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25 February, 2006

Review: Heavy Metal (1981)

'Heavy Metal' is an animated portmanteau film, eight short stories framed and interlinked by a ninth.  It has a notoriously bad script, and didn't fail to disappoint.  It seems the concept of an 'adult cartoon' hadn't fully evolved by 1981, and the target audience must have been juvenile stoners for whom nudity and trippy visuals would adequately carry the feeble story.  In that sense, it was dire.
However, I rented it for two reasons, both basically just curiosity.

Firstly, I knew that one of my favourite contemporary illustrators, Christos Achilléos, worked on the project. It's probably deeply unfashionable to like his work, as he is best-known for 'swords n' sorcery' fantasy and pin-ups which could easily be described as sexist. Irrespective of whether he 'should' do it, I think he does it well, and I found his images useful anatomical references when I learned to sculpt in the early 1990s. Unfortunately, apart from the iconic poster, he only worked on character design and concept drawings for 'Heavy Metal', which were radically simplified by others before being animated, so no Achilleos artwork appears, merely unrecognisably crude (in both senses...) adaptations of it.

Secondly, I was interested to see an example of late-70s American-style animation, which had broken from the sanitised Disney tradition but had yet to assimilate Japanese anime. Numerous artists/animators worked on the various segments, but I kept spotting references to Robert Crumb's drawing style, or underground comics like the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. This impression was so strong that it has to have been deliberate. Many elements were highly detailed, and a bit grungy – nothing was sanitised or pretty; even the caricatured nude women were earthy rather than conforming to the modern androgynous supermodel ideal. Much of the artwork seemed to have been completed in monochrome, including shading, then overlayed with blocks of colour. The colours themselves conformed to the trippy underground style, with frequent juxtaposition of bluish green, orange and purple. Wild, man.

So, interesting (hence this review), but not really recommended unless you're into the history of animation, or two-dimensional nipples.

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