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  Heavy Metal Cartoon Carnage
Year: 1981
Director: Gerald Potterton
Stars: John Candy, Richard Romanus, Alice Playten, Eugene Levy, John Vernon, Al Waxman, Harold Ramis, Don Francks, Joe Flaherty, Jackie Burroughs
Genre: Animated, Science Fiction, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 5 votes)
Review: A space shuttle flies high above the planet Earth, when its bay doors open and a sports car driven by an astronaut is lowered into orbit, then enters the atmosphere where it lands with a bump on solid ground. The car then zooms off towards a house in the countryside whereupon it stops and the astronaut gets out, walks inside and greets his daughter. He has a present for her: a glowing, green, orb - the sum of all evil - which once it has dissolved him tells the little girl tales of how it travels the universe, causing mayhem for all of those who cross its path.

Future Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman produced this screen version of the celebrated comic book, an anthology of animated stories with a science fiction theme. Among the writers contributing were such genre luminaries as Dan O'Bannon, Berni Wrightson and Richard Corben, yet it was hard to get away from the fact that the fairly crude animation lacked the artistry of the page. Heavy Metal was supposed to be an "adult" cartoon, but actually it was more adolescent than adult, with its sex, violence, gore, musclebound men and pneumatic (frequently naked) and almost always available women.

The stories themselves range from a tale of a New York cab driver (that seems like an earlier, more concise/less sincere version of The Fifth Element) to a Robert E. Howard-style Barbarian epic; from zombie pilots to aimless aliens; from a intergalactic trial played for laughs to the longest section, a warrior queen's revenge. But all these sequences are so short they amount to little more than anecdotes - even the warrior queen part is simple (and simple-minded). After at least a couple of them you'll think, "Is that it?", as if all this supposed imagination is falling far short of its potential.

I suppose the film is supposed to be the equivalent of flicking through the comic book, but it comes across as more like a series of Saturday morning cartoons for a teenage audience. Every section has a strong strain of wish-fulfilment about it, with the barbarian one detailing how a teen (a target viewer?) is transformed by the globe in to a hero with a body builder's physique though still containing his delighted mind. Delighted in that not only does he get to kill a bunch of bad guys, but he gets laid with two different women in the space of one day.

Still, if you're looking for brainless entertainment it fits the bill, and there are a few hints of self parody (or at least self awareness) in the script should you care to seek them out. It's just that the humour is less sending itself up and more asking the audience it's aimed at, which appears to be exclusively male, to indulge themselves in fantasies that never resort to genuine boundary pushing in their style when they can go for the novelty of seeing cartoon characters get up to sex and violence against a science fiction setting. If only the appearance of the film hadn't looked so low rent it might not have been so underwhelming, but it's clear the cash wasn't there to improve it. The soundtrack, a strong selling point for the film in its day, included hard rockin', living up the title songs from Black Sabbath, Devo, Nazareth, Blue Oyster Cult and, er, Stevie Nicks. Elmer Bernstein took care of other music duties. The best you can say for it is that it's of its time - never underestimate the power of nostalgia.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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