‘Metal Hurlant Chronicles’: The Soul, if Not the Imagery, of Heavy Metal

The prospect of bringing any version of the French magazine Metal Hurlant to the screen is daunting to say the least. It was tried to great (cult) success with the adult animated film Heavy Metal (1981) and attempted again (to less acclaim) with the also animated (and equally adult) Heavy Metal 2000 (2000). The strange and surreal ships, landscapes, characters, situations and space scenes are so uniquely heavy metal that translating this to the screen is virtually impossible. Sure Heavy Metal proved to have visual treasures, but overall the look is dated. The sequel suffers from a single, too-long story that doesn’t ever quite get to where it’s going.

In 2012 French companies tried this again for the smaller screen with the live-action Metal Hurlant Chronicles which, like the magazine, is an anthology series with no (or little) continuity between the episodes. Surely in the new millennium with evolved CGI animation techniques, brilliant budget saving measures and a format that can attract recognizable stars (who won’t have to sign multi-episode contracts), Metal Hurlant could be a great success.

Judging from the Blu Ray release Metal Hurlant Chronicles: The Complete Series, the show definitely had the potential to be something great. Avoiding a central storyline, a burning asteroid called Metal Hurlant travels through various dimensions of space and time to bring us bizarre stories based on the comic book, while barely interacting with the action at all.

While often these outer space scenes are impressive, once the first episode “King’s Crown” kicks off, we are left with something that looks overall remarkably cheap. With such shows as Spartacus: Blood and Sand (2010) and Game of Thrones bringing sword-and-sorcery to the small screen with impressive visuals, this similar story (set on another world with medieval undertones) never quite looks like a professional production, instead feeling like a direct-to-video mockbuster. That said, the final twist in the end almost makes up for the rest.

Twists in the end are the very core of Metal Hurlant Chronicles. Like a modern Twilight Zone (with CGI and without the genius of Serling), the show packs the kinds of surprises that keep the viewer guessing until the last second. That is to say that when a surprise is heavily hinted at, it may or may not come to pass. That said, the opposite may or may not come to pass and some third or fourth or fifth random possibility may prove to be the twist in the end.

Expecting the unexpected bears little fruit here.

Then again, not every episode is sheer genius and much of the successes of each story falls on the shoulders of the episode’s director. I would do a quick compare and contrast for you, but Guillaume Lubrano is credited as the director of every single episode. Some are pretty damned good. Some are less so. Some are incredibly forgettable.

Standouts include the second episode “Shelter Me”, which takes place in a bomb shelter with only two occupants, James Marsters and Michelle Ryan. As Ryan’s character was unconscious when she was brought to the shelter (and Marsters was, above ground, known for being just the tiniest bit creepy), the question arises as to whether there is truly any danger in the outside world or not. But with investigating leading to certain death who would dare hazard a guess?

The fifth episode is another mostly impressive offering. “Master of Destiny” stars the remarkably underrated American actor Joe Flanigan as a rogue of a star pilot on the hunt for a mysterious alien race. You might not always like what his character “Hondo” does, but you will certainly want to know what he does next.

More often than not, however, Metal Hurlant Chronicles falls right in the middle with episodes that vary in quality even within their limited runtimes. “Three on a Match” has a challenging premise that somehow still feels by-the-numbers with mismatched puzzle pieces often shoved in haphazardly. “Red Light/Cold Hard Facts” similarly has an inventive beginning, middle and very surprising end, but somehow the viewer still is left wanting something more substantial.

While the series is often hit and miss, the Blu Ray musters up some interesting extras like motion comics (for fun comparisons), featurettes, convention appearances, interviews and even alternate French Language tracks.

Fans of the show will find a lot more to love in this three disc set, however, those whom the show rarely failed to connect with might have a hard time caring even with the special features. As an anthology, however, there are some really fantastic moments that, taken piecemeal, might make for an entertaining viewing experience, initiated or not.

RATING 5 / 10