Thanks to the way that art tends to feed itself, throughout history, the written word has often inspired songs, paintings, dance, and vice versa with much more. For metalheads, the combination of fantasy and science fiction with music and art is like peanut butter going with jelly. Pick up a copy of Meat Loaf’s 1977 album “Bat Out of Hell” and the cover exudes that melding of medieval masculinity and theatrical music. The same year of the seminal Jim Steinman/Meat Loaf collaboration, the first issue of fantasy magazine “Heavy Metal” dropped, bringing with it art and stories of worlds far away, buxom women, and deadly men. Four years later, produced by Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters), an anthology of original and previously released stories were conjoined to tell a larger story of the fight between good and evil, backed by the sounds of Sammy Hagar, Journey, Devo, Blue Oyster Cult, Cheap Trick, and more. 19 years after that, a more conventional follow-up was released, Heavy Metal 2000, with tracks from bands considered more in-line with the heavy metal genre (MDFMK, Pantera, Insane Clown Posse, Queens of the Stone Age, and more). In celebration of the passing of the 40th anniversary, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is releasing a limited-edition steelbook that includes Heavy Metal on 4K UHD for the first time and Heavy Metal 2000 on Blu-ray for the first time. So if you’ve been looking for the right time to take a ride to midnight, snag this collection to get your ticket punched.
For the uninformed, Heavy Metal is a collection of stories across time and worlds in which a glowing green orb, dubbed “the sum of all evils,” recounts various events in which people tried to possess its power and found itself corrupted. The purpose of the stories is to terrify a young girl it believes to be the source of its demise, creating overlapping themes exploring inevitability vs. free will, humankind’s infatuation with violence, and whether or not evil is a sentient object or an idea our actions feed. Heavy Metal 2000 is far more straight-forward as a revenge tale in which a man becomes insane after touching a cursed object, wreaking death and destruction everywhere he goes, drawing the attention of Julie (voiced by Julie Stern) when the man kidnaps her sister and kills the people of her community. Both stories utilize diagetic and non-diagetic tunes from musicians of the respective films’ eras as the audience goes on an adventure filled with blood, bones, and boobs.
Let’s get down to brass tacks by focusing on the parts that are the big draw for Heavy Metal fans: the new look and sound. This release includes two versions of Heavy Metal: a 4K UHD edition and a Blu-ray. The 4K UHD version offers 4K resolution with Dolby Vision, offering more depth in the frame and greater vibrancy and clarity of image. A great example of this is in the “Taarna” sequence when Taarna is fighting the mutant leader. As you can see in the fan-made music video for Sammy Hagar’s “Heavy Metal,” the blood of the mutant leader is a sickly mucus green and Taarna’s pouring blood leans more toward lightish red. In the 4K with Dolby Vision edition, the sickly green turns more vibrant, a radioactive neon green and the lightish red is more deep and natural. Overall, the colors in the fan-made video are muted, pretty sure, but lacking in richness. With Dolby Vision, the spectacle of each story is uplifted by the full range of colors on the palette. The audio offerings on Heavy Metal include a brand-new 5.1 mix and the original 1981 theatrical Dolby Stereo audio. I used the new 5.1 mix and it came through appropriately loud, clear, and totally immersive with my setup.
Heavy Metal 2000 offers a newly remastered high-definition video and 5.1 audio. In an era of 4K UHD, Blu-ray may not seem like a big deal, but, as a first-time high-definition release, fans of the film and/or dyad will appreciate the upgrade in quality. Though there’s much which can be said for the quality of animation (far more uninspired than Heavy Metal, too similar to other animated series of the time), the way it looks and sounds will delight those who hold 2000 in high esteem.
The bonus features included with this three-disc/two-film set are largely legacy materials with the only new featurette included on the 4K disc, a nine-minute featurette titled “Heavy Metal: A Look Back.” Whether you’re new to the series like this reviewer or a long-time fan, “A Look Back” offers an opportunity to learn from producer Reitman himself, as well as fans of the film from a favorite of sources. Shot in 2021, the featurette is a bit bittersweet given Reitman’s passing in February of this year. He speaks with great enthusiasm over the idea of creating Heavy Metal from the source material, the music, and the voice-actors who play the various ridiculous characters. Personally, the thing that makes Heavy Metal stand out far more than 2000 (other than the lackluster plot and traditional narrative approach), is the use of multiplane animation, which Reitman explains as a technique developed by Walt Disney Studios in the 1940s to create the sense of traditional camerawork in hand-drawn animation. Between the technical tidbits, the various development insights, and the discussion of legacy from the myriad of panelists, there’s a lot to take in during the brief featurette. It’s a bit of a bummer that there’s only one new featurette among both films, but that may be a casualty of both COVID-19 and the passing of Reitman.
Taking away whatever one thinks of the films themselves, picking up this limited-edition set is fairly easy to recommend. The steelbook itself is lovely, possessing the now-signature image of Taarna on the front and the ship from the “So Beautiful & So Dangerous” segment on the back. The 4K restoration of Heavy Metal is one of the better animated restorations I’ve seen of late, bringing to mind the beauty of the recent 4K release of Transformers: The Movie (1986). A good restoration shouldn’t change the original intent of the creative team who made the film, but revitalize it. That this collection also includes digital codes for both Heavy Metal films, a Blu-ray of Heavy Metal, and a first-time Blu-ray release of 2000, there’s a lot included to make the choice of pick-up easy. There’s just great value between the packaging, discs, and materials. Probably easier for folks who’ve never owned the films to make that jump, but even long-time fans who own copies already may find this collection hard to resist.
Heavy Metal 4K Special Features:
- Feature presented in 4K resolution with Dolby Vision, reviewed and approved by Ivan Reitman
- *NEW* 2022 Dolby Atmos soundtrack – a brand-new immersive experience utilizing enhanced sound effects and much more, supervised by producer Ivan Reitman!
- Also includes the 2022 mix in 5.1, and the original 1981 theatrical Dolby Stereo audio
- *NEW* Heavy Metal: A Look Back – an all-new retrospective featuring reflections from producer Ivan Reitman, famous fans Kevin Smith, Norman Reedus, and more! (9:20)
Heavy Metal Blu-ray Legacy Special Features:
- Feature presented in High Definition with 5.1 audio
- Original Feature-Length Rough Cut with Optional Commentary by Carl Macek
- Imagining Heavy Metal Documentary
- Deleted Scene
- Alternate Framing Story with Commentary
Heavy Metal 2000 Blu-ray Legacy Special Features:
- Feature presented in High Definition (newly remastered), with 5.1 audio
- Julie Strain: Super Goddess
- Voice Talent
- Animation Tests
- Animatic Comparisons
Available on 4K UHD Blu-ray Combo Pack Limited-Edition Steelbook April 19th, 2022.