Tripwire’s new TV columnist, Hugh David, kicks off his monthly column
Metal Hurlant Chronicles & Metal Hurlant Chronicles: Resurgence
Comic book fans approaching this 2-season series (which started in 2012) are going to be asking themselves two questions: what exactly have they cherry-picked from Metal Hurlant’s decades-long run to adapt, and has enough money been spent to make these adaptations any good? The problem perhaps lies with the second question even being asked. Being comic book fans, we know the “budget” on the page is limited only by imagination, time and tools, whereas film and television are bound by more fixed, less malleable boundaries. As such, it’s important to understand a little about this production before deciding whether buying it is for you.
Firstly, this is one of those European co-productions that seems to have simultaneously a decent budget behind it and yet not enough money to realise its ambitious SF & fantasy visions. The choice to adapt mostly one-off short stories from selected issues allows for variety week-to-week but means there’s not a lot that can be re-used in terms of sets, costumes and effects work (which is where most TV series save money). In practice the result is that for every impressive set-piece that looks like a feature out-take there are scenes that would barely pass muster as bad videogame cut scenes.
The decision to tie all of the stories together through the semi-mystical side-effects of the passing asteroid named the Metal Hurlant is in keeping with the tone of the comic book itself as a whole, but ultimately serves little purpose other than to save having to offer solid explanations for key story elements. Again, this is either a weakness or a refreshing twist to the storytelling depending on point of view; it does free up each episode to concentrate on individuals, mood and action rather than on an over-elaborate backstory that would bog down a half-hour narrative. And this is the most important point of all: other than the asteroid, a few characters who recur and some storylines that crossover, this is essentially a half-hour anthology series, something we haven’t had on our screens in decades. With its sex, violence and extensive green-screen CGI effects it is exactly the sort of thing that used to fill late-night cable in the nineties, the sort of thing you would come across channel-hopping while drunk or stoned or playing too much Doom and enjoy for its temporary colourful nuttiness before passing out for the night. While folks like James Marsters, John Rhys-Davies, Michelle Ryan and Michael Biehn do most of the acting heavy lifting, its use of interesting faces who aren’t always great actors (especially when saddled with some ponderous dialogue) makes sense when you remember the show is designed to be dubbed for screening in several countries; it’s the Arnold Schwarzenegger/Sly Stallone/Van Damme school of casting, which is why supermodel Kelly Brook, Birmingham’s greatest Scott Adkins and Black Dynamite himself Michael Jai White do exactly the sort of thing you expect them to. It also explains why the wonderful cult actor Dominique Pinon turns up; a French “name” helps with the co-funding and getting screened, but he’s also the perfect face and voice to inhabit one of the many crazy SF/Fantasy worlds of Metal Hurlant, and so it proves to be.
Fans of Lexx, The Hunger and Red Show Diaries as well as other, older cult TV fare where imagination and ambition trumped budgets and effects will find themselves completely at home here; everyone else will probably be disappointed, especially if expecting an MCU-style treatment of the franchise. And that’s a good thing; Metal Hurlant Chronicles retains many of the pleasures to be had from the comics, as well as something of the indefinable spirit of them, without having watered itself down for modern-day mass appeal. Love it or hate it, this is undoubtedly a Metal Hurlant TV series through and through, and is a lot of fun when all the disparate elements click.
Each series is out in the U.K. on a single disc each (whether you buy it on Blu-ray or DVD), with the 12 episodes in total adapting 12 original one-off comics by such talents as Alejandro Jodorowsky, Moebius, Richard Corben, Geoff Johns, R.A. Jones, Adi Granov and Christian Gossett. Annoyingly the British discs are no-frills; anyone who has a soft spot for the show or a greater interest in the comic-book side of things should invest in either the American edition (both series in one package, extensive BTS featurettes, French-language edits of some episodes (which used different takes), and motion comics of each and every source story) or the lavish French edition with a hardback collection reprinting the source comics and signed Moebius prints. Let’s hope sales do well enough for a third series to be commissioned.