Heavy Metal is someone’s fantasy, for sure.
Science fiction meets animation meets exploitation in this 1981 cult classic.
I remember Heavy Metal being whispered about in early high school. “It’s a cartoon — with boobs!” I always thought it was anime, I guess because back in the Eighties there were few western cartoons with an “adult” spin — that was really the domain of Japanese animation.
But Heavy Metal is a 1981 animated science fiction film based on the American magazine of the same name. The movie is an anthology, divided into short stories, some ripped from the pages of the magazine itself.
The intro is shows an astronaut (who drives an interstellar Corvette! In a wicked-looking sequence)) arriving home and showing his daughter a glowing green orb named the Loc-Nar, which turns out to be the “sum of all evil”. It shows the girl its history — that’s the basis for the anthology.
The first story is about a New York cabbie named Harry Canyon, who ends up saving a gorgeous redheaded woman who is on the run from what seem to be mob bosses. It’s revealed that she possesses the Loc-Nar. It’s rather Fifth Element-like in a lot of ways, and very New York noir. Just with more nudity.
The next is about a nerdy teen who finds the Loc-Nar. After touching it, he is teleported to a distant planet and transformed into a giant muscle man. This one has quite an old school, early 20th Century sci-fi serial vibe. A combination of space travel and colonial jungle scenes. Only with a lot more nudity.
Next up is “Captain Sternn”, set on a space station around a Jupiter-like planet. It’s basically a legal proceeding, where Captain Stern, a big-chinned space captain (insert MST3K Space Mutiny names here), is accused of various crimes. But a witness he paid off comes under the influence of the Loc-Nar, mutates, and goes on a rampage, chasing Sternn through the station.
B-17 is the next segment, and we’re on a bomber in WWII during a bombing run. It’s disastrous, half the crew are killed. But the Loc-Nar arrives and revives them, turning them into mindless zombies bent on killing the remaining crew.
So Beautiful and So Dangerous begins in a Pentagon briefing, where politicians are arguing about a growing mutant crisis, possibly caused by a cosmic green glow (the Loc-Nar). In the middle of the talk a man and woman are abducted by a bunch of working class aliens and a robot — a robot who takes a liking to the Earth woman. This segment features a lot of sweet visuals as the ship travels through space, kind of Flight of the Navigator. Again, with more nudity.
In the final segment, the Loc-Nar grows to the size of a meteor and crashes into a volcano. It transforms a village of cyberpunky humans into mutants who then wander the wastelands, wiping out all they come across. Taarna, the last of a proud warrior race, sets out to stop them. Before she does so, she goes nude.
I love science fiction, but Heavy Metal isn’t made for me. It’s a 13 year old boy’s idea of what “grown up” sci fi is. Women disprobe at the drop of a… well, a robe, and thank their gruff, muscle-bound heroes with their bodies. When it comes to imagery “Is it badass?” matters more than “does it makes sense?” Some of which works, some doesn’t. It’s taking adventure serials like Flash Gordon and saying, “and then boobs”.
I did appreciate the wide variety of segments and styles on display. It’s easy to think sci-fi = spaceships, but Heavy Metal ranges from spaceships to WWII bombers to tribal warfare. The “magazine” format (note, I have never read Heavy Metal) is fun.
As well as variety in the science fiction, the film has a wide variety of animation. Different animation companies worked on different segments, some of which I dug more than others. The wobbly rotoscoped look is something I’ve never been into, though as still images they’re gorgeous. And segments like the opening Space Corvette sequence are fantastic.
The psychedelic rock/metal music works brilliantly, especially against the more beautiful space imagery. The hair metal stuff less so, at least for me. It’s fun and cheesy but really dates the movie, and works at odds to what we’re seeing.
My favourite segment is probably Harry Canyon, the New York cabbie one. Overall it’s a fun ride, but in general I don’t regret missing out on Heavy Metal for the last few decades.