included on this disc, because I think Tristar has really done some amazing and wonderful things with this DVD.

As for the picture quality, the anamorphic transfer on this disc is excellent. Images are sharp and clear, and bring out all of the details of the animation. Colors are also quite impressive, looking rich and strong throughout, without any color bleeding. There are a few small marks here and there, but they are not distracting, especially when the picture in general looks so wonderful. There are no instances of aliasing throughout, either. Sound is also quite clear and pleasing, with some strong rock tunes on the soundtrack. Surrounds are put to good and effective use throughout, as well. It was re-released with a remastered soundtrack in 1997 and now that experience has come to home video on this DVD.

Where this disc really becomes a stunner is when you take a look at the supplemental features offered here. Not only do we get one very good looking edition of the final feature, we get an entire additional, feature-length version of the movie. The entire rough cut is on this disc and it's amazing to watch the birth of ideas. Even if you don't care for the movie, you have to admit it's pretty fascinating to look at something like this and see art literally at work, and you do see it all here: early drawings, concepts, designs, all pulled together into a feature length look at the early cut of this picture. Although there are some marks and scratches during this presentation, it's still in pretty good shape. During this "rough cut" we are treated to a commentary by historian Carl Macek, and what he has to say is fascinating. I was fascinated listening to him talk about this picture, or at least the rough cut of the picture. It's so interesting to hear about things like the fact that the crude nature of the storyboards don't matter, they need these early concepts for taking a look at movement and ideas for how the characters interact with their environment. He guides us through all of the various scenes, and he also throws in a lot of tidbits about which animation group worked on some of the scenes, as well as the jobs of the various teams on an animation project. If you are at all interested in the process of animation, the combination of Macek's commentary and this rough cut of the picture is absolutely recommended viewing. Although I'm not interested in going into the animation field (I can't draw at all), I am fascinated with the process of animation and I have to say, I learned an enormous amount during this commentary. You also have the choice of listening to the basic audio along with this rough cut as well.

Just as we got not only one version of the film, we also get two audio tracks with Macek. Besides the commentary for the rough cut, on the final cut, you have the option of listening to Macek read his book, "Heavy Metal: The Movie". It's wonderful that the DVD has the author himself reading this highly informative text, because, taking a look at online book stores, the book itself (published in 1996) seems to be in short supply. This is a fascinating look at the history behind the production; how people like Ivan Reitman were brought into this project as well as how various animation studios were enlisted to bring this movie to life. There is almost too much information packed into this track, but there are many things that I found fascinating, such as how a director had to keep track of the work of many different animation studios in many different places, all at once, and how all of this work by different people had to come together. Macek also goes into detail about some of the various studios that worked on this picture, and touches on their history. We also learn about how all of the bands, such as Devo and Cheap Trick, were brought in to add their music to the film, and how music itself plays a role in this movie. And of course, Macek also talks in detail about the story and ideas behind the various plot details involved.

Most of this audio track does focus on the technical details of the picture though, and the only way that I can describe this track is an almost non-stop wave of fascinating information. We hear about everything; the concepts behind the environments, styles, characters, everything. As interesting as the rough cut commentary was, there is twice as much information about the animation process available here, and I think that it's easily one of the most interesting audio tracks I've heard all year. Macek is reading from his own book, and I must say that it's an unbelievably in-depth look at not only the making of this film, but the process of animation work itself.

The DVD also includes a 35 minute documentary that takes an excellent look at the making of this picture, with plenty of interviews with the main crew involved with this film. "Imagining Heavy Metal" includes interviews with crew members like Terry Windell, who was the layout artist on the film, Ivan Reitman, Joe Medjuck and John Bruno, who was the special effects supervisor. Bruno has gone on to be the special effects supervisor for many of James Cameron's films and direct his own with "Virus". The early part of the documentary mainly focuses on how the various crew members remember their first look at the "Heavy Metal" comic book, as well as some of the history behind the comic.

During the documentary we also learn about the various animators who worked on this picture, and how many different animated companies worked on this film. The second half of the documentary does bring in more information about the animation involved in this picture, as well as the various styles and design concepts that were involved. In the second half, we also learn more about the music that's included and how the various bands came to participate. "Imagining Heavy Metal" runs about 35 minutes and is quite a well-done documentary feature.

As amazing as some of the previously mentioned extras are, the still galleries that are included on this disc are almost as impressive. First off, there is a section that includes the cover art of every "Heavy Metal" magazine from 1977 to 1999. Even more stunning is some of the conceptual artwork that is included in the still gallery, "The Artwork Of Heavy Metal". This is separated into 4 seperate galleries, "Pencil Portfolio", "Conceptual Art", "Single Cel Portfolio" and "Layered Cel Portfolio". Each of these sections are broken down even further into different areas of the film. What I found most interesting is looking at the "Layered Cel Portfolio", where you are able to go step-by-step to see how things were added into each scene. Also included on this disc is a "Production Photo Gallery" where you can see the crew at work. Absolutely fascinating stuff. Also included as an extra on this DVD are a couple of deleted scenes, one is "Neverwhere Land" and the other is an alternate framing story, with or without commentary.

Although the menu art is not animated, it still does do a fine job at keeping with the style of the movie.

The movie was alright and I found some of it enjoyable, but I absolutely love what Tristar has brought to this DVD edition. The studio deserves very high praise for creating an immense special edition for this film and I think the fans that are out there for this picture (and there does seem to be quite a large following for this film) will be enormously pleased with this DVD. Very highly recommended and outstanding work by Tristar.

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