Now don’t go getting your hopes up for what a hi-def transfer can do for Heavy Metal. This is grubby animation that has never looked sharp, gleaming or profoundly colourful and vivid. But, make no mistake, this AVC 1.85:1 transfer certainly provides us with the best image that Reitman’s film has ever had, short of its initial theatrical airing.
The image is pitted with debris, although this is cleaner than I’ve seen it appear before. Grain is happily abundant and there is no evidence of overt noise removal at all. The picture does have some wobble to it, but nothing too distracting. Lines are sharper than before, distinctions in the image all the more overt and apparent. Object delineation is as good as gets for such material – it is bold and stark and broadly rendered, although sloppy when compared to newer examples of the form. This film was a major influence on the Japanese animation that would soon sweep the world during the early 80’s, and it has that terrific, in-yer-face, warts ‘n’ all quality to it.
Contrast is good, but hardly outstanding. It is, of course, probably as fine and as consistent at it can be, given the source material. Fluctuations are apparent, and there are many moments when this is clearly down to the original animation techniques and not down to the transfer, itself. Black levels, as you would expect, are variable, but I don’t think you could complain about the atmospherics they help deliver, or the shadow-play that they enable. Colours are possibly where this transfer really shines. We are not talking about Disney standards of smelted rainbows dripping lividly across the screen here, but the image, as grubby as it is, still maintains a very pleasing collage of shades and hues that bring this weird and wonderful world to life. The primaries are bold enough, and the finite separation between elements is keenly rendered without smearing, although there is some fuzzing and bobbling which, again, stems from the original source. Saturation is good and solid, leading to an image that is wonderfully eye-catching and merrily captivating without having the sort of scintillating, retina-seducing fidelity that is the province of more exactingly produced modern animated fare.
There’s no getting around the fact that Heavy Metal looks old and rough around the edges. There is frequently little to no depth to the imagery, although when the multi-plane elements are utilised, the opposite is very definitely the case – Taarna’s flybys being a good example – and the picture can look flat and inherently soft. Fluidity is predominantly vintage and somewhat erratic, but the transfer makes no errors with panning shots and the action is held onto with as much grace and stability as possible.
Although it may look poor to some people not accustomed to how it has looked in the past, and those not savvy about its age and appreciative limitations, Heavy Metal has been presented very nicely on this region-free US release from Sony. A more exacting restoration could well have ruined the rugged appeal of this renegade classic.
Again, you should lower your expectations for this DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix because the elements are dated, the dynamics less than scintillating and the immersive qualities very limited.
The film, and its soundtrack, were cleaned-up for its re-release in the late 90’s, with a remix for additional surround channels, and this is what we are hearing now. Volume is actually quite substantial, which is just as well considering the amount of rock tracks that have gone into the soundtrack. These thrust out across the environment with considerable vigour, really supplying some oomph to the show. Dialogue isn’t strictly accurate, and it can waver a little, scene by scene and story to story, though this is never too troublesome. Effects such as laser-blasts, gunfire, bulkheads getting wrecked by massive fists, crashing craft and explosions and show-stopping moments of intense Loc-Nar activity are handled with gusto, though they can also be a little haphazardly positioned, and although it is fun to hear some of the more bombastic elements they still sound a little ramshackle and carelessly positioned.
There is some directionality for vehicles and spacecraft, and for the zapping of lasers. The rears aren’t neglected. They add support for the music, and provide a little bit of ambience, and they are also called-upon to supply some wraparound effects, such as the whooshing of spaceship engines, the passage of the bomber, the squawking and the flapping of wings of Taarna’s weird steed, and the catch ‘n’ buffer of a couple of explosions. Most of this quite subtle, but the odd squawk actually caught me off-guard and made me look around. Now this isn’t anything to do with the mix being amazingly realistic, you understand. In fact, it was more to do with the fact that some of these more spatially placed effects sounded quite dislocated to me, and unconvincing.
The music, however, is dealt with an even, smooth and reasonably detailed hand. The rock tracks are never too bludgeoning as to swamp the orchestral side of things, which comes courtesy of the awsome Elmer Bernstein, but the symphonic score is not as sweeping, nor as lush as it could be. But this is merely down to the source material, and the overall result certainly sounds good enough to enjoy.
Mostly enjoyable stuff, but still only a solid 6 out of 10.
We don’t get a lot of extra material, but what there is, is very good.
Not only do we get to see the entire film played-out in rough form with a running commentary over the top, which provides an interesting degree of insight into what creative decisions were made and what problems were encountered, we also get the fantastic 36-minute retrospective making-of entitled Imagining Heavy Metal, and a couple of Deleted Scenes.
The rough cut has black-and-white sequences, colour sequences, pencil sequences and all sorts of unfinalised material. Interestingly, it plays in a completely different order than the final cut of the film, but it is fascinating to watch and to listen to the trivia and detail about how it was all achieved. The commentator, Carl Macek, is actually the author of a book about the making of the film.
The making-of documentary is absorbing, informative, amusing and very enjoyable. We hear from Ivan Reitman (producer), Kevin Eastman (editor of Heavy Metal Magazine), John Bruno (director of special effects and director of Taarna) Paul Sabella (director of the Captain Sternn episode), Terry Windell (layout artist), Joe Medjuck (production coordinator) and Dan Goldberg (co-screenwriter), who all provide excellent, candid and entertaining anecdotes and background to the huge and ambitious project. We see images from the original Metal Hurlant that went on to become elements in the movie, and we see footage from the production showing miniatures being filmed and, best of all, the gorgeous Carole Desbiens, who was filmed and mapped for the role of Taarna. These guys must surely have enjoyed that part of the gig.
The two sequences that were shorn from the final cut are presented either individually, or with a Play All option. The first is the excised sequence that I discussed in the film review showing the influence of the Loch-Nar through the ages of Earth’s history – and this is shown in rough animation – and the second is the original concept for the wraparound story, with the girl and the merry-go-round. This second sequence can also be viewed with an optional commentary, and is, again, in rough form.
Not a bad selection of extras, folks. They may not seem like much, but they really reveal a lot about the genesis, production and creative spirit of how Heavy Metal got made.
The disc is also BD-Live enabled.
It’s hard to imagine a genre-fan not enjoying Heavy Metal. It has personality, vitality, a deep streak of the outlandish and the rebellious, and a sense of imaginative exuberance that clearly just wants to entertain in as anarchic a fashion as it can. Sure, it’s dated … but this now gives the film a weird retro-vibe that actually works to support its wacky, funked-up atmosphere of cosmic surrealism. Cheerfully episodic, the film is lovingly violent, hyper-sexy, highly amusing and tremendously bizarre. Personally, I adore its crazy collision of artistic styles, fantastic imagery and subversively cool genre-distillation.
The narrative flow is problematic – I’d have liked more actual meat on the bones of a couple of the stories, but then again I’m just being greedy – yet the balance between comedy, horror and fantasy is surprisingly well achieved. The idea was that you just wouldn’t know what was coming next, and this goal is pretty well maintained with a barrage of wayward tales and tones. The film has a genuinely carefree, anything-goes sort of attitude … and that is an extremely rare mood to attain, particularly in this sort of genre.
The transfer is no great shakes, but it is also very faithful and unmistakably looks the best that it ever has on the small(er) screen. The extras are terrific. What they lack in quantity, they make up for with quality. The making-of is great fun and the rough cut-and-commentary provides an interesting, if dry account of the animation process.
I wish that they’d packaged the sequel with this release, but Heavy Metal, the original and the best,still comes highly recommended.
A demonic glowing orb, barbarians and warrior-women, randy robots and zombie aviators … and the best animated boobies around! What more could you ask for?
Zany, sexy, spooky. It’s Heavy Metal.
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