Heavy Metal

Heavy Metal (1981)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Extras: Audio Commentaries, Rough Cut, Deleted Scenes, Featurette, Galleries and much more

In the early 80s, the animated feature film "Heavy Metal" became in instant cult classic upon its release to theaters. Combining flashy imagery with a lot of violence and gratuitous sex, the film was the animated version of the comic book series of the same name and an easy to digest feast for pubescent boys with rock music influences and heroic dreams about a glorified adulthood filled with raunchy sex, drugs and rock and roll. The film completely captured and epitomized all the stereotypes of the generation and is now brought to DVD as a special edition by Columbia TriStar Home Video.

Like the comic books, the film "Heavy Metal" consists of a series of individual segments that are loosely stringed together by a thin surrounding story. Each of these metaphorical vignettes carries a very unique look and feel, making them distinguishable and while also creating a feel of variety through the segments. The different stories are all there to showcase the evilness of theLoc-Nar, each one of them telling a little story how Evil won over Good. Each of these stories involves some sort of a big-busted babe, lots of violence and blood and of course the rock music for which the film has become so famous for – although strangely not a note of Heavy Metal is to be heard anywhere in the film.

As mentioned before, each for the segments carries a different artistic and narrative style, ranging from very slick looking traditional animation, over Anime, all the way to gritty, French-comic styles as often found in modern comic books. Some of the segments use rotoscoping technologies whereas others again are completely freehand drawings. As such, "Heavy Metal" offers a wide variety of interesting animation and comic book styles accumulated in a single film that is colorful and flashy, although a bit uneven.

Despite the often found nomenclature "adult comic" or "mature themed" with comic books like "Heavy Metal", I am purposely avoiding these terms. The comics and the film have little to do with real mature contents. After all, it would be pretty sad if all materials that cater to grown-up audiences inevitably featured incessant gore and gratuitous sex. These are more symptoms of an oversexed pubescent boyhood that become R-rated through their artificial explicitness but not through the nature of their actual content. On top of it, the film has nothing to do with actual "Heavy Metal" – the music – or its lifestyle at all, as many people incorrectly assume. It is actually more a farewell tribute to the hippie generation, and as such a colorful and rather entertaining one.

"Heavy Metal" is presented in a <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio that seems to be 1.78:1 on this release from Columbia TriStar Home Video, in a transfer that is <$16x9,16x9 enhanced>. Quite a bit of film grain is evident throughout the film’s presentation however. Slight ringing artifacts are evident in some of the film’s scenes, but their occurrence is mostly depending on the graphical style at any given time. Some of the images simply compress much better than others, while others yet hide these artifacts much better than others. Given the amount of noise in the overall picture, these artifacts are also slightly exaggerated though the noise.
As a whole however, "Heavy Metal" sees a great presentation on this DVD that makes all previous incarnations obsolete.

The disc contains two soundtracks, the original 2-channel surround mix, as well as a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> re-mix. Interestingly, I clearly preferred the original mix over the newly redone 5.1 track, mostly because it puts more emphasis on the music and because it sounds more balanced.
The <$5.1,5.1 mix> keeps the music mostly in the front channels where it is easily drowned out by the wild effects from all the discrete channels. The stereo mix on the other hand is much tighter and simply feels more authentic.
The release also contains a running commentary-like feature. Heavy Metal historian Carl Macek is reading his book "Heavy Metal" over the film’s presentation, which contains some interesting information for fans of the film and the comic books. The disc contains subtitles in English, Spanish and Portuguese.

Columbia’s release of this film is a fine example of a great special edition with tons of supplements to support the actual feature film. You will clearly have to make some time to go through all the materials, because they are rich and plentiful, inviting the viewer to keep exploring them more and more while spending hours in front of the screen. Apart from the film itself you will find a complete rough cut of the movie as well. This rough cut consists of story boards, early animation sequences, all prepared to create the entire flow of the film, as it turned out in the end. It’s practically the same film all over again, only at a very early development stage. This rough cut also comes with an optional <$commentary,commentary track> by Heavy Metal historian Carl Macek.

The release also contains deleted scenes, including complete story segments that didn’t make it into the final film due to running-length constraints. These deleted scenes are fun to watch, although it is quite easy to see why they were chosen not be part of the final film after all. In a section called "Artwork Of Heavy Metal" you can take a look at various key scenes from the film in various development stages. From simply pencil drawings and sketches all the way to the fully layered animation cels. Many of these scenes are actually animated as you can browse through the different development stages.

A Production Photo Gallery is also part of the disc, showing images from some of the photo shoots that were used as rotoscoping references for the film. To round up the section, you will also find a large number of covers from the "Heavy Metal" comic book series, as well as other "Heavy Metal" related artwork on the disc, ranging from 1977 all the way to today’s issues. A 35-minute documentary called "Imagining Heavy Metal" is also part of this superb DVD, giving you interviews with all the key people behind the production of the film. From the general ideas and concepts to the final execution, a lot of ground is covered in this extensive featurette.

While I am not a particular fan of "Heavy Metal", I found the special edition that Columbia is presenting us here very impressive. It is the material and the selection of materials that I am sure will have fans salivating. The film itself has certainly never looked better and the supplements offer hours of entertainment. There can be no doubt that this was a very ambitious project and the result clearly pays off. This release is an instant must-buy item for every fan of the movie that will satisfy even the most discriminating collector.