Heavy Metal

Collector's Edition

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Details At A Glance

Category Fantasy/Animation Theatrical Trailer(s) None
Rating Other Trailer(s) None
Year Released 1981 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time 86:42 minutes Other Extras Deleted Scenes
Featurette - Imagining Heavy Metal (35:39)
Featurette - Original Feature-length Rough Cut (87:42)
Galleries - Artwork and Photographs
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 2,4 Director Gerald Potterton
Columbia Pictures
Columbia TriStar Home Video
Starring Vocal talents include:
John Candy
Joe Flaherty
Don Francks
Eugene Levy
Harold Ramis
Case Transparent Amaray
RRP $39.95 Music Elmer Bernstein

Pan & Scan/Full Frame No MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Dolby Digital 5.1
16x9 Enhancement
Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 384 Kb/s)
French (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s)
German (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s)
Italian (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s)
Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192 Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio ?1.85:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking Yes
Subtitles English
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    Well this is certainly different stuff indeed. Nudity, sex, violence, gore. Disney animation this ain't!!

    Being blissfully unaware of the existence of this film, which apparently has for a long time been unavailable on home video due to licensing problems, I had no idea what to expect. Whilst I was at one time dimly aware of the Heavy Metal magazine, upon which this is based, I could not recall exactly what the magazine was about. The film Heavy Metal provided ample reminder! This is the sort of irreverence that one tends to associate with the National Lampoon banner and it is no surprise that the magazine is owned by that exalted icon. Coming as it did at the start of the Reaganist conservatism in the United States, this is a refreshing blast of political incorrectness that is sadly so missing from life today. And is it my imagination or is this the sort of thing that Japanese Anime aspires to but often falls short of?

    So what about the plot you are asking, right? Well, that is a little difficult to answer as there really is not one. The film itself is a collection of short stories if you like, bridged by a green fluorescent ball called the Lok-Nar which has the capacity to completely disintegrate flesh. Lok-Nar is the embodiment of pure evil. The stories themselves range from historically based horror and gore to fantasy sex romps to futuristic legal juggling. This really is a collection of animated stories straight out of the magazine. The stories themselves comprise Soft Landing (which sets up the arrival of Lok-Nar), Grimaldi, Harry Canyon (New York cabbie extraordinaire), Den, Captain Sternn, B-17, So Beautiful So Dangerous and Taarna (now there is an Amazonian delight!). Each story is the work of a different group of animators and their diversity in style and content is what ultimately binds the whole thing together as an almost coherent film.

    Produced by Ivan Reitman, a man whose pedigree in comedy is well founded, this was commenced whilst he was working on Stripes, which partially explains why the vocal talents of John Candy and Harold Ramis were used. However, they are by no means the only contributors from that film. Whilst the stories are somewhat variable in their success, and my personal favourites are Harry Canyon and Taarna, the overall style brought together by Reitman is nonetheless reminiscent of the magazine. What makes the film so watchable is really the different animation styles employed, some of which border on being somewhat avant garde for their day. The variability in the styles is most intriguing, and for aficionados of animated films, this must be something of a cult classic. Not the most coherent film ever put together, and some will have problems with at least some of the content, but this is definitely an experience that is rewarding. And just to make it very clear - this is not animation for kids.

Transfer Quality


    Well there is absolutely nothing wrong with the transfer itself; however, the source material does leave something to be desired at times.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and it is 16x9 enhanced.

    The transfer highlights every little imperfection in the source material and therefore you have to put up with some variability in the visual experience. It is important to understand that each story comes from essentially a different animation company and their preferences in style do not aid a consistency in style - thankfully. Whilst in general the transfer is sharp and well defined, there are some quite obvious lapses along the way. The source material demonstrates some variability in detail, which is somewhat unavoidable. In general, this is not what you could call a clear transfer at all. There are no apparent problems at all with low level noise in the transfers.

