Tripping the Space Fantastic with Dan O’Bannon in ‘Heavy Metal’

Tripping the Space Fantastic with Dan O’Bannon in ‘Heavy Metal’

I have to admit, prior to being involved in this ode to Dan O’Bannon I didn’t know much about the man beyond his immortally classic Return from the Living Dead. So it was much to my surprise (and delight) that I learned he had previously entertained fans with tales of genre exploitation, post-apocalyptic grudge matches, and fantastical scenes of ultraviolence in the pages of Heavy Metal magazine. More specifically it was O’Bannon’s contribution to Heavy Metal‘s first animated film in 1981 that most surprised me, providing a glimpse into the eerie world of grue and gore that are no surprise to fans of RotLD.

Coinciding with the magazine’s sci-fi/fantasy theme, O’Bannon scripted not one but two different sequences for the film entitled Soft Landing and (what some would consider the strongest short of the bunch) B-17. Soft Landing, which compromises the movie’s intro, is perhaps the more infamous of the two sequences as it features a vintage Corvette falling from space (astronaut in tow) and landing in a desert whereupon it’s driver casually makes his way home. All is not as it seems, however, as the astronaut reveals he’s taken a small memento from space in the form of a glowing, green orb (Loc-Nar). Suffice to say, things don’t end well.

In B-17 O’Bannon really pays homage to his earliest inspiration (EC Comics) with a story of dread that features the same mysterious orb infiltrating a WWII fighter jet full of deceased airmen. The orb then resurrects them as pulpy, undead slaggarts with a taste for the flesh of a lone survivor who’s determined to escape only to find that the fire is much hotter outside the frying pan. It’s been said that O’Bannon toyed with replacing the zombies with gremlins, a device he would later revisit in Alien, but for my buck the story is all the better for its inclusion of a nightmarish horde of slackjaws.

Here’s to you, O’Bannon. Thanks for the ride.


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Rondal is a full-fledged horror fan and die hard "strange kid" who tackles each day with Red Bull-induced vigor with a side of unadulterated violence. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Strange Kids Club, a virtual clubhouse of adolescent enthusiasm in addition to being Co-Editor of Fuel Your Illustration and an occasional contributor to the video game blog, StartFrag.

One Response to “Tripping the Space Fantastic with Dan O’Bannon in ‘Heavy Metal’”

  1. Whats interesting about these two sequences (the best in the movie) is that Soft Landing is pretty much a version of the ending of Darkstar.

    And B-17 appears to likely be a version of his Gremlins script that became Alien.
    Combined with his early (Dead and Buried) to mid 80’s (ROTLD) interest in Zombies.

    But Dan was so slick at re framing a concept or idea,
    that its taken people decades to figure out where he got them.

    Only to eventually figure out that it was right in front of your face the whole time.

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