Saturday, October 30, 2010

1980's "Movie" Flashback: Heavy Metal

A Step Beyond Science Fiction ....

Heavy Metal was a 1981 animated film from executive producer Leonard Mogel (who was also the publisher of Heavy Metal magazine), with Ivan Reitman producing and Gerald Potterton directing. Work on the film was expedited by having several animation houses working simultaneously on different segments.

The film is an anthology of various science fiction & fantasy stories adapted from Heavy Metal magazine (& its French precursor, M├ętal Hurlant) and/or some original stories inspired by same. Like the magazine, the film has prodigious graphic violence, nudity, and sexuality on featured segments Den (adapted from creator Richard Corben's character), Harry Canyon, So Beautiful & So Dangerous (adapted rom the work of Angus McKie), Captain Sternn (by Bernie Wrightson) and the phenomenal adventure sequence that comprised the final third of the film, Taarna (inspired by Moebius' Arzach stories).

The film often uses the rotoscoping technique of animation which consists of shooting models and actors, then tracing the images onto film for animation purposes. A B-17 bomber was shot using a 10-foot replica, which was then animated. Additionally "Taarna the Taarakian" was rotoscoped, using Toronto-based model Carole Desbiens as a model for the animated character. The closing shot of the exploding house at the end of the "Grimaldi" sequence was originally meant to be rotoscoped, but the film's original release date was moved up from October/November to August 1981, leaving insufficient time to accomplish that segment. This is the only non-animated sequence in the film.

Heavy Metal received mixed reviews and enjoyed only limited appeal during its initial theatrical run, but became a popular cult attraction for midnight showings (similar to The Rocky Horror Picture Show). Legal problems with the film's music rights kept it off the commercial home video market for fifteen years, although it did receive rotation on various pay cable movie channels, allowing fans to record it. The album (released on LP in 1981) peaked at #12 on the Billboard charts. The Canadian film production company's use of the featured rock songs was limited to its theatrical release and soundtracks alone, and thus didn't extend to the video release of the film. Rights negotiations took over fifteen years to resolve, and the official home video release did not debut until 1996. Unusual for the time, an LP recording of Elmer Bernstein's score was released alongside the soundtrack in 1981, and it featured the composer's first use of the ondes martenot, an instrument which became a trademark of Bernstein's later career.

Heavy Metal has many veteran creators involved in the production including screenwriter Dan O'Bannon, comic book artists Mike Ploog, Chris Achilleos, Howard Chaykin and recognizable voice work by actors John Vernon, Eugene Levy, Harold Ramis, Joe Flaherty and John Candy. Many top recording artists and groups contributed to the classic soundtrack including Cheap Trick, Riggs, Nazareth, Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, Devo, Grand Funk Railroad, Stevie Nicks, Don Felder, Donald Fagan, Journey and Sammy Hagar.

If you've somehow managed to miss out on seeing this great movie, give it a try. There are far better animated films in the world, but Heavy Metal has tremendous synchronicity going for it - all set to a rocking beat - in a fantasy wonderland. Recommended!

This post concludes my 2010 Halloween film festival posts. Thanks for stopping by and although I watched many, many genre flicks throughout October from schlock like The Astro Zombies and Plaguers to recognized gems like the Hammer Films running on Turner Classic Movies on Fridays. I had to make a last minute "Strange Terrors" adjustment when Netflix bollixed my final pick (Night of the Creeps; which was delayed), so Heavy Metal was quickly inserted as an alternate which fit within my selected festival criteria: 1980s, sci-fi/horror and nudity.

No comments: