I first saw Heavy Metal when I was 11 when it played in a highly censored version on whatever cable network was giving it a spin, maybe Sci-Fi Channel? At that age, it was probably the perfect way to see it, pre-pubescent and with just enough robots and aliens to keep me occupied otherwise. This was long before I ever knew about the existence of the long-running magazine that burst so many Euro and American artists into the comics mainstream. When it was properly released on VHS about a year or so later, I finally saw the uncensored version, and as someone who was knee-deep in a Ralph Bakshi phase – this and American Pop both hit me at just the right time.
I’m now approaching 40, and hadn’t seen Heavy Metal since I was a pre-teen, and with the opportunity to take in the 4K at hand, I couldn’t say no.
So how does Heavy Metal hold up all these years later? Not all that great honestly. The anthology format still sings out as a point of appeal; if you don’t like something, don’t worry because it’ll be gone in about 10 minutes, the issue at hand is that I don’t think any one story stands out long enough to make an impression. Though I think “Captain Sternn”, based on the Bernie Wrightson comic, comes the closest to hitting the right combo of gonzo humor, sci-fi spectacle, and maybe the best replication of its respective creator’s style, while “Taarna” (a riff on Moebius’ Arzach) is next in the running and does at least power through a recognizable arc of some kind, if truncated. It’s too bad though, how cool would a more thoughtful take on “The Long Tomorrow” had been? Or a less cheap looking version of “Den” (easily the segment that was the greatest victim of tightening wallets)? The loose framing structure of the Loc-Nar still holds some appeal at least, though it feels like it stretches on occasion to make it work.
I think my biggest takeaway, and I felt this back in 2014, is just how much James Gunn was clearly into the whole vibe of this movie, and lifted it to a pretty noticeable degree for the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. The majority of “So Beautiful & So Dangerous” particularly feels like a precursor. So perhaps, that’s appeal enough for the heavily Marvel faithful out there.
The 4K restoration of the film, which Sony states was supervised by the late Ivan Reitman (was this his last project ever?), admittedly looks great. The colors absolutely pop, particularly in segments that would otherwise hold little appeal in a lesser transfer, my understanding is that its a huge upgrade over the not terribly well-loved previous blu-ray transfer – the green on the Loc-Nar hasn’t been this vivid since the theater I presume – that anyone who’s already onboard with this should take the plunge on this new disc without fear.
Sadly, for audio, I only have on-board speakers for my television – so I hardly have the system to properly be able to judge the Dolby Atmos soundtrack, but effects seem to come through with nice enough clarity and the music is boosted nicely just to properly get you into the film’s rifftacular headspace. The dialogue is a little tinny, especially in the early going, but I think that was probably always the case if memory serves, and again your setup may serve you better.
There’s only one extra on the 4K itself, a pretty useless less than 10 minute documentary that features Reitman, and fans of the film like Kevin Smith, Norman Reedus, Matthew Medney (CEO of Heavy Metal Magazine), and others. It’s just a praise fest and offers basically no real insights into the making of the film other than a few off-hand remembrances by Reitman. Not even remotely worth your time, but the draw here is the film itself and this disc lives and dies on that.
The 4K Steelbook also includes the previous blu-ray of the film and its associated extras which has a rough cut of the film, deleted scenes (the “Neverwhere Land” sequence being the biggest draw), and a much longer, presumably more in-depth documentary called “Imagining Heavy Metal”. I didn’t watch it though, so I won’t speak to its actual quality. There’s also a blu-ray for Heavy Metal 2000 – the sequel starring the late Julie Strain that came out at the turn of the millennium and was based on the Kevin Eastman/Simon Bisley/Eric Talbot comic “The Melting Pot”. My recollection is that it was an absolute stinker, so again, I didn’t bother with it. But that it’s the first HD presentation of that film to date is notable.
I can’t imagine even the best looking transfer in the world is going to win over first-timers here, but if you have an affection for the film, this makes for an easy recommendation. For me, it’s just kind of nice to watch some actual hand-drawn animation, even if the results are a little mixed. And in these rather chaste times in cinema, I guess it’s somewhat refreshing for a movie to have a sex drive at all, even if it’s driving more towards pervishness. A singular experience to say the least, probably only for the die-hards, but they’ll have a great time with it.