Metal Hurlant mag­a­zine, bet­ter known to U.S. read­ers as Heavy Metal, has been a main­stay of mag­a­zine racks since the late ‘70s, offer­ing a dis­tinct­ly adult take on hor­ror, sci-fi and fan­ta­sy gen­res. Fanciful art, bound­ary-push­ing sex and vio­lence and twist end­ings all fig­ure promi­nent­ly in the magazine’s house style. It’s nat­u­ral that such a com­mer­cial mix­ture of ele­ments would inspire inter­est from oth­er areas of show­biz and Heavy Metal quick­ly inspired an ani­mat­ed mid­night movie clas­sic (and much lat­er, a lesser sequel).

MetHurC-bluOther film­mak­ers have threat­ened to revive the mag­a­zine in film form for years but it took a French film­mak­er to revive it via anoth­er medi­um: Guillaume Lubrano cre­at­ed a tele­vi­sion show inspired by the mag­a­zine, Metal Hurlant Chronicles, which ran for two sea­sons in Europe and played in the U.S. on SyFy. The results are tech­ni­cal­ly impres­sive — but they also reveal the dan­gers of being too deeply in thrall to source mate­ri­al from anoth­er medi­um.

The titles sequence of Metal Hurlant Chronicles sets up the link­ing device that unites its array of indi­vid­u­al sto­ries: a chunk of a dead plan­et hurtles through space, caus­ing chaos on any plan­et or space­ship that cross­es paths with it. The sto­ries that fol­low take place in fan­ta­sy king­doms, on dis­tant plan­ets and occa­sion­al­ly on Earth itself. Lubrano gets in a few gen­re-friend­ly faces to pop­u­late the tales — Michael Biehn, Scott Adkins, John Rhys-Davies, Michael Jai White — and his choice of Metal Hurlant sto­ries includes a few tales penned by film­mak­er-turned-comics-scribe Alejandro Jodorowsky.

Lubrano’s great­est asset as a direc­tor is his visu­al sense: Metal Hurlant Chronicles deploys CGI effects with con­fi­dence, most of them quite good, and boasts strong pro­duc­tion design and make­up effects. Perhaps the best all-around episode in cap­tur­ing the­se skills is “The Endomorphe, ” which fea­tures White as a mil­i­tary lead­er whose ever-dwin­dling squad is try­ing to ush­er a child who might save human­i­ty from a cyborg rebel­lion to a safe MetHurC-01zone. The sophis­ti­cat­ed blend of CGI and care­ful­ly-lit sets cre­ates a con­vinc­ing apoc­a­lyp­tic feel and Lubrano keeps it afloat with plen­ty of action and a com­pelling lead per­for­mance from White.

However, Lubrano has prob­lems get­ting a con­sis­tent lev­el of believ­able act­ing. With the excep­tion of the afore­men­tioned guest stars, Metal Hurlant Chronicles is filled with an array of French actors who deliv­er stiff, one-note per­for­mances fur­ther hurt by a weak grasp of the English lan­guage. Give actors like this kitschy comic book dia­logue and the result often pulls you out of the show’s visu­al plea­sures.

MetHurC-02Lubrano also goes too far in being faith­ful to his comic book tales. For exam­ple, comic book dia­logue is dif­fer­ent from film/t.v. dia­logue and the show’s refusal to con­sid­er this results in a lot of clink­er-heavy dia­logue. On a deep­er lev­el, Lubrano takes sto­ries that usu­al­ly occu­py just a few pages in an issue of Metal Hurlant and strains to pad them out to a 20 to 25 min­ute length. As a result, a sim­ple tale of castle intrigue like “Second Son” should take about 10 min­utes to tell but runs on twice as long. Also, the reliance of gim­micky twist end­ings results in groan­er-style codas that you can guess long before they run their course (the one in “Pledge Of Anya” will induce eye-rolls).

That said, a few sto­ries emerge from the pack as mem­o­rable. For exam­ple, “Whisky In The Jar” is an intrigu­ing­ly macabre blend of west­ern and super­nat­u­ral ele­ments anchored by a believ­ably world-weary per­for­mance from Michael Biehn and, despite some pac­ing issues, “Master Of Destiny” is the best of the show’s two Jodorowsky adap­ta­tions, mix­ing space opera visu­als with a med­i­ta­tion on life’s sur­pris­ing twists of fate.

MetHurC-03Overall, Metal Hurlant Chronicles is a mixed bag that is stronger on visu­al design than it is on trans­lat­ing Metal Hurlant to a live-action medi­um. Fans of the mag­a­zine will appre­ci­ate the show’s fideli­ty to the source mate­ri­al but oth­ers are like­ly to find it an awk­ward trans­la­tion on more than one front.

Blu-Ray Notes: Both sea­sons have been released in the U.S. on a 3-blu-ray set by Shout Factory. Picture qual­i­ty is excel­lent, doing well by the CGI-laced dig­i­tal imagery, and the loss­less 5.1 stereo mix­es deliv­er plen­ty of oom­ph and mul­ti-chan­nel activ­i­ty.

Each disc also fea­tures plen­ti­ful extras. Disc one includes fea­turettes for the first two episodes that offer plen­ti­ful on-the-set footage along with inter­view snip­pets. There are also three inter­views, all with cast mem­bers from the “King’s Ransom” episode (includ­ing fan faves Scott Adkins and Michael Jai White). The sec­ond disc offers an addi­tion­al five fea­turettes on that disc’s episodes, all with plen­ti­ful MetHurC-04behind-the-sce­nes footage that gives an insight into how ambi­tious this series under­tak­ing was.

Disc three is entire­ly devot­ed to extras. First up are four episodes in French lan­guage ver­sions: English sub­ti­tles are includ­ed for all. There is also a pan­el dis­cus­sion from San Diego ComicCon that fea­tures Lubrano, White and oth­er cast and crew dis­cussing the chal­lenges of shoot­ing a tech­ni­cal­ly com­plex show cheap­ly and quick­ly. They all show a gen­uine love for geek cul­ture that is charm­ing.

However, the best inclu­sion on this disc is thir­teen motion comics of the orig­i­nal sto­ries used for the show’s episodes, pre­sent­ed in French with English sub­ti­tles. They’re all can­dy for the eye and offer fans a chance to study how the show expand­ed the­se short tales into their live-action coun­ter­parts. All in all, this is a fine set from Shout Factory and offers excel­lent val­ue for the mon­ey.