4K UHD Review: Heavy Metal [Sony] | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, July 5th, 2022  

Heavy Metal [4K UHD]

Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

May 16, 2022 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

​A green, glowing orb holds a young girl hostage at her home in far future Kansas. Introducing itself as an ageless, eternal embodiment of primordial evil, it forces her to look into its shimmering depths and watch a series of loosely-linked tales about the struggles of good vs. evil across the eons and the sprawl of outer space.

Producer Ivan Reitman cooked up the R-rated, animated anthology film Heavy Metal (1981) alongside co-producer Leonard Mogel, who had founded the adult comics magazine it was named for. (The magazine itself was spun off from a French publication called Metal hurlant.) Produced at a surprising speed by using several different animation teams working from scripts by several writers and in varying art styles, the quality of Heavy Metal is inconsistent but true to the anthology magazine that inspired it.

The first tale is set in New York City in 2031—fifty years in the future at the time of release but now somehow just a few years off—that looks more like The Fifth Element than our modern-day Big Apple. A cab driver named Harry picks up a damsel on the run from alien gangsters; he can’t help but fall for the gorgeous dame and help her out, even if it means putting his own life on the line. This one plays like a pulp detective story, complete with hard-boiled narration. It’s fun, if predictable.

Tale Two seems to be the one that viewers most remember, about a teenage geek who finds a glowing meteorite for his rock collection and winds up being transported across space and time. He wakes up in the hulking frame of a Conan the Barbarian-type, on a planet populated by aliens and mostly-naked human women. This routine sword and sorcery story, however, is narrated by John Candy, from the point of view of the awkward teenager who occupies the muscular hero. It gives the whole thing an enjoyable silly and memorable twist that for obvious reasons struck a chord with the movie’s largely 13-year-old, male, comics-loving audience.

This next story opens with intergalactic scoundrel Lincoln F. Sternn (a spaceship captain voiced by Eugene Levy) on trial for just about every crime on the book, and details his escape from court with the aid of a rampaging mutant; it’s followed by a story about a human woman who’s accidentally abducted by aliens, and proceeds to have an affair with the ship’s robot. Of the five large stories in the film, these are the two weakest.

The film closes with its most epic segment, about a silent warrior maiden whose family’s destiny is to defeat the Loc-Nar—the glowing orb from the movie’s framing segments, which shows up in each of Heavy Metal’s stories—throughout time. It’s a genuinely badass sci-fi short, with some cool fights and a rotoscoped animation style that makes the heroine Taarna’s movement look very realistic and fluid. The famous image of the female warrior riding a reptilian bird that’s used on the movie’s poster (and Blu-ray case) is derived from this storyline.

Curiously, some of the most visually striking segments in Heavy Metal are actually the smaller, filler scenes that happen in between all of these. In particular, the opening credits play over images of an astronaut hurtling through the atmosphere in a Corvette, and there’s a genuinely frightening zombie story that unfolds in the cargo hold of a B-17 Bomber over the course of several minutes near the movie’s midpoint. The imagery in both of these stick in your head, and it probably helps that they’re not behooved to cram a full story into their brief amounts of screentime.

Each segment in Heavy Metal has a strong enough hook that it could have individually supported a larger animated feature, and you have to wonder if—all thoughts of production costs set aside—that would have been a better way to tell to explore these particular tales. As they exist here, it feels like the stories have been heavily abridged to fast forward to the “good bits,” the graphic violence, extraterrestrials, and abundant sex and nudity, but then again, that’s a large part of Heavy Metal’s raison d’être.

Heavy Metal has newly arrived in a limited edition steelbook on 4K UHD—a format that’s shown so far how well-suited it is for animation. Once again here, the medium’s bright, high-contrast colors feel made for HDR—that’s clear from the first moment we see the movie’s lime-green Loc-Nar, which actually appears luminescent on the TV screen. Heavy Metal is a colorful movie, and really benefits from the boosts that it gets from the HDR. Those with home theaters that boast Dolby Atmos-ready sound systems will be able to bask in the movie’s all-new, immersive sound mix, and better rock out to a soundtrack that prominently features songs from Donald Fagen, Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, Stevie Nicks, Cheap Trick, and Devo. (No, it’s not remotely as “metal” as you’d expect from the time, but it still rocks.)

Included on the 4K disc is a new, albeit brief retrospective on the movie featuring the recently-departed Reitman and celebrity super-fans such as Kevin Smith and Norman Reedus; the movie’s older Blu-ray disc is included in the set, and contains a few more informational featurettes that fans will likely have seen already, but provide the helpful context that’s lacking on the newer disc. Also included in the slick steelbook is the first-ever Blu-ray release of Heavy Metal 2000 (2000), the movie’s much-maligned sequel, which nonetheless turns this into an even more well-rounded set for Heavy Metal fans.


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