Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Movie and DVD Reviews: The best and not-so-best movies available on DVD, and whatever else catches my eye.

Mimsy Review: Heavy Metal

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, November 20, 1999

If you refuse then you die, she dies, everybody dies.

Special features

Art Of6
Book Reading4
Commentary Track7
Deleted Scenes5
Poster Gallery5
Production Photographs4

Columbia usually does a great job on their DVDs, and this is no exception. “Heavy Metal” is a very fun set of animations. The DVD has a nice collection of extras. The commentary appears to be not over the movie, but over a “rough cut” of the movie.

RecommendationPossible Purchase
DirectorGerald Potterton
WritersLen Blum, Daniel Goldberg, Richard Corben, Juan Giménez, Angus McKie, Dan O’Bannon, Berni Wrightson, Thomas Warkentin
Movie Rating5
Transfer Quality7
Overall Rating6
  • Enhanced Widescreen

This is a typical Columbia-TriStar DVD, with one exception. It has great audio, a wonderful transfer, lots of extras, even including an entire book about the movie read to the audience. This, however, is the first Columbia DVD I’ve purchased that has “last position memory” disabled: you can’t start watching this movie, quit and do something else, and put the movie back in, and automatically start where you left off. Apparently I’m the only DVD reviewer who finds this DVD feature incredibly useful. At least, I’m the only one who pays attention to whether or not DVDs have this feature. I hope to see more DVDs with this feature, not fewer, but I’ll probably be disappointed.

The movie: this is a collection of animated shorts with a loose tie-in about a glowing orb that is “the sum of all evil”. (Opening shot; Orb: “I am the sum of all evil.” Audience response: “And I am looking up your skirt.” Watch it, you’ll understand.) The animation is in the style of various artists for the “Heavy Metal” magazine, as it stood in the early eighties when this movie was made. The animation is truly fascinating, and a joy to watch. It brought a new comic illustration style to animation, with lush backgrounds and muted colors. This is no four-color adventure.

One of the advantages of animation is that it can do things that just can’t be done in real life. “Heavy Metal” displayed just such innovative techniques for bouncing women’s breasts across the screen. In a true example of movie values, cartoon women show full frontal nudity (as well as full dorsal nudity and full every other possible direction nudity). Cartoon men, however, even have their shadows cut out if it happens to show the shadow of their dork hanging out. In the “Den” sequence, one of the funniest, with John Candy providing the title voice’s train of thought, you can see him looking towards the right and then down when he arrives, naked, in the strange new world of Richard Corben. When he looks to the right, he sees his shadow, including his large penis, which causes him to look down at it for verification. According to Carl Macek on the commentary, this was considered “too racy” and a zoom shot removed the shadow from the scene. You can still see it in the rough cut. Hardly racy, his penis isn’t even as big as most of the pendulous breasts in the movie.

Two of the best sequences didn’t involve sex or nudity at all: Berni Wrightson’s “Captain Sternn” and Mike Ploog’s “B-17”. Wrightson’s feature was from the magazine (and later its own comic), and involved a short trial of the Captain. “B-17” was a moody piece involving a B-17 returning from a bombing run, with most of its crew dead.

One of the things that made this movie such a hit when it came out, besides the beautiful cartoon women and the wide availability of alcohol to teenagers, was the choice of music on the soundtrack. First of all, “Heavy Metal” is the magazine, not the music. It was taken from a French magazine, “Metal Hurlant”, which, translated directly, is “Heavy Metal”. So don’t expect only “Heavy Metal” in the soundtrack. Some of these folks are about as much “heavy metal” as Bing Crosby. Others kick ass, however. This soundtrack is where I first heard Blue Oyster Cult, for example, and first paid attention to Black Sabbath. (I had actually heard the Cult’s “Godzilla” before, but had thought it was just a novelty song.) It includes Sammy Hagar doing the title track, Devo, Nazareth, Grand Funk Railroad, Donald Fagen of Steely Dan, and more, and they aren’t just played in the background. For much of the animation, the music takes the foreground. There really are some parts in this movie that are better stoned, although the effect will be better the bigger the screen. I needed the blunt buzz of alcohol to take advantage of the space travel scene in “So Beautiful” on my 27 inch television. For something as subtle as cannabis, you’ll probably need a 40 inch widescreen television at least. (Who says marijuana isn’t a gateway drug? It leads to home theater addiction!)

There’s a good collection of extras on this DVD, which you would expect from Columbia TriStar. There is a documentary (“Imagining Heavy Metal”), two deleted scenes (only one of which was actually completed, the other is an alternative framing sequence), production photographs, a cover gallery from the Heavy Metal magazine (cool!), and penciling and cel portfolios. The box claims production notes, but I think they mean the printed sheet that comes inside the box. This is fine by me, I don’t see much point to reading on a television screen anyway.

The two biggest extras are Carl Macek’s book “Heavy Metal: The Movie” and the entire rough cut (lycareel) of the movie, with commentary by Macek. The book is interesting, but Carl Macek doesn’t appear to have much experience reading for public consumption, and not only that, it appears this was probably done in one or very few takes. He speaks in almost a monotone, and trips over his own words occasionally. Still it’s good that it was included. It is played over the movie itself, so you can watch the movie while listening to the book, but it isn’t a scene-by-scene commentary, at least not that matches what’s being read with what’s on screen.

While the book reading leaves a bit to be desired, the commentary track is very interesting. Carl Macek does this as well. He does the commentary over the “lycareel”, which is basically a storyboard of the movie. Having the commentary over the lycareel was a great idea: there’s more to comment on, I think, in the rough cut of the animation than there is in the finished product.

All in all, this is an interesting movie, very much an adolescent male fantasy (and somewhat designed that way, according to the documentary). It is also a nice DVD, with the minor technical problem of missing the last memo feature. If you’re a huge fan of the movie, you’ll probably want to purchase it, but if you’re merely an animation fan in general, you’ll still want to rent it and see things up close.

Recommendation: Possible Purchase

DirectorGerald Potterton
WritersLen Blum, Daniel Goldberg, Richard Corben, Juan Giménez, Angus McKie, Dan O’Bannon, Berni Wrightson, Thomas Warkentin
ActorsRodger Bumpass, John Candy, Jackie Burroughs, Joe Flaherty, Don Francks, Martin Lavut, Marilyn Lightstone, Eugene Levy, Alice Playten, Harold Ramis
Spoken languageEnglish
SubtitlesEnglish, Portuguese, Spanish
Special FeaturesArt Of, Book Reading, Commentary Track, Deleted Scenes, Documentary, Poster Gallery, Production Photographs, Storyboards
More links

If you enjoyed Heavy Metal…

For more about animation, you might also be interested in The Hobbit, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Scooby Doo’s Original Mysteries, The Complete Superman Collection, Underdog, Wallace & Gromit, and Yellow Submarine.

For more about Dan O’Bannon, you might also be interested in Alien and Dark Star.

For more about drug, you might also be interested in Altered States, Animal House, Dazed and Confused, Detroit Rock City, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Yellow Submarine.

For more about Harold Ramis, you might also be interested in Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day.