Sexy "Heavy Metal" Has Something for All Mature Audiences
|Elon Musk reportedly used this sequence from the "Soft Landing" segment of "Heavy Metal" as inspiration for his "starman" project.|
Yes, it contains drug and sexual references and a whole lot of violence. However, "Heavy Metal" also offers some wry commentary on cultural conditions amidst a lot of unrestrained and thoughtful imagination. There is a lot of serious insight right beneath the surface of "Heavy Metal" if you care to look and see it.
|I consider this scene of Taarna flying one of the highlights of "Heavy Metal" and strikingly good animation.|
Despite getting little respect from professional film critics, "Heavy Metal" has served as inspiration for many later works including "The Fifth Element" (scruffy futuristic taxi driver saves redhead), "Blade Runner" (flying cars), an episode of the animated television series "South Park" and "Heavy Metal's own 2000 sequel. That's not a bad legacy at all for a low-key animated feature film not made by one of the major studios.
Produced by Ivan Reitman and Leonard Mogel, who also was the publisher of Heavy Metal magazine, "Heavy Metal" was rated "R." How it escaped an "X" rating is a bit of a mystery, but those were different times with different standards. Be advised that "Heavy Metal" is for mature audiences only due to its violence, adult themes, and sexual imagery.
Many veterans of "Second City," a comedy troupe based in Chicago and who were friends of Reitman, voiced the characters. These included John Candy (voicing several characters), Rodger Bumpass, Jackie Burroughs, Joe Flaherty, Don Francks, Martin Lavut, Marilyn Lightstone, Eugene Levy, Alice Playten, Harold Ramis, Percy Rodriguez, Susan Roman, Richard Romanus, August Schellenberg, John Vernon (the principal from "Animal House"), and Zal Yanovsky.
Begun in 1977, Heavy Metal magazine was owned by the National Lampoon company, which did "Animal House" and many other very irreverent motion pictures. That explains the irreverent tone of Heavy Metal.
"Heavy Metal" has many different animation styles. They are not all top-flight, but they are original and highly personal. To use one word to describe them all, I would use "gritty." Some of the styles harken back to the 1960s "Yellow Submarine" era, while others are extremely sophisticated and approach CGI quality (which was not available in 1981). Like the magazine, "Heavy Metal" has images that look more like pop art than typical comic book poses.
The rotoscoping technique, wherein actors play out scenes and then are traced as animation, is used throughout. This gives "Heavy Metal" a very realistic appearance.
The "Heavy Metal" storyline is tied together by a mysterious orb known as the Loc-Nar that travels throughout the universe, including Earth. The Loc-Nar takes on different forms throughout "Heavy Metal" and exhibits magical and very dangerous properties. Let's be real - the Loc-Nar is the weakest part of "Heavy Metal" because it is just this undefined "thing" whose only substance is that it serves to frame the other stories. The film drifts far and wide during its different stories, but ultimately they are tied together by a tenuous but ultimately satisfying framing device.
The stories in order are:
- Harry Canyon
- Captain Sternn
- Neverwhere Land
- So Beautiful and Dangerous
|The B-17 story is tight and surprisingly realistic despite the supernatural theme.|
Easily the most memorable and exciting story, however, is "Taarna" near the end. She is a Taarakian warrior, the last one, in fact. Taarna is summoned by city leaders who are under attack by the Loc-Nar (it is never explained why the Loc-Nar does what it does, it just... does it). This story obviously was strongly influenced, if not directly inspired, by the comic book story "Arzach" by Moebius (real name Jean Giraud, who founded the French magazine "Métal hurlant" that led directly to "Heavy Metal" magazine). "Taarna" is replete with scenes of righteous fury, sheer savagery, and absolutely stunning animation. This ain't Disney, folks. The wicked tale of revenge and retribution in "Taarna" serves as a fitting and fulfilling climax to "Heavy Metal."
Strong, beautiful, and mute (like the character in "Arzach"), Taarna acts like a gunfighter from the Spaghetti Western genre, although she uses a sword instead of a gun. The "Taarna" segment exemplifies fantasy fulfillment for both men and women. Taarna's physical attributes are amply on display for the guys while her cool, savage, effective dispatch of the bad guys portrays a unique female superhero that has not been equaled.
By now, I hope you have a good idea of what "Heavy Metal" is about. While full of obvious 1970s drug references, it is not a film only for potheads or lovers of "Dungeons and Dragons." "Heavy Metal" some real art and some amazingly good rock songs from the likes of Don Felder of the Eagles (his "Heavy Metal (Takin' a Ride)" is a showstopper tune), Blue Öyster Cult (yes, they did songs other than "Fear the Reaper"), Sammy Hagar, Devo, Cheap Trick, and Stevie Nicks). Elmer Bernstein of all people did the score, which shows clear echoes of his score the same year for "An American Werewolf in Paris."
This is an animation by adults for adults. It is uplifting in a very strange and savage sort of way and is a virtual peek into a certain mindset of the late 1970s. If you are interested in animation other than Disney princesses and are adventurous, I say, give it a whirl.