I’ve been to many a press screening, but Metallica: Through the Never is the first one I’ve been to where free earplugs were handed out. It’s a marketing touch William Castle and Alfred Hitchcock would have been proud of, and one I’d suggest the publicists should have happen at every screening, mentioned in every ad. The 3D Imax surcharges should cover the cost. (I didn’t actually need them in the end.)
Being a Metallica fan is a bit like being a Star Wars fan. You can’t tell anybody you are one without IMMEDIATELY hearing how great the old stuff is and how it’s an absolute fact that everybody agrees the new stuff is terrible. I’m that guy who disagrees on both counts, though if you’d talked to me in the late ’90s during the Load/Re-Load/Lollapalooza period I would have heartily agreed. The St. Anger album is my Mallrats, the one the creators now mostly disavow but that absolutely won me into the fold when it came out. And as controversial as this will be with other fans, I’ll just say it: live, Robert Trujillo is a better bassist that Jason Newsted.
And with that said, it won’t surprise you to know that Metallica: Through the Never may be the most fun I’ve had in a movie theater all year, despite the usual (expected) conspicuous lack of any St. Anger tunes. As a movie, though? That’s where things get complicated.
There are a couple of different ways to go with a movie based around a band – assuming that none of the members fancy themselves as actors. You can do a straight-up concert movie, like U2-3D or Sign O’ the Times. Or you can do a conceptual musical, like The Wall or Tommy. Predators director Nimrod Antal tries to do both with Metallica, and while the “narrative” elements – they’re just barely this side of experimental – are well-shot and atmospheric, it’s tough to say they add anything more than a sense that we’re getting a bonus music video on top of the concert footage.
The story, such as it is, focuses on a roadie named Trip (seriously bad pun, folks), played by Chronicle‘s Dane DeHaan, who has to find a broken down Metallica tour truck somewhere in the inner city (Vancouver) and bring back a bag that’s inside; as with the Pulp Fiction briefcase, it’s ultimately up to the viewer to decide what the contents are. Along the way – between Metallica songs – he finds himself in the middle of a spontaneously generating riot, and rows of hanged corpses; only with the help of his scary wooden doll will he avoid the wrath of a masked death dealer on horseback. Or something like that. The press notes say it’s about innocence versus evil – my best reading of it is that Trip is the typical kid dealing with literalized “demons” by finding an outlet in metal. For contrast, there’s also a hilarious “dumb guy” fan shown early on.
Only rarely does this interrupt the concert footage, which combines every major Metallica stage trick of their career into one big show that would only be safe to depict using Hollywood trickery – the giant Lady Justice statue is actually stone this time, and shakes itself dangerously to pieces. Massive Tesla coils encircle a giant electric chair. The whole floor of the stage is a high-def screen on which we see a new animated war sequence for “One” (seriously, I thank Metallica for leading me and countless others to the movie Johnny Got His Gun, but using emotional resonance from somebody else’s creative work to transfer onto your own feels like a cheat sometimes, and I’m glad they have their own thing now).
I’m not too sure about the judgment call to make technical screw-ups part of the show. It’s distracting to show technicians up on stage behind band members playing as they try to fix a mechanical arm, and there’s no need for gray chest-haired frontman James Hetfield to throw down a malfunctioning mic and yell at the roadies. These would be unwanted distractions in real life, and faking them is even more distracting – the payoff, which involves crew members being fake-injured, is equally unnecessary. Though if Hetfield, who famously got accidentally burned by stage pyros during a tour with Guns N’ Roses, is okay making light of it, I guess we should be too.
I can overlook all of this for how rockin’ a movie it is. But what about for a non-fan?
Let’s ask my wife, who likes ’70s and disco music the most, and plays the Beach Boys’ greatest hits album more than anything…
Tell me what you knew about Metallica before this movie
I knew there was a band called Metallica.
Tell me how you first thought this movie might be worth seeing.
Well, on our honeymoon, I begged you to take me to The World’s End. I really wanted to see that movie because I love Simon Pegg. And I saw the trailer, and the music kinda seemed cool, so I’m like, “Huh, that looks interesting.” And you just jumped at the opportunity to take me to the movie.
You’d really never heard any Metallica song – not even “Enter Sandman”?
I still really don’t know what “Enter Sandman” is. I guess I’m going to have to look this up on YouTube.
It’s the one that says, “We’re off to Never-Neverland.”
That song was in the movie?
Yeah. [hums opening riff]
Oh, that one! Yeah, I never heard it before the movie. And I still don’t know the names of the songs – this was like my very first time ever hearing Metallica.
Tell them what you thought “Master of Puppets” was.
The devil. Because it’s like [growly voice]“OBEY YOUR MASTER!” and I’m like, okaaay…the devil…but then you told me it was about drugs. I was off-base.
So what did you think of the movie?
You know…I liked the music. I thought the music was something I could get into. I liked the movie overall because I got that it was very minimalist, and that the movement was corresponding to the songs. The one part I really liked was the scene where the people were trapped in the [Death Magnetic] coffins and they were trying to escape – I wanted to see more of that, actually, because that was a cool effect.
What about the way the movie was filmed, and all of that?
Honestly, it looked fine to me. It wasn’t eye-popping 3D, but it felt like you were actually there at the concert. That was pretty cool.
What about the parts of the movie that weren’t the concert?
Again, that was fun. It moved along nicely. The only part I didn’t like was in the very beginning, there was a song they interrupted with action, and I was just kinda like, no, finish the song! Once they figured out you had to finish the song and THEN show the kid and his journey, it worked out fine. Because the song was actually pretty good, and then ARGH! They interrupted it.
What did you think the kid’s journey meant? Because obviously it wasn’t completely realistic.
Just from my experiences of knowing roadies and people like that…he might have been on one major trip. It might have been a spiral of a drug trip. I’ve known roadies for U2 and the Stones and everything – and a lot of those guys get pretty wasted. Not any more, the old-timers, but when they were young they did everything.
Would you recommend this movie to anyone?
If you’re looking for some music, and you want to see a Metallica concert without actually buying tickets, I think it’s pretty cool.
Would you say that it needs to be seen in 3D Imax?
In Imax, yes. In 3D, no. Nothing popped out at you like swords poking out, or guitars flying at you, but in order to get that immersion of actually being in the front rows of a concert, I think yes, you need to see it in Imax.
Were you able to make out any of the lyrics to these songs you’d never heard before?
Some of them, absolutely. Some not. It was a mixed bag. But honestly, I’m more of a beat person. If the beat’s pretty good and it’s not TOO offensive – obviously if it’s a pretty good beat but the song is saying “worship Satan or else,” I’m probably gonna reject it. But if it’s got a good beat and it’s talking about depression, it’s like okay, fine.
Anything else you can think of?
Um…when’s Saving Mr. Banks coming out?
That’s not relevant to this conversation.
Oh. Well, nothing then.
Metallica: Through the Never opens in 3D Imax theaters tomorrow, and others next week. The title song does not appear in the movie.