DirectorGerald Potterton, Michael Coldewey, Michel Lemire
Release Date(s)1981/2000 (April 19, 2022)
Studio(s)Columbia Pictures (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: See Below
- Video Grade: See Below
- Audio Grade: See Below
- Extras Grade: B-
- Overall Grade: B+
[Editor’s Note: The film-related comments below are edited from reviews by Tim Salmons and Todd Doogan, while the overall Blu-ray and 4K comments are by Bill Hunt.]
HEAVY METAL (4K UHD)
In a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, a deadly green orb known as the Loc-Nar reveals its evil history to a terrified girl. It shows her visions of a dystopian future New York City in which a cab driver helps a woman in need after stealing the orb for money; a young boy being transformed and transported to the planet Neverwhere, where he must save a woman from being sacrificed; a space captain on trial as one of the key witnesses turns into monster; a World War II B-17 full of dead bodies reanimated by the Loc-Nar; the unorthodox journey of an abducted scientist, a Pentagon stenographer, and their alien captors into certain doom; and a beautiful warrior who flies to a city overrun by evil mutants to destroy the Loc-Nar.
One of the more unusual animated films ever made, Heavy Metal hit theaters in the summer of 1981 and the blew the minds of many a young man who saw it. Produced by Ivan Reitman and inspired by the original French Métal hurlant comic books (known in the States as Heavy Metal), it’s an anthology of short animated stories that draw upon fantasy, science fiction, horror, action, and even film noir, with touches of violence, nudity, and gore for good measure. The film’s Ralph Bakshi-esque style mixes traditional hand-drawn animation with live action, miniatures, rotoscoping, and an aggressively male point of view. The film’s soundtrack features an under-appreciated score by Elmer Bernstein accompanied by tracks from a who’s who of 1970s and 80s hard rock music, including Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, Don Felder, Sammy Hagar, Stevie Nicks, Devo, Cheap Trick, and Journey. Add a cast of voice actors that includes Rodger Bumpass, John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, John Vernon, and Harold Ramis, and the result is a unique and highly-visual sensory experience.
Over seventy animators applied their talents to Heavy Metal, working in ten different studios around the world. It was shot on 35 mm film using traditional cel animation techniques, combined with rotoscoped live action footage, optically-produced visual effects, and even miniatures. The film was then finished at the 1.85:1 aspect ratio for its theatrical release. In honor of its 40th anniversary, the original negative was scanned in 4K and digitally remastered to create a new 4K Digital Intermediate, which was then graded for high dynamic range (both Dolby Vision and HDR10 are available). The resulting Ultra HD image is nothing short of spectacular, with a significant boost in crisp, clean detail and highly-refined texturing. All of the subtle nuances of hand-drawn and painted artwork are visible—brush strokes, line work, etc—as is an organic wash of light to light-medium photochemical grain. The HDR grade deepens shadows while revealing added detail, gives highlights a bold luminance, and greatly expands the overall palette. Colors are truly vibrant and far more varied than they appeared previously in HD. This is a gorgeous UHD release and a reference-quality image for this particular film.
Primary audio on the 4K disc is delivered in a terrific new English Dolby Atmos mix (supervised by Reitman himself) that’s quite simply off the hook. The mix is far more immersive and ambient than ever before, with the surround channels constantly engaged to extend the soundfield and to draw the listener into the rock-heavy mix with guitar licks and the like. Little moments impress too, as when a police officer reaches toward the viewer in a POV shot and you can hear his leather gloves squeaking in the surrounds. Dialogue and voice work is largely front-centered, as one would expect. Bass is muscular, with additional low-end extension enhancing both sound effects cues and music. And the height channels add a bit of lift while completing the overhead immersion. This isn’t a bombastic mix, nor one that’s really dynamic and blustery from a sound effects standpoint, but it’s a fantastic mix for this film. Heavy Metal has never sounded better. Additional audio options include English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, Korean, Polish Voice-Over, and Russian Voice-Over in 5.1 Dolby Digital, and Turkish 2.0 stereo Dolby Digital. (Both English DTS-HD MA mixes carry over from the previous Blu-ray.) Optional subtitles are available in English, English SDH, Arabic, Traditional Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Italian, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, and Castilian Spanish.
Sony’s new 4K Ultra HD release is a 3-disc set in Steelbook packaging that includes Heavy Metal on both remastered UHD and Blu-ray (the exact same disc released previously back in 2011). The 4K disc includes only one special feature, but it’s newly-produced:
- Heavy Metal: A Look Back (HD – 9:20)
This is essentially a retrospective that was obviously made during COVID, so it features Zoom-style interviews with Reitman, filmmaker Kevin Smith, actor Norman Reedus, fan journalists Ebony Jeanette and Matthew Klickstein, and Heavy Metal Entertainment CEO Matthew Medney. Reitman talks about how the film came together, what a risk it was to make, and how he recruited the talent, while the others talk about the film’s impact on their own lives and the pop culture landscape at large.
