Metal Hurlant Chronicles has finally arrived on DVD and Blu-ray. The show, which originally aired on the Syfy Channel in 2012 and 2014, is based on a periodical first published in the United States in April 1977 called Heavy Metal. The science fiction publication was the brainchild of Leonard Mogel. Mogel’s Heavy Metal was based on the French comic anthology Metal Hurlant, which encompassed sci-fi, fantasy and horror stories. Metal Hurlant was conceived by Jean “Moebius” Giraud, Philippe Druillet, Bernard Farkas and Jean-Pierre Dionnet. Metal Hurlant, which means “Howling Metal,” was first published in December 1974. Even before Metal Hurlant Chronicles was developed for T.V. three years ago, the magazine found life in two animated films Heavy Metal (1981) and Heavy Metal 2000. There have even been video games based on the magazine including Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K. 2 (2000) and Heavy Metal: Geomatrix (2001).
The Syfy series Metal Hurlant Chronicles was the first live-action attempt at emulating the magazine. Season one originally aired in 2012 and season two premiered in 2014. Each consisted of six, 22-minute episodes, in which a divergent tale was told in disparate environments with a new cast of characters.
The show boasts a who’s who of actors and actresses including Rutger Hauer (The Hitcher), Michael Jai White (The Dark Knight), James Marsters (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Joe Flanigan (Stargate: Atlantis), Kelly Brook (The Italian Job), Michael Biehn (The Terminator) and Michelle Ryan (Bionic Woman). And while the series is a fun, thrilling and even erotic adventure at times, Metal Hurlant Chronicles still finds itself with a few problems in an otherwise diverting escapade.
The biggest issue with the series is the atrocious special effects. Whether a budgetary issue or a lack of experience in post-production, the CGI is just heinous. The opening sequence of each episode serves as a preeminent example, as the fiery remains of a doomed planet has hardened and hurls its way through space. The entire shot looks sketchy at best, as if it was not allowed enough time and attention to be completely rendered in Final Cut Pro or Adobe After Effects.
The worst moment of these unfinished special effects comes in episode No. 5 of season one which is titled “Master of Destiny.” Hondo (Joe Flanigan) flies his ship through space and engages in a firefight with a pair of alien vessels. The by-product of the overall lack of attention to detail makes this sequence look so cheaply done that it is reminiscent of a cut-rate, computer screen saver. This is really puzzling though because the same episode contains a fantastic shot of the so-called Computer Planet that looks astounding. It is as if filmmakers had to pick and choose which effects warranted completion.
Another issue with the series is its time constraints. These live-action episodes are not even 25 minutes long, and it is difficult to tell thought-provoking stories and cultivate compelling characters in such a small time frame. The show’s length is akin to what you would find in a university’s MFA in Filmmaking program. Typically, Masters students construct a thesis film in their final semesters that comes to 25-30 minutes long – just long enough to try and show off the skills attained in their studies. Just like most film students, Metal Hurlant Chronicles would really benefit from a larger allotment of time.
With that said, these two issues should not necessarily take away from your enjoyment of Metal Hurlant Chronicles. For the most part, each episode is well-written, despite the time constraints and some of the hokiest dialogue ever uttered on film: “This fucking war is over, Kull,” Hondo snarls. “Your family gets their floating palace and I get my well-deserved orgy.”
On the brighter side, the production and costume design are superb. The designers did a fantastic job of creating multifaceted environments reflecting both past and the future through visceral imagery simultaneously representative of the old and dilapidated and the new and postmodern. The very first episode of season one, “King’s Crown” is jaw-dropping to behold. The sets are very reminiscent of ancient Rome, as are the costumes and props, but the archaic environment also hosts A.I. droids and physically imposing robots of the future.
The best installment is season one’s second episode “Shelter Me.” Mr. Davis (James Marsters) and Jenn (Michelle Ryan) are trapped together in a seemingly post-apocalyptic world. Davis, the so-called “creepy neighbor,” has saved the object of his affection from nuclear radiation in his storm-sheltering bunker.
Jenn falls for Davis and eventually makes love to him after she accepts their tragic fate as the world’s only survivors. While looking for some tea, Jenn stumbles across a box of photos – of her. Jenn’s worst nightmare has come true, and she suspects that this man is actually a crazy stalker that has kidnapped her and created an incredible hoax to keep her for himself. Jenn lashes out in anger and beats Mr. Davis bloody with a glass jar. Without a second’s hesitation, she races for the outer door to the surface and freedom. She pushes the door open and sees…
You’ll have to check it out yourself. “Shelter Me” is a formidable story with only one special effects shot, so the narrative is not subject to amateurish add-ons. There is nothing to divert your attention from this suspenseful and riveting story. Episode five of season one, “Master of Destiny,” is also an ace entry, featuring the alluring Kelly Brook in a black leather outfit as the sexy Skarr. And episode one of season two “Whiskey in the Jar” is set in an old west environment and conjures the evocative imagery that defines the series’ brilliant ability to combine the past with the future.
Some actors, like Scott Adkins and James Marsters, appear more than once in the series but the only link between each of the stories is the chunk of planetary core soaring haphazardly through the galaxy. The show is very much like The Twilight Zone, Tales of the Crypt and Freddy’s Nightmares in that all of these vehicles present an assortment of varying stories and players.
The Blu-ray release includes three discs with two of them devoted to the seasons of the show. The third disc is loaded with special features. There are behind-the-scenes featurettes for seven of the show’s episodes, with the longest being about 25 minutes. There are also interviews with actors Scott Adkins, Darren Shahlavi and Matt Mullins. All of these fine performers appeared in the first episode of the series titled “King’s Crown,” and Adkins also appeared in two subsequent episodes. The only real problem with these interviews is that you can’t hear all of the questions clearly. This slight irritation could have been remedied by simply offering the person reading the questionnaire a better microphone.
Lastly, all 12 episodes have their own motion comic books. This is a delectable way of tying the television show back to the original magazine. Each comic is approximately five minutes in length. The extras also include alternate French episodes and a glimpse at the San Diego Comic-Con. Despite some issues, Metal Hurlant Chronicles is a whimsical series that fans will love, especially on Blu-ray. There are enough special features to keep the casual consumer happy, but the individual episodes themselves are the proverbial golden eggs here. The series is a shrewd, sexy, ass-kicking good time that meshes all of the best that sci-fi and fantasy have to offer.
Metal Hurlant Chronicles is available now on Blu-Ray and DVD via Shout! Factory