Monday, 11 May 2015

Heavy Metal Wizards

No. I'm afraid this isn't a post about painted magic users in White Dwarf. Instead it's about a couple of ancient animated films that my mate Neil and I watched in order to distract ourselves as we got ready for his wedding. 

First up, late on Friday night, was 1981's 'Heavy Metal'. Basically an animated version of the magazine which itself was the American version of 'Metal Hurlant'. 

What you've got is a series of short stories linked by a themed short about a glowing green sphere who calls itself the 'sum of all evil'. 

The stories are all sci-fi / fantasy romps sprinkled liberally with soft porn and gore.
You can see why it was so popular at the time. 

The characters include gangsters, aliens, cabbies, mutants, robots, monsters, warrior-women, transmogrified teenagers, chases through space stations and zombie air crew.

  All of the short stories are set to the sound of the Metal soundtrack banging away in background from the likes of Black Sabbath, Rush, Blue Oyster Cult and Devo (obviously Devo aren't very metal but they are portrayed as a band in a bar and it fits pretty well). The animation reminded us both of 80's classics like He-man but with more blood, violence and boobs! It also features the voice talents of John Candy and Harold Ramis so there is plenty to reccomend it. 

Next up (enjoyed in the morning with bacons rolls and coffee) was 1977's 'Wizards' by Ralph Bakshi.

This is the tale of twin wizards who were born to the elf queen thousands of years after the apocalypse. One wizard is good the other is evil and they go on to have an unhealthy rivalry. 

Eventually the evil wizard decides he wants to take over the world and builds and army of mutants and demons to follow him. At first they have little success until he orders them to search for lost pieces of technology and builds an army of machines to destroy the peace loving elves and fairy's. 

He also discovers a film of Nazi Germany at war and used this a blue print for his forces as well as a method of enthusing his troops as well as psychological terror tool on his enemies. 

The elves and fairies fight on however and in a climactic battle..... Well, I shouldn't spoil it for you.

The animation in this one is a real mix. The characters are more roughly realised than in Heavy Metal and are more a kin to kids cartoons like the Mighty Mouse that Bakshi had worked on. They are placed over intricate backgrounds some of which were commissioned from Ian Miller.

Other parts of the film were animated using Rotoscoping, a process where a part of a traditional film is traced over by animators to produce a shadowy version of the original. Bakshi used footage from films such as 'Alexander Nevski' to give the impression of the massive armies he wanted to appear. He added wings and horns to some individuals as well adding in footage if charging Zulu's to give you a weird nightmare like army. 

The film was a fair success at the time, despite it making very little sense and was made at the same time as Star Wars. In fact as well as changing its name from Wizard Wars at Lucas' request, it all features Mark Hamill as the voice of one of the characters. 

The next year Bakshi went on to create the first part of Lord of the Rings, still my defining version of the story. Again he used the Rotoscoping technique, especially for the evil characters such as the Balrog....

And the Orcs. For some reason the film company declined to make the second part however, leaving us puzzled by the abrupt end mid way through the second book. What a missed opportunity. 

And this is what has puzzled us the most. We watched all kinds of nutty films when we were kids including Lord of the Rings, but we never did see Heavy Metal or Wizards. In fact we have been fairly ignorant of their existence until relatively recently and as film fans that's pretty poor. These two would have been right up our teenage street (especially the boobs!) but somehow they passed is by. I suppose in this era of instant downloads, YouTube, and Amazon it's easy to forget just how hard it was to come by stuff in the dark days of the 80's. Still. At least we are getting to see them now. They may not be classics but they are certainly of there time and well worth a look for any ageing Nerd. 


  1. And now I feel the urge to get my ass in the sofa in front of the screen to rewatch some of those...

  2. Went to see Heavy Metal at the time and thought it was great (i've still got the poster somewhere) but never saw or heard of Wizards. Didn't like Bakshi's LotR's so don't think I missed much.

    Good post!

  3. God I love/loved the WWII Pacific sequence in Heavy Metal.
    I've never seen or heard of Wizards either, but I recognise some of the stills.
    Fire And Ice was a big one.

  4. They actually did make the second part to the film, only much later. It's not that great, but at least it for an ending. If you check the wiki about this movie it's quite interesting.

    If your keen to see some other classic animated movies from the 80's then you might like to see Gandahar, a French movie from 1988. Another is Les MaƮtres du temps aka The Masters of Time, thus ones' a Franco-Hungarian movie from 1982. I reckon their great!


    1. The Return of the King was made as a follow up to the animated version of the Hobbit but was by a different set of animators and had nothing to do with Bakshi.

    2. True, Bakshi was not involved it....he was understandably upset with the studio after the debacle, but the second film was nonetheless a follow up.

  5. Loved that LotR! Got the DVD and I'm waiting until it won't freak out my son to watch it with him.

    Heavy Metal I watched at Uni. It's OK, but not something I'd rush to watch again.

    Wizards - I only heard of it when a friend posted on Facebook that he had been reliving his youth watching it whilst his wife and kids were out. Just like you, I can't fathom how I'd missed it! I watched all sorts of films from different genres/countries/media as a kid; I just missed it!?! It's now on my youtube list to watch if I ever get time.

    Great write up Col. Brought back memories of misspent youth in darken rooms! ;P

  6. how stoned were you for this wedding?

  7. You should probably watch the South Park episode Major Boobage, which brilliantly pays homage to Heavy Metal.

  8. Seen the LOTR, got it on DVD but not seen the other two, although knew about Heavy Metal, just not got around to watching, have to find the time in the coming weeks.

  9. I saw Heavy Metal on a double bill with Yellow Submarine int he early 90s in a nice proper theatre with a balcony. (One where I later worked, but that's another story entirely.) Whiz bang film. Clearly I need to watch Wizards, as Bakshi was brilliant. (Yes, his version of LoTR was MUCH better than the more recent one. Not the book, mind, but a decent little film.) I clearly need to watch the South Park episode referenced. Accurate description.

  10. Wizards is a great film, I'm am massive fan and have a really nice ex-rental VHS copy, with supurb cover art and really solid cassette build.

  11. love these films, and wizards too but the character designs were ripped off marc bodes dads comic cobalt 60.


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