To this, the Blu-ray version of the film adds the following content:
- Heavy Metal: Feature Length Rough Cut (SD – 90:21 – with optional commentary by Carl Macek)
- Deleted Scenes (SD – 3 clips including 1 with optional commentary – 8:42 in all)
- Imagining Heavy Metal (SD – 35:39)
All of this is carried over from the original 1999 DVD release. Unfortunately missing from that DVD release is the full commentary by Macek, who was the author of The Art of Heavy Metal: Animation for the Eighties (the commentary is essentially him reading passages from that book), as well as a number of image galleries (including production photos, pencil and conceptual art, single and layered animation cels, production notes, and a Heavy Metal magazine cover gallery). So fans may still wish to hang onto that DVD if possible, or purchase Umbrella Entertainment’s recent all-region Blu-ray import (reviewed here) instead which includes everything in one package.
However, Sony’s 3-disc 4K Steelbook also includes an additional Blu-ray that could be considered a bonus feature as well…
HEAVY METAL 2000 (Blu-ray Disc)
Long ago, the planet of Eden was essentially dead. Eventually, it became a thriving world whose people live in harmony with their environment, but its original designation of F.A.K.K.² (Federation-Assigned Ketogenic Killzone to the second level) was never changed, which kept outsiders from visiting. Elsewhere in space, Tyler (Michael Ironside) is just a lowly crewman on an asteroid mining expedition when he discovers the Key to a powerful “fountain” that will grant him eternal live. Touching the key drives Tyler insane, but his search for the fountain leads him to Eden, which he subsequently invades—causing massive destruction—then leaves behind. But during the battle, Julie (Julie Strain), the daughter of the leader of Eden, escapes. So with the help of one of Tyler’s abandoned crewmates and a talking rock, Julie (who renames herself F.A.K.K.²) sets out across the universe in a quest for revenge.
Once again, the story and characters were inspired by the pages of Heavy Metal (Julie Strain’s husband at the time, Kevin Eastman—the co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles—purchased the magazine in 1992 and served as its publisher until 2020). Though far from great, Heavy Metal 2000, is in many ways a fitting sequel, preserving some of the original film’s visual artistry along with much of its violence and nudity, while adding a more genuinely heavy metal soundtrack that features the likes of Machine Head, Monster Magnet, Queens of the Stone Age, and Pantera (with a somewhat less metal Billy Idol adding both a track of his own to the mix and his voice talents to the cast).
Much of the animation for Heavy Metal 2000 was shot on 35 mm film, but the production was finished using low-resolution CG animation and digital VFX. Sony’s Blu-ray release reproduces the theatrical experience faithfully, albeit with non-infrequent video aliasing and a softness to the 1.85:1 image that reveals its vintage production pipeline. Colors are nicely vibrant though, with decent blacks and only a modest amount of edge haloing.
Audio on the Blu-ray is included in English 5.1 DTS-HD MA. The mix is largely front-biased, though with a bit of ambience and directional play in the surround channels, excellent clarity, and satisfying low-end extension. The film’s metal soundtrack is well staged in the mix, and exhibits good fidelity. Optional audio tracks include Portuguese and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo, with subtitles available in English, English SDH, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Icelandic, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, and Swedish.
Sony’s Blu-ray of Heavy Metal 2000 (the same disc originally released in 2011) includes the following extras:
- Julie Strain: Super Goddess (HD – 13:16)
- Voice Talent (HD – 3:43)
- Animation Tests (HD – 1:17)
- Animatic Comparisons (HD – 5 clips – 11:29 in all)
It’s not a lot of content, but the animation comparisons are worth a look and the video bio of the late Julie Strain will certainly be of interest to fans. Missing from the film’s 2000 DVD release is an isolated score (in 5.1 Dolby Digital), so be sure to keep that disc if you wish.
The original Heavy Metal has become a cult classic, the status of which was only enhanced by the fact that—due to music clearance issues—the film didn’t appear on home video until 1996, a full decade and a half after its original (and extended) theatrical run. Sony’s new 4K Ultra HD release is a fitting remaster, delivering all of the original artists’ work to the screen in sublime quality with an impressive Atmos mix to go with it. And while the sequel, Heavy Metal 2000, really only appeals to diehard fans, it’s nice to have it along here as a bonus. This 3-disc 4K UHD Steelbook edition seems to have sold out quickly, however Sony will release the original Heavy Metal in 4K UHD as a wide-release 2-disc set—minus the sequel—in Amaray packaging on 8/16. You can pre-order that edition here on Amazon. Whichever version you buy, fans will not be disappointed.
Heavy Metal 4K (Film/Video/Audio/Extras): B+/A+/A+/B-
Heavy Metal 2000 (Film/Video/Audio/Extras): C/C+/B/C-
-Bill Hunt, with Tim Salmons and Todd Doogan