Heavy Metal, 1981.
Directed by Gerald Potterton.
Starring Rodger Bumpass, Jackie Burroughs, John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Don Francks, Martin Lavut, Marilyn Lightstone, Eugene Levy, Alice Playten, Harold Ramis, Susan Roman, Richard Romanus, August Schellenberg, John Vernon, and Zal Yanovsk.
If you’re a Heavy Metal completist, you may want this new region-free Umbrella Entertainment release of the film, which ports over all the bonus content from the Sony Blu-ray but includes a new commentary track too.
Yes, another review of the cult classic animated film Heavy Metal, this time on a region-free Blu-ray from Australian company Umbrella Entertainment as part of their Beyond Genres series. I won’t rehash my thoughts on the movie – you can read my review of the excellent 4K SteelBook release from Sony for that – but I thought I’d dig into what separates this edition from that one. (The Sony release also includes a copy of the sequel Heavy Metal 2000, along with digital codes for both movies, neither of which you’ll find here.)
It wasn’t clear if that Sony 4K edition featured a remastered copy of the film, but given the relative low fidelity of the animation compared to other animated movies of the era, I think there’s only so far you can go with making Heavy Metal look better on disc. Whether you’re viewing it on Blu-ray or 4K, you’re likely getting an image quality that’s comparable to how it looked when it first played in theaters in 1981.
Any improvement offered by the 4K version of Heavy Metal is very slight at best, which tends to be true when comparing a lot of movies on 4K against their Blu-ray counterparts. Unless the studio botched the Blu-ray with too much image processing, which did happen on some films (Terminator 2 is a notable example of that), the 4K is going to give you marginal image improvement on most 4K players and TVs.
You really need a high-end setup to get the full 4K experience, and even then, we’re talking about viewing more fine detail, things like seeing more of the pores on Malcolm McDowell’s face in the opening close-up of A Clockwork Orange. I’m not saying this, though, to knock 4K – I’ve taken the plunge, since I like to be on the cutting edge of the technology. I’m just pointing out the likely reason why 4K hasn’t gobbled up as much market share as Blu-ray did in its early days, since that format was clearly a marked improvement over DVD. 4K’s image quality gain is more of an incremental one.
So, with that said, I assume the version of Heavy Metal on this disc is comparable to the one on the Blu-ray that accompanies the Sony 4K release, although this isn’t simply the same disc repackaged by Umbrella – they’ve ported over the bonus features from that other disc and added a new one, so the main menu is different. I’m not sure if that new bonus feature is unique to this release or not – more on that in a moment.
Like the Sony Blu-ray, this disc features the following extras: the rough cut of the film, with or without commentary by writer Carl Macek; the 35.5-minute documentary Imagining Heavy Metal, which is a comprehensive look back at the making of the movie; and some deleted scenes. The Sony 4K disc includes a new look back on the film with Heavy Metal producer Ivan Reitman, filmmaker Kevin Smith, actor Norman Reedus, and others – that extra is not found here.
The new extra found on this disc is a commentary track on the film. It features Macek reading his book The Art of Heavy Metal: Animation for the Eighties, so it’s not specific to what you’re seeing onscreen. The book goes deep into the making of the movie, starting with the initial idea that attracted Reitman to the project.
While the comedy film director and producer might have seemed like an odd person to get involved with Heavy Metal, Macek points out that National Lampoon owned the magazine at the time (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman later purchased it), so Reitman’s producing duties on Animal House brought him into Lampoon’s orbit. He saw an opportunity to do something interesting with animation, since there were few animated films for adults back then (aside from the works of Ralph Bakshi), and he pushed the animation studios involved with the project to try techniques that weren’t widely used at the time.
Macek’s book was first released in 1981 and updated in 1996 with an afterword to reflect the sequel that was in the works at the time, as well as the movie’s evolution to cult classic status. This commentary track reflects the updated version, and while you might assume it was too long to cram into Heavy Metal’s 90-minute running time, it actually ends with about 14 minutes left in the movie. I’ve never read the book, but I assume its 128 pages are heavier on artwork than on text, given the title, which made it a good choice for a commentary track.
I don’t recall ever coming across another commentary that’s the spoken word version of a book, so this was an intriguing approach. One nice thing about it is that it ensures there’s no dead air or tangential commentary, since the speaker has everything they need to say laid out in front of them. I wouldn’t mind seeing this idea tried in other home video releases too.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★ / Movie: ★★★