April 7, 2006
Movie Review By: SFAM
Directed by: Gerald Potterton, Jimmy T. Murakami
Written by: Len Blum et al.
Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: Medium
Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: Low
Overview: Heavy Metal represents one of my great teenage film memories. Back in the day, before the porn repository known as the internet was formed, Heavy Metal was edgy stuff. As a young teen, Heavy Metal was everything a kid my age wanted to see – sex, drugs, rock-n-roll, violence, defiance of authority, and hot chicks! Add the most awesome hard rock soundtrack, and Heavy Metal became the drug of choice for young folk back then. That it was animated somehow made it alright with the parents. Make no mistake – Heavy Metal is not high brow fare, nor is it particularly well made. But it is definitely a very fun guilty pleasure.
The Story: Heavy Metal is a series of somewhat interrelated vignettes about the journey that ultimate evil makes, this time in form of an evil sentient green orb, called the Loch-Nar. The Loch-Nar captures a little girl in present times for reasons unknown till the end, and shows her a series of stories about how the Orb has corrupted people of all races in all times and places.
In each story segment, we get a strange, otherwordly setting in which the orb enters, corrupts and then leaves. Often a hero stops the orb from fully corrupting everything, but always the orb leaves a stain. The atmosphere is one of interrupting and ongoing scene with something truly unusual that occurs. But it’s the ending vignette, Taarna which is the best, and also the one that finally gives us insight into why the Loch-Nar has captured this little girl. Taarna isn’t really cyberpunk in any way but a few of the visuals, but it is a lot of fun.
Is it cyberpunk? Clearly, some of the vignettes, many in fact, are more fantasy than cyberpunk. So why do I have this movie listed? While some of the vignettes do have the cyberpunk feel, most clearly Harry Canyon, Heavy Metal absolutely belongs here due to its magazine roots. Both William Gibson and Ridley Scott credit visuals in the Heavy Metal Magazine is very influential for helping create their settings. Most cited is the Moebuis illustrated “The Long Tomorrow” comic. As you can see by the link, the Long tomorrow gives us a gritty neo-noir, near future comic that’s edgy, dangerous, and lots of fun. And more importantly, the atmosphere – the mood in Heavy Metal throughout seems pretty cyberpunk.
Heavy Metal is Male Fantasy Material: Heavy Metal is NOT sophisticated - far from it in fact. Heavy Metal caters to the sophomoric, prepubescent male, and emphasizes gratuitous nudity, hot chicks kicking butt, nerds who grow massive bodies and get laid, android-hot chick sex, etc. Heavy Metal falls right in line with the old “Gonad the Barbarian” style books, so in this way, it really isn’t cyberpunk. Cyberpunk as a sub-genre dramatically improved the quality and intelligence of what we found on the scifi-fantasy shelves. Heavy Metal the movie does not, although many of the stories do provoke an interesting thought or two.
The Animation: Each story segment is written and animated by completely different teams, although some of the voice actors such as John Candy appear in many episodes. Some of the segments seem pretty simple, whereas others have more than decent texture. All in all, Heavy Metal represents a mixed bag, but at the time, it truly was on the revolutionary side. While French director René Laloux’s most awesome animated movies were far better, outside of them, few things touched Heavy Metal. The fact that Heavy Metal included the themes and visuals teens were looking for back then transformed it into the ultimate cult rebellion flick.
The Sound Track: Heavy Metal still should be considered among the best sound tracks for a movie. It SOOO added to the atmosphere. We get a heaping dose of great hard rock from the likes of Blue Oyster Cult, Black Sabbath, Sammy Hagar, Cheap Trick, and Don Felder’s most awesome rendition of Heavy Metal (Takin’ A Ride). In addition, we get great little 80s tunes like Devo’s “Working in a Coal Mine,” Journey’s “Open Arms,” and Stevie Nicks’ “Blue Lamp.” Truly, if you’re interested in experiencing 80s counter-culture at its fantasized finest, Heavy Metal is the movie to watch.
The Bottom Line: Heavy Metal is not a great movie, but it is a lot of fun. While it has a few vignettes that are clearly cyberpunk in nature, the majority of the movie is unsophisticated SciFi-Fantasy. Still, the visuals and atmosphere are more than interesting, as are the diversity of animation styles. Heavy Metal should be seen more for the vision this film represents from the Magazine. This, as much as anything is responsible for the genre we now call cyberpunk.