Heavy Metal (1981), or Rocking It To The MAX

27 11 2009

I think anyone who is a serious fan of animation has heard the infamous name of Heavy Metal being tossed around. It’s perhaps the ultimate animated anthology of the 80s, an unbridled thrill ride of sex, violence, and, of course, “heavy metal” music. It’s somewhat of a cult classic, rejected by critics at the time of its release but championed later by droves of fans around the world. At first, I wasn’t sure what to think, neither ecstatic about the names on the back of the box or clear on what I would be getting myself into. But exactly 90 minutes later, my fears were assuaged, my expectations were exceeded, and my mood was jacked to the MAX!

The film consists of 15 animated vignettes, inspired by stories in Heavy Metal magazine, THE publication for dark barbarian fantasy/sci-fi fans and misogynists. The plot is simply this; while driving a Cadillac in space, some dude in a space suit cruises around the galaxy, looking for spectacular artifacts. One day, he returns home with something to show his daughter. It’s a cool, glowing green orb, something he’s been searching for awhile. Unfortunately, only moments after he opens it, he is turned into goo by a glowing green energy right in front of his daughter! Yikes! The orb, calling itself Loc-Nar, declares itself to be the sum of all evils, and quickly attacks the young girl with the most dangerous weapon of all; seemingly unrelated stories! He tells her about all the evil that it has caused throughout eons of time and space. Stories range from a futuristic noir involving a taxi driver and a mysterious murder near a museum to an odd parable about a US scientist and a stenographer being picked up by and android and getting totally high with him. All the stories involve the Loc-Nar and its destructive capabilities. Will our young heroine be toast in the midst of this sum of all evils? Or will she find a way to turn it around at the end?

Heavy Metal is something of an acquired taste. Most people will look at this and find it to be filled with the most antiquated animation, the silliest plots, and the most epochal tunes this side of the galaxy. But I still think it’s pretty neat. Like finding a time capsule buried in a pile of leather pants and Aqua Net, it’s interesting to see what people used to think was cool back only twenty-eight years ago. For a lot of people, this was their favorite animated feature EVER; in East Texas, where I grew up, I knew a lot of older kids who SWORE by Heavy Metal, as if it were some redneck birthright. That’s not saying a whole lot, but in their particular generation, that meant a lot to them and their perception of what was “rad” and “dope”, and somehow that intrigues me.

The animation is the main draw for me. The 80s was really the Renaissance of American animation after the Dark Ages of the late 60s and 70s. Colors are vibrant, the styles are dramatic, the concepts are out of this world, and the sheer imagination is nothing to scoff at. It all seems encapsulated in that first little vignette where the spaceman rides around space in a Cadillac; this is animation with attitude, for teens and adults who don’t watch reruns of Rainbow Brite. No wimp rides around in space with the top DOWN! These are virile, cool vignettes about the possibilities of the human imagination and where it can take us in the future. Perhaps it’s a little naive, but that headstrong attitude is what makes me love Heavy Metal. That, and the nudity.

There are two types of cameos here; famous voice actors and bands on the soundtrack, as a lot of these short films involve musical interludes. John Candy is the most recognizable name in America. As this was a Canadian production, they found the most prolific Canadian comics to contribute. That’s why the likes of Eugene Levy and the famous voice actor Harvey Atkin grace these characters and give them speech. They all do well, but Candy shines with that trademark large guy sound that just can’t be replicated by thin people. The bands, for the most part, lack the heavy metal edge a movie like Heavy Metal should garner. Why the fuck is Stevie “Gypsy Woman” Nicks on this soundtrack? For that matter, why Sammy Hagar? Blue Oyster Cult, in this particular instance makes sense, as they took cuts from their earlier, cooler space rock period instead of the later material, which would define the rest of their career with one word; soft. “Veteran of the Psychic Wars” is a stellar track, and I’m glad the producers had the foresight to include it. And, I won’t lie; I know Journey sure as hell isn’t heavy metal, but I really like “Separate Ways”, and I’m glad it’s on here. So sue me.

Give Heavy Metal a chance. It might not seem like your cup of tea at first, but you might just get sucked in as easily as I did. It’s a blast from the past, but in that fun, retro way, not like xenophobia or antique medical equipment. The stories are short and sweet, the music ranges from okay to awesome, the voice acting is really quite good, and most of all, the animation is eye-catching. You won’t see many of these techniques any more outside of an animation festival or school projects, so eat it up while you can. Heavy Metal was something I quite enjoyed, and if you just give it some time, I think it will grow on you like a dangerous green radiation. I give it 7 1/2 Veterans of the Psychic Wars  out of 10! ROCK IT!

I’ll be sure to come up with something delightful for you all tomorrow! Until then!

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