Viking Night: Heavy Metal
By Bruce Hall
May 29, 2012
The film's final chapter is arguably the best, offering the most visceral examination of good versus evil that you'll see in the entire film. The problem is that they all seem arbitrary and pointless. Clearly the intent is for each story to serve as a sort of macabre fable - but most of the time the intended “lesson” is obscured by giant boobs, gratuitous bloodshed and screaming guitars. To some extent, the film is forced to re-establish momentum several times and even if you don’t mind the adolescent tone of the whole thing, you might find it hard to care about what’s happening.
But if you can appreciate genuine effort and forgive the overreach that often comes with ambition, you might find yourself moderately fascinated. A violent, big budget animated sex romp like this simply doesn't happen in 2012 - at least, not outside Japan. And not just because marrying a brutal teenage sex-fantasy with the concept of morality is hard to do without involving giant fighting robots. It’s because the landscape of film has changed since 1981. Today this kind of project is most likely to appear on Adult Swim, the quality of animation making Heavy Metal look like it was made yesterday. And these days, you'd be hard pressed to put together an appropriately eclectic soundtrack without ending up with a self indulgent Emo train wreck.
God, I can almost hear Trent Reznor and Evanescence sobbing and moaning away. The point is that for better or worse, Heavy Metal is an artifact of a bygone time. I don’t mean to imply that hand drawn animation is a lost art, because it’s not. But its days as the driving force behind a major release like this are over. The look of Heavy Metal is distinctive, but well past dated. I personally find it fascinating, but unless you’re just a fan of animation you’re not likely to agree.
Truth be told, even when the movie was new it was never pretty enough to entirely overcome its deficiencies. But some of them are overcome by a killer soundtrack stuffed with rock classics - and most of the songs fit very well with whatever is happening on screen at the time. It’s almost worth watching Heavy Metal just to experience how deeply the music affects your visual and mental perception of the story. They got the soundtrack right, and it’s a good thing. Without it I’m not sure this movie has the cult following that it does today.
I look at Heavy Metal sitting there in my video collection and wonder when I would have watched it again had I not decided to write about it. Eventually, sure. But it’s a little bit like those really nice brown dress shoes I have that don’t go with anything, or my bomber jacket from high school. They’re both hopelessly obsolete, and yet I can’t bear to forget them. Frankly, they belong in a museum, not with me. And it’s hard not to feel a little like that when I watch Heavy Metal. It’s still pretty cool, but not as much as it was the last time I saw it.
But what IS a video collection if not a museum of sorts? Someday I will have no more use for supermodels in metal bikinis, or their swords and dragons. But I’ll always cherish my imagination and as long as I have that, there will be a special place in my heart - and on my bookshelf - for Heavy Metal.