Metallica: Through the Never

Metallica - Through the NeverSynopsis: Metallica Through the Never is a groundbreaking music-driven 3-D motion picture event.  The film combines a spectacular never-before-seen live-performance by Metallica created exclusively for the film and a suspenseful narrative to produce a bracing, raw and visceral cinematic experience.

Emerging young star Dane DeHaan (A Place Beyond the Pines, Kill Your Darlings, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 & 3) portrays Trip, a young roadie sent on an urgent mission that turns into a surreal adventure, while Metallica performs its most iconic songs during a roaring live set in front of a sold-out arena.

Metallica Through the Never features the most elaborate live-performance stage ever built and was filmed with state-of-the-art 3-D photography captured using up to 24 cameras simultaneously. Metallica, one of the most popular and influential rock bands in history, is James Hetfield (vocals, guitar), Lars Ulrich (drums), Kirk Hammett (guitar, background vocals) and Robert Trujillo (bass, background vocals).  The film is written and directed by award-winning filmmaker Nimród Antal (Predator, Kontroll) and produced by Charlotte Huggins (Journey to the Center of the Earth).

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Metallica: Through the Never 8.0

eyelights: the explosive experience. the stage design. the special effects. Robert Trujillo.
eyesores: the track selection. the track sequence.

I was once a MAJOR Metallica fan. When their self-titled album came out, the one commonly known as “the Black album”, I borrowed it from a friend, made a copy and gave it a chance. Unlike the rest of the world, I wasn’t an immediate convert, but it had a few interesting hooks in it and it grew on me.

I eventually played it quite a lot – and, yes, bought the CD in multiple collectible formats. (So please don’t sue me, Lars!)

But what really turned me on about Metallica was their prior output. As I began to explore the band, I discovered that there was more to them other than simplistic riffs and lyrics (while “Nothing Else Matters” is anything but a Metallica song in my mind, I like it. “Sad But True”, however, will pain me forever).

Metallica had once been a powerhouse of complex arrangements and challenging lyrics. I listened to their first three albums incessantly. I still listened to the self-titled one and “…And Justice For All” a lot, but they paled in comparison to the first three. I became obsessed and bought all the Metallica CDs I could: singles, promos and bootlegs.

I spent a fortune on Metallica.

Those days are long gone now. Metallica squandered all goodwill and interest by putting out studio albums only rarely, giving me ample time to move on to other things. And when they did release something, they kept lowering the bar, disappointing a fan who craved a return to their heydays. Instead, I was treated to a covers album, and ‘St. Anger’.

Oh, how the once-mighty have fallen.

If not for ‘Death Magnetic’, their last effort, I’d probably completely ignore them now. It had its flaws, but at least they began to challenge themselves and their audience again. Gone were the moronic radio anthems such as “Fuel”; its shortest song was five minutes long, while most were in excess of seven minutes in length. Sadly, it took five years to make and it’s been five since.

They also had a new bassist in the form of Robert Trujillo. