Heavy Metal 2000

If the Heavy Metal movies offer any message for mankind, it’s that anything green and glowing can’t be good. In the insipid Heavy Metal 2000, the embodiment of evil is not a green, glowing ball but a green, glowing crystal — a key to immortalizing waters. Slight catch: If you touch this key, you go insane. Thus, an ordinary space pilot named Tyler (voiced by Michael Ironside) gets his meathooks on the key and suddenly becomes rabidly homicidal (he also suddenly gets fangs and a mane of black hair). This is not unlike what happened to the ordinary townspeople of “Taarna,” the final segment of the original 1981 Heavy Metal, when they were engulfed by green glowing lava and became evil. The rest of Heavy Metal 2000 is not unlike “Taarna,” either. Indeed, it’s more or less an 88-minute rehash of that story, without the original’s brevity or grandeur.

Tyler commandeers a spacecraft and lays waste to a place called Eden, where people don’t age as quickly. One person who survives the massacre is Julie, a strapping six-footer much like the B-movie actress who voices her, Julie Strain. Tyler has killed her father and kidnapped her sister, so Julie goes into vengeful overdrive along with a goofball pilot, a little guy made of stone, and a mysterious mentor named Odin (voice by Billy Idol). As a spiritual sister to Taarna, Julie looks the part, but Taarna didn’t speak; unfortunately, Julie does.

Julie Strain, whose comic-book-mogul husband Kevin Eastman shaped this movie for her (he co-created the graphic novel The Melting Pot on which it’s loosely based), seems like a nice enough person, but she’s not a natural actress under the best of circumstances. In the clips I’ve seen, her line delivery is weirdly flat and amateurish, like the delivery of the most conscientious untalented student in acting class; what saves her are her presence — she really is six-foot-one — and her vibrant off-camera personality, which peeks through the empty posturing she usually has to do. As just a voice, though, Strain is, well, strained. Not that even the best actress could do much with Robert Payne Cabeen’s script, heavy on dialogue like “Don’t talk, don’t touch, don’t move, don’t breathe — or I’ll kill you!”

The original Heavy Metal‘s animation may look crude to some viewers today, but at least it was alive and kicking; it owed its inspiration more to Ralph Bakshi than to anything else. Heavy Metal 2000‘s character design takes a page from the bland humanoids who populate some of the weaker Disney/Don Bluth/DreamWorks toons. (There were very few human characters in the original Heavy Metal who looked as if they would’ve belonged anywhere near a Disney film.) The filmmakers were reportedly concerned about avoiding a “Saturday-morning-cartoon” look, but that’s pretty much what they ended up with. As if to offset this, the directors (Michel Lemire and Michael Coldewey, both of whom would do well to leave this off their resumés) stuff backgrounds and incidental scenes with computer-animated spaceships, debris, and so on. The film should be seen by animation students as a textbook example of how not to integrate computer animation with old-school cel animation.

The story is old-school, too. Did Kevin Eastman not realize that the core audience for this film would have seen, and remembered with pleasure, the original movie’s final segment? Eastman, the ’80s precursor to Todd McFarlane (he and Peter Laird created Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which made them millionaires), has said that he wanted to tell a story with a strong heroine — as if TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xena, and La Femme Nikita hadn’t been doing that for years; as if “Taarna” hadn’t done it 19 years ago. Here he falls back on the usual fanboy idea of strong womanhood — the scowling bitch-babe with tits out to here. Taarna was that, too, to a certain extent, but the original Heavy Metal was a joking compendium of fanboy fantasies, and Taarna was a definite advance in 1981. Julie is a step back, at certain points disrobing so gratuitously that I was put in the odd position of feeling offended on behalf of an animated character.

Michael Ironside and Billy Idol have fun hamming it up, and there’s one funny moment when a robot sex doll activates itself and goes to town on Julie’s hapless pilot sidekick during a space battle. But overall, this is a joyless trudge through decades-old clichés, with about twenty gallons more gore than in the original (the MPAA must be more lenient towards animated bloodshed; the same violence, if done as live-action, would never have slipped by with an R rating). Even musically, Heavy Metal 2000 can’t touch its predecessor, which found room for the calming Donald Fagen and Stevie Nicks as well as the pumping Black Sabbath and Sammy Hagar; this movie’s soundtrack is almost all grinding techno-thrash gibberish — I call it music to be constipated to — and it heightens the project’s general cheesiness. This is the sort of movie in which the evil Tyler pulls out one of his loose incisors and you know, absolutely know, that in later shots he won’t be missing any teeth. The movie is pretty toothless itself; it gums its story like the pablum it is.

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