    The colours are anything but consistent here, and that is precisely what makes this such a wild extravaganza. At best the colours are gorgeously rich, lovely and vibrant and a delight to look at. At worst the colours are a little muted, being a little wishy-washy in style. There are problems in some areas with oversaturation of colours, but nothing that is positively repulsive. In many respects the noticeability of the oversaturation is a result of the different ways in which colour was used in the various stories. Colour bleed does become a problem on a couple of occasions, but it should be stressed that these are all inherent faults in the source material and not DVD related mastering problems I suspect.

   The most noticeable MPEG artefact, and one consistent in the film, is the blurring of panned shots. These became a little tiring on the eyes the further the film went on. It may be of course that these are not related to the DVD mastering process but are inherent weaknesses in the source material again. There were no readily apparent film-to-video artefacts in the transfer. If you want film artefacts though, you will find them in abundance, although it has to be said that there really are none that are too distracting, and given that this appears to have languished in the vaults for most of the past twenty years, their presence is hardly surprising.

   This disc is an RSDL formatted disc, although the location of the layer change is not known. I am presuming that the film is on one layer, with the extras predominantly on the second layer, which would be eminently logical.


   Once the legal problems, mainly to do with licensing of the music, were overcome and a home video release was made likely, Columbia Pictures went to the trouble of remastering the soundtrack in Dolby Digital 5.1 (well okay, SDDS actually) for a limited theatrical re-release of the film. This is presumably the soundtrack that is on the disc, which to be honest is not that great at all, which is a little odd since the original soundtrack won the Genies in 1982 for Best Overall Sound and Best Sound Editing.

   There are five audio tracks on the DVD: an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, a French Dolby Digital 2.0 surround encoded soundtrack, a German Dolby Digital 2.0 surround encoded soundtrack, an Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 surround encoded soundtrack and a Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack. I listened to the English soundtrack, but also sampled the Italian soundtrack, as there is reason to believe that the packaging is incorrect in stating this to be surround encoded. After listening to excerpts from the soundtrack, I would suggest that the packaging may be correct, but it is not the best surround encoded soundtrack I have heard. All comments relate to the English soundtrack.

   The dialogue was always clear and easy to understand.

   Of course, there were significant audio sync problems with the transfer, but they are supposed to be there. It is called animation.

  The original musical score comes from the very prolific Elmer Bernstein, and by all accounts (well at least the comments in the featurette) it is considered something of a lost gem. I would hardly go that far in my description, but it is a very nicely complementary effort with some evocative tones to it. In all, it does a great job of enhancing the film, but I don't think it would stand up too well if removed from the context of the film (unlike other great soundtracks). The original score is enhanced further by rock music efforts from some serious names of the genre from the seventies and early eighties. Names like Blue Oyster Cult, Black Sabbath, Journey, Cheap Trick, Nazareth, Devo and Grand Funk Railroad to name a few might give you some idea of the offerings here!

   Unfortunately, this is something of a flawed soundtrack, with the balance at times being very poor (Chapter 21 is especially noteworthy). The vocal track at times becomes very recessed in the overall mix and the resultant sound picture is even more weird than the film itself intends. This is by no means consistent and at times the sound picture is completely believable with little to complain about at all. The surround channels get some nice work, but really in a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack I was expecting something with a bit more surround presence and ambience. The bass channel was not excessively used and again could have been used with a little more aggression at times. Still, given the genre, some may not find the soundtrack as flawed as I do, and it may of course be that the soundtrack is exactly as it was meant to be.


    Well, this is not a bad collection for a Collector's Edition of a twenty year old film!


    Nicely presented in a metallic looking style that complements the name of the film very well. One of the better looking efforts I have seen, even without audio or animation enhancement.

Featurette - Imagining Heavy Metal (35:39)

    This is a recently recorded documentary mainly comprising interviews with crew members, interspersed with extracts from the film. Coming as it does twenty years after the event, this is an interesting look at how the people involved perceive the film now. It is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, not 16x9 enhanced and with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, with the option of subtitles in German, French, Dutch, Spanish and Italian. In general, it is a little on the boring side and not something that I would watch again, but a nice introduction to the film for those with no knowledge of Heavy Metal magazine (like me).

