Friday, August 26, 2011

Second Age Reviews: Heavy Metal


Back in the early 70's there was a French comic book called Metal Hurlant (literally Howling Metal) that promised sci-fi and fantasy stories with absurd amounts of blood and nudity. So naturally it sold like hotcakes. While one of the guy's behind National Lampoon was in France to to launch a French version of National Lampoon discovered it and bought the rights for an American version which they called Heavy Metal. It proceeded to sell like hotcakes in America as well. So an animated film version became imminent, made in Canada with mostly unknowns and TV actors as the voice actors (though not entirely).

Of course, coming out in the 80's before the advent of the internet and promising gratuitous nudity, the film became something of a cult classic, only increased by the licensing fight over the music which prevented it from hitting VHS making it big with the bootlegging business. This status as cult classic in addition to extreme nostalgia blindness keeps it from being objectively examined. So how is it objectively?

Not good. It's not without it's charms and it's certainly interesting as a cultural touchstone. But it's riddled with numerous story, artistic and technical flaws that keep it from ever progressing beyond a novelty item. In the end, it's got the same problem that many animated genre films of the early 80's had: Big ideas without the budget (or in many cases including this one, talent) to realize them.

The story, such as it is, is primarily an anthology of stories based around the framing device of...a glowing ball of evil telling a teenage girl how evil it is. Now as framing devices go, that's a pretty weak one, made weaker by the fact the it barely comes up in the actual story. Seriously, with the exception of acting as the magic plot-kicking-off device in the first 10 seconds of two of the stories, and being the macguffin that everyone's chasing in another, the ball might as well not be there. And in at least one story, I don't think it is.

But there will be plenty of time to rag on the story when I'm done bashing the technical aspects of the film, and there are more than a few things to rag on. The animation quality seems a good way to start, as it goes up and down rapidly from segment to segment, and with the exception of one segment about zombies on a fighter plane, it's all pretty bad. It only really finds it's level during a pair of comedy segments where everything is drawn as absurdities or a caricature, and even then it barely reaches the level of older episodes of Futurama.

Of course if that was it's only problem, it'd probably be acceptable. But the editing is choppy, the voice acting never rises above average (and frequently drops below it), the lip synch is pretty bad and the score is pretty forgettable. Of course as the trailer proudly touts, there's a soundtrack consisting of some of the bigger artists of the day (Journey, Black Sabbath, Stevie Nicks...Devo?) which all sounds quite impressive on paper, but the song choices could have stood to be better and the music itself is poorly utilized.

Now we get down to the story, which is where even more problems come in. The stories themselves tend to read like they were written as parodies of various pulp sci-fi cliches but never got around to inserting the elements that would identify it as a parody. The only exceptions are a really solid horrorish short near the middle, and a pair of comedy shorts. Of course since it's an anthology show built around pulp sci-fi, it goes essentially without saying that the characters are barely one dimensional and the writing is terrible.

The end result is a film that never comes together in any real way and feels scitzophrenic and thinly spread, and all of it is leading towards a piss-poor final ending that tries to tie everything together and fails so miserably it's actually kind of shocking. I can't really recommend that you put any real effort into seeing it unless you're really interested in the kitsch aspect.

Next time on Second Age Reviews: A Clockwork Orange

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and no one should ever say 'You are in my power' seriously unless they're hypnotizing someone.

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