Equal parts Amazing Stories, Star Wars, Red Sonja and late night, R-rated cinemax - what's not to love about the adolescent animation for adults spectacular Heavy Metal? Throw in a soundtrack with hard rock favorites from Journey, Sammy Hagar, Cheap Trick and Nazareth, not to mention Stevie Nicks and Eagles ex-guitarist Don Felder...and voila, you've got the makings of a very unique cartoon unlike any other seen before or since.
Surprisingly, at the Aero theater's screening, they were playing the soundtrack to Metallica's "Kill 'Em All" before the movie actually started. While there isn't anything nearly that hard on the official soundtrack (Black Sabbath's "The Mob Rules" is about as heavy as it gets), the Metallica tunes did add to the night's kitschy appeal. I'm not sure if Heavy Metal is a good movie, but it's definitely not boring. There are lots of gratuitous, animated sequences of gore, sex and violence, but it's done in such an over-the-top, fantastical, pre-teen idealized/stylized fashion, it's hard to take any of it too seriously.
The movie is a compilation of stories taken from "Heavy Metal" magazine that belong squarely in the genre of sci-fi, action, horror and fantasy, with a liberal dose of rock and roll attitude. The common thread throughout is the presence of some evil green orb/force/power/whatever known as the Loc-Nar. Through time and space, this talking minion of badness wreaks havoc. In the first episode, an astronaut pilots a 1960 Corvette down to Earth from a shuttle - and later shows his daughter what he's brought her as a "gift." Once the orb zaps him into a pile of skeletal goop, it commands his kid to look into its beady greeness and see what it's done throughout eternity. Among other things, the orb's been part of a noir-ish adventure in a futuristic New York (which seems to have been a direct influence on the cityscape inThe Fifth Element), done time with a hormonally-challenged teen-turned-muscle man on a planet called Neverwhere, and caused a bunch of zombies to appear and tear apart the crew of a World War II-era B-17. In the last episode, the green evil takes on a beautiful, statuesque warrior of good named Taarna.
Like I said, it's not necessarily great cinema, but it's fun in a childish, comic book fanboy kind of way. The animation - produced by several different studios - is top notch for the time period of the early '80s, and the images plus rock songs mesh well together. The score by Elmer Bernstein, too, is quite excellent. It's weird to think that this Canadian production arrived courtesy of the same producing team behind straight-ahead comedies like Ghostbusters and Meatballs...but then again, the goal here is just to have some like-minded, unabashed, R-rated fun. Since filmmakers David Fincher and James Cameron were recently rumored to be mulling over a long-awaited follow-up (if we're not counting Heavy Metal 2000), it's certainly made an impression.
What do you think? Ever seen this rock and roll animation? Let's hear your thoughts, plus some of your other favorite, animated rock cartoons. The choices are kind of limited...but I'm definitely a fan of the original Yellow Submarine (no remake needed for me, thank you), and I'm totally serious when I say I love the animated, ELO/Don Bluth segment in Xanadu.