Deleted Scenes - 2: Neverwhere Land (3:27) and alternate framing story (2:39)

    Both of these deleted scenes are referred to (and briefly shown) in the featurette, so it is particularly pleasing to get the full blown versions as extras. Both are presented at an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, not 16x9 enhanced and with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, with the added bonus of the alternate framing story having the choice of a commentary or not - the commentary sounds as if it comes from Carl Macek, but this is not made clear in the packaging. As with most of the extra features you have the option of subtitles in German, French, Dutch, Spanish and Italian. The Neverwhere Land scene is far more complete and is mostly in colour and a reasonably finished state, except for the ending of the scene. The alternate framing story is basically in a rough, storyboard state albeit with some dialogue. Be warned though, these scenes are very prone to film artefacts (mainly copious amounts of dirt), especially the alternate framing story. Also, for some reason the Dutch subtitles default to on with the alternate framing story. Overall however, these are very nice additions to the package, especially for animation aficionados who enjoy the technical aspects of how animation is done.

Featurette - Original Feature-Length Rough Cut (90:24)

    Now here is a real gem, and something that I have not seen before. Basically, this is not a featurette but rather is what in writers parlance would be a first draft. This is a full length storyboard cut of the film put together to show how the film would look in broad terms. Whilst the concept of storyboards is quite familiar, this is the most imaginative use of the concept on a DVD I have seen so far. Sure, being a rough cut (leica reels being the technical term apparently), the animation is generally very crude and colourless (although some is virtually finished stuff in full colour), but it is fascinating to see how the original storyboard concepts then translated into the final fully animated feature. If you enjoy the technical aspects of film, and especially animation, this is going to send you into ecstasy. As an even greater added bonus, it comes with the choice of an audio commentary as well! The commentary comes from Carl Macek, the author of the book Heavy Metal: Animation for the Eighties (reissued as Heavy Metal: The Movie). Surprisingly, the rough cut itself does have some limited original dialogue included. This is a tremendous addition to the package, even if the quality is not the best. Presented at an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, this is mainly black and white.

Galleries - Artwork and Photographs

    Ho hum, you are probably thinking. The usual collection of a few dozen meaningless photos, right? You could not be more wrong if you tried. This actually comprises six different galleries: Production Photographs, Pencil Portfolio, Conceptual Art, Single Cel Portfolio, Layered Cel Portfolio and Heavy Metal Magazine Cover Gallery. And if you really want to count them (I did, but I might have miscounted), this is not just a few dozen photographs. Try 627. Yes, you read right, 627, give or take a couple of counting errors. And some of these are just not stills but are animated sequences. The breakdown is 19 production photographs, 25 pencil drawings (including one animated), 59 conceptual art stills (including two animated), 29 single cels, 192 layered cels (including two animated) and 303 magazine covers (fronts and backs in general). Pretty impressive numbers! Okay, so all are unannotated and this does diminish the effect somewhat, but some of the layered cels in particular are wonderful demonstrations on how animation is put together. There may not be any annotation, but by the time you have finished looking at this collection, you will have a damn good idea of the work that goes into traditional animation - remembering of course that this film was made before the advent of computer animation. Personally I found this a fascinating voyage even though the sheer numbers are too mind-boggling to grasp in one sitting. A stunning collection.

R4 vs R1

    As far as I can determine, the Region 4 release misses out on:     If that is really going to tip the scales in favour of Region 1, you are more demanding than me.


    Okay, so Heavy Metal is a little variable in its quality and execution, and it really helps if you have a passing knowledge of Heavy Metal magazine in my view. However, this is the sort of stuff that Anime aspires to and doesn't achieve often. If you really want to turn back the clock to those politically incorrect times before the Reagan conservatism in the United States, definitely give this a spin. But rent first, as it will not be to everyone's taste and the animated nudity, sex and gory violence may upset some.

    A very good video transfer, that highlights every imperfection in the source material.

    A slightly problematic audio transfer.

    A stunning extras package.

    And I can hear some asking the question of what the heck are the Genies? [Ed. What the heck are the Genies?] The Canadian equivalent of the Oscars. It's all right, I did not know either, but the Internet Movie Database is a treasure trove of trivia about films.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris
13th January 2000

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 84cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL