Gerald Potterton - Heavy Metal [Laserdisc] (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Gerald Potterton

Heavy Metal [Laserdisc] (1996)

Columbia Pictures

Prior to its eventual release on DVD and BluRay, the Laserdisc version of cult classic Heavy Metal was THE version to watch. With crisper image than the VHS version, and far superior sound quality, with some versions featuring the coveted (for the time) 5.1 surround sound, the Laserdisc edition was superior to its more compact counterpart in every way except cost. However, a polished turd is still a turd, and for all Heavy Metal might have achieved, its expression is little more animated boobs and mediocre tunes.

Based off the graphic quarterly of the same name, Heavy Metal sought to introduce sci-fi in grittier, more realistic worlds than had previously been seen in the likes of Buck Rogers and Star Trek. Also, it sought to introduce animated boobs, lots and lots of animated boobs.

The film is a series of short works all centered around the acquisition of a mystical, powerful green orb called the Loc-Nor. In each of the stories, people confront each other and kill each other vying for the Loc-Nor across a set of backgrounds taken from across history. And of course, in nearly each of the stories, the protagonist meets a vixen that takes off her top and lets her oversized mammaries flap around.

While the movie sounds like what a group of 13-year-old boys would have written left to their own devices, it was produced by famed comedy director Ivan Reitman, who was 35 at the time of the movies production, moving the animated boobs from funny to…creepy.

That's not to say animated nudity has to be shameful, but here, nearly every woman is portrayed as air-headed and incapable of making decisions for herself, reduced to merely a chassis for boob delivery. Not once does a powerful, self-respecting female make an appearance, and those that come close, take off their top as quickly as the plot flutters out. And, what makes the movie somewhat creepier, is that the nudity is presented with the purpose of arousal, which is weird because the movie is really just a collection of pictures drawn by people cramped in dark rooms. One wonders what the animators must have thought going home from a 12-hour day of work having worked exclusively on nipple-drawing that day.

Although, some of the stories are interesting. "Captain Sternn" parodies modern politics by placing a famed general on trial for genocide, with a slight nod to Pink Floyd's The Wall trial scene. The twist ending really does catch the viewer off guard.

But, for every "Captain Sternn" there is "The Den," which is little more than an adolescent sex fantasy set in a Dungeons and Dragons world. It is in these pieces where the animation is at its weakest. Although the film was one of the earliest Rotoscope films, following on the heels of Ralph Bakshi's development, the foreground, which is animation traced over real footage, never blends into the more polished background, giving the whole film a low budget look, even though it was fairly expensive at the time to produce. Worse still, comedic genius such as John Candy is squandered over flat lines that sound again like they were written by horny 13-year-old boys over energized from drinking Coke and eating Nerds.

The Laserdisc version's redeeming feature is the powerful sound. Much sharper than both the theatrical and VHS versions, the soundtrack pops with high definition. Bizarrely, the music is only "heavy metal" in the loosest sense, with tracks from the likes of Sammy Hagar, Devo, Blue Öyster Cult, Stevie Nicks and Cheap Trick. Notably, the movie DOES feature a version of Black Sabbath's "The Mob Rules" found nowhere else. But, the music rocks along with a slight psychedelic feel that gives the trippy movie more edge than it would have had by itself.

As "art" the movie fails, simply because the plots are flimsy excuses for animated boobs. As pure entertainment, such as the likes of a board game or Mario Kart, the movie is noticeably more enjoyable, as a group can take on its own Mystery Science Theater 3000 persona and shred the film as it rolls on. Still, even at 91 minutes, the laughs start to run dry after the first 2/3 of the way through and somewhere near the end of the movie, when people stare at the screen in boredom, the females in your group will begin to wonder, "Wait, why do you own this movie again?" and then you'll have to lay possession on your absent roommate before changing the topic and sliding this movie into the back of your collection.

Heavy Metal is kind of funny at best, but then again, so are lots of things. The South Park parody "Major Boobage" does everything here in a slim 19 minutes. Unlike the boobs in this movie, economy of scale packs a more powerful punch.