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Heavy Metal (4K UHD Blu-ray Review)

One of the more pivotal cinematic moments for fantasy, comics, rock music and animation in cinema arrived in the form of 1981’s Heavy Metal. Produced by Ivan Reitman, many of the top rock bands (Cheap Trick, Journey) provided the sound to some of the wickedest dreams come to life animation anyone had ever seen on a mainstream level. Celebrating 41 years now, its getting a 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray upgrade with a transfer Reitman oversaw before his passing. He’s also present for a quick little retrospective that has he and famous fans of the film reflecting on what it meant to them. The limited edition steelbook, which includes the standard Blu-ray debut of its Julie Strain-led sequel Heavy Metal 2000. arrived on April 19th. You can order yourself this collector’s item by using the paid Amazon Associates link that follows the review.

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Film

Based on the fantastical illustrated magazine HEAVY METAL, producer Ivan Reitman enlists the help of some of Hollywood’s animation masters to create the otherworldly tale of a glowing green orb from outer space that spreads destruction throughout the galaxy. Only when encountered by its one true enemy, to whom it is inexplicably drawn, will goodness prevail throughout the universe. Richly and lavishly drawn, the vignettes of the orb’s dark victories include the character voices of John Candy, Harold Ramis and a pounding soundtrack by Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, Cheap Trick, Devo, Donald Fagen, Don Felder, Grand Funk Railroad, Sammy Hagar, Journey, Nazareth, Stevie Nicks, Riggs, and Trust. Highly imaginative and full of surprising special effects, HEAVY METAL set the standard for alternative contemporary animation. An intoxicating experience not to be missed!

Heavy Metal is the adolescent teen boy fantasy of the 70s and 80s come to full fruition in this animated anthology epic. Its a full on experience through different types of animation, cool music, sex and violence. Prior to this, it feels like something of this ilk would have been hard to come by and something of Heavy Metal’s nature broke through and paved the way for more to fearlessly follow in terms of not fearing catering to an older teen or adult audience.

Entering the film, you can tell its very much the work and feel of a 12-14 year old boy. There’s a load of female nudity and male fantasy to along with ultra-violence with a mean spirit and no consequence. Some of it works, most of it feels like something I’ve grown past in my years. What’s wild is it potentially culminates best in the cab driver story. Its a very noir tale that fills you with the grimy aesthetic, has a clear purpose, arouses and haunts with a nice twist to wrap it up. There’s also a nifty use of Journey’s “Open Arms” that is right in step and funny at the same time.

The animation itself is really awesome. Tack on the score and rock songs and you really could just sit back and “experience” the film without any dialogue and have it be just as effective. Drawings remind me a lot of the Don Bluth style coming from that era, with hints of Transformers or Thundarr The Barbarian mixed in. Its a style I grew up with, and Heavy Metal will always get my nostalgia praise when revisiting as it connects with me, reminding me of cool things from my youth such as Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace.

Overall, I think I like the idea of Heavy Metal, appreciate the art, the effort and what it did for the animation/comics/geek/fantasy corner in the early 1980s more than I do actually enjoying it in total. I’ve seen it a few times over the years and have been sort of indifferent to it overall. Like all anthologies, I enjoy some more than others and there are ones I nod off to or forget about. However, while I’m not the biggest fan of the film, I do find it a significant staple and one that probably should be a notable stop on someone’s journey through genre/comic film history.

Video

Disclaimer: Screen captures used in the review are not taken from the 4K UHD Blu-ray disc.

Encoding: HEVC / H.265

Resolution: 4K (2160p)

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Layers: BD-100

Clarity/Detail: Heavy Metal debuts on 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray for the first time with a new 4K restoration approved by producer Ivan Reitman. And this really has a nice new pristine look to it. Its much less noisy and compressed as it was before on Blu-ray and DVD. The paint looks more freshly stroked or dried and more personal touches come through in the overall details.

Depth: The animation actually plays nice, loose and a little bouncy here and there. The Don Bluth type look to it adds a kind of spacing that you can tell the panes between the characters and backgrounds feel ever so slightly separate as things move around.

Black Levels: Blacks are deep and do well with shading, sky, outlining and contrast. No information is hidden and even more of the artists hands (Strokes, lines, etc) become apparent. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction: Colors are quite bold and much more full and rich than on the Blu-ray counterpart. They are well saturated and some of them produce a solid glow from the HDR when applicable.

Flesh Tones: N/A

Noise/Artifacts: None

Audio

Audio Format(s): English Dolby Atmos, English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English 2.0 DTS-HD MA, French 5.1 DTS-HD MA, German 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Italian 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Korean 5.1 Dolby Digital, Plish 5.1 VO Dolby Digital, Russian 5.1 VO Dolby Digital, Spanish 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Turkish 2.0 Stereo Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English, English SDH, Arabic, Chinese Traditional, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Italian, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish (Casitlian), Spanish (Latin American), Swedish, Thai, Turkish

Dynamics: Heavy Metal rocks out with a brand new Dolby Atmos mix for its 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray release. The music sounds powerful and present here as it should. The effects in the mix are plenty loud as well. Vocals are never not audible, but definitely a little lower in the mix for some of the stories. But, I’d say overall, people are going to be really pleased jamming out to this.

Height: From above you get some good parts of the music present, but also many things floating and traveling above like dragon creatures, laser blasts, ships and much more.

Low Frequency Extension: From bass and drums in the music, to gun blasts, explosions, punches and crashes – the subwoofer delivers a powerful boom.

Surround Sound Presentation: This mix really has fun in playing around the room. Sound travel comes with some nice rolling force to it and rooms really build an environment both in lively and ambient ways.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp. Some of them are a little lower in the mix. Others feel like the source really didn’t have much wiggle room. Especially in the opener where the voice over sounds like its coming from a 1980s cassette tape polished and boosted best it can.

Extras

Heavy Metal is a 3-disc set that comes with a standard Blu-ray version and a Blu-ray for the film Heavy Metal 2000. It also comes with a redeemable digital code for both films.

4K UHD

Heavy Metal: A Look Back (HD, 9:20) – Ivan Reitman along with many filmmakers/actors who were fans back in the day like Norman Reedus and Kevin Smith reflect on this geek pop culture staple of their youth.

Heavy Metal Blu-ray

Heavy Metal: Feature Length Rough Cut with Optional Commentary by Carl Macek (SD, 1:30:21)

Deleted Scenes (SD, 8:42)

Imagining Heavy Metal (SD, 35:39)

Heavy Metal 2000 Blu-ray

Julie Strain: Super Goddess (SD, 13:16)

Voice Talent (SD, 3:43)

Animation Tests (SD, 1:17)

Animatic Comparisons (SD, 11:29)

Summary

While Heavy Metal does earn its spot as an important moment and influence in fantasy film history, its more of an admiration and respect I have for it than I do a full enjoyment or fandom. Sony brings it to 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray for the first time with an insanely enjoyable new transfer and Dolby Atmos track to give it the best presentation its ever had. The new bonus feature and including the sequel are very nice touches as well. If you’re a fan, this is an easy upgrade to pick up, and do so while they still have the steelbook available.

This is a paid Amazon Associates link

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Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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