I like to consider myself something of a pop culture glutton. You see, I grew up during the 80’s, which was a time of stupendous growth in classic movies, TV shows, and video games. It was the decade where I discovered the online world, via the medium of Bulletin Board Systems (BBS), discovered Doctor Who, Douglas Adams, William Gibson, Max Headroom, and a pantheon of movies by John Hughes, Steven Spielberg, and so on and so on. It was stuff that built the geek that is me.
However, unlike the incredulous omniscience of 80’s pop culture Wade “Parzival” Watts from Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One (seriously, take a drink anytime he or another character mentions seeing every episode of a show, memorizing a movie, or playing every home or coin-op video game), there are some gaps in my diet. I’ve never seen The Goonies or the Back To The Future movies. I grew up without an Atari, although I did have an Odyssey 2 which was pretty good enough and its joystick didn’t give me carpal tunnel. And there are probably some classic TV shows that I just wasn’t into at the time.
Anyway, I went over to a friend’s house last night to shoot the shit and hang out. When I arrived, he had Bladerunner (the 2007 Final Cut Blu-Ray edition, thankyouverymuch) playing on his TV. When that ended, I suggested David Cronenberg’s Videodrome, which I hadn’t seen in years. More or less, these movies played as background noise as we talked about gaming, stuff, and things. When I looked over his DVD collection, I noticed that he had the cult classic Heavy Metal. It was a movie that I’d always known of but never really saw. I used to catch glimpses of it when HBO would show it in the early 80’s, but since I was a burgeoning adolescent by that time, the only thing I really remember was animated naked women.
When I mentioned that I’d never saw it, my friend said, “Oh, you’ve got to watch it.” And watch it we did.
Now, for those who are either unaware or bereft of search engine, Heavy Metal is an anthology movie, like Creepshow or Twilight Zone: The Movie, and is based on the magazine of the same name. And much like the magazine, the movie contains dark science fiction/fantasy elements, graphic nudity, and sex. Lots of sex. More on that in a bit. The plot revolves around a glowing green “sum of all evils” orb called the Loc-Nar that terrorizes a young girl and tells her stories, which makes up the anthology. Through these stories, the Loc-Nar shows human/alien life at its worst, pushing innocent people into committing horrible atrocities. In the final story, the Loc-Nar is destroyed by a female warrior named Taarna (who also appears in the movie poster). Similarly, the Loc-Nar terrorizing the girl is also destroyed and the movie ends.
What makes the film unique is the visual style of the film. It captures very well the mood and ethos of the magazine. A good part of the movie contains rotoscoped images, that is, hand traced images of filmed footage. I’ve never really been a fan of rotoscoping except in small doses. To me, the animation is jarring; it lacks consistency and flow. In the end, it makes all of the characters’ movements seem clumsy, no more so than in this movie. Otherwise, the artwork ranges from the cartoonish to the grotesque and features futuristic cityscapes and far off lands.
The stories are interesting, some humorous, mostly serious with a majority of the voices are SCTV alums such as John Candy, Harold Ramis, and Eugene Levy. But through it all, Heavy Metal has a very amateurish appeal: the obscene (pun not intended) amounts of graphic nudity and sex. All of the females are buxom and horny, their large breasts often tipped off with disturbing large and protruding erect nipples. This is a movie that epitomizes the term, The Male Gaze. Or, as the site Rotten Tomatoes puts it, “sexist, juvenile, and dated.”
Even some of the dialogue makes your ears cringe. Take a snippet from a story early in the movie, “Harry Canyon.” In one scene, the titular character, a seedy and unsexy New York cab driver, narrates his thoughts as he has seedy and unsexy nookie with a girl, whom he rescued from the mob, in his seedy and unsexy apartment. The writing would make a Penthouse Forum writer cringe at the hackery:
Sucker play or not, I must have turned her on somethin’ fierce. I mean, this dame was goin’ for broke. Maybe it was her first time with a New Yorker, I dunno. Anyway, nothing beats good old American know-how. And I was givin’ this broad the Stars And Stripes Forever.
Aside: the most hackiest sex story I ever read has bit where the female, in the throes of passion, implores her lover, “Mike, hammer it to me!” That phrase will never leave my brain, sadly.
Despite its seemingly overtly puerile depictions of women and sexuality, there are some pretty good moments within the movie. There’s “Captain Stern,” a comedic story in which a beefy, morally ambiguous space captain is put on trial and his only defense, a mealy simpleton named Hanover Fiste who falls under the power of the Loc-Nar, turns into a ranting, raving, and hulking monster. Another one I liked was “B-17,” in which most of the crew of a bomber are killed during a raid and the Loc-Nar turns them into skeletal zombies. Also worth noting is “So Beautiful, So Dangerous,” which features two spaced-out space pilots, named Zeke and Edsel (voiced hilariously by Ramis and Levy), a kidnapped stenographer, and a robot who seduces the stenographer.
All in all, Heavy Metal was one of those movies that I always wondered about and never saw. Having watched it, I can see where a 12 year-old me would’ve thought it was the bee’s knees and awesome. It does boast a great soundtrack and its animation style is unique, but I can’t get past the film’s middle school maturity. Certainly, as a cult classic, this movie means something to people and it does have some good moments. Overall, though, I think this was made for a much younger me.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to log off. A glowing green marble just crashed through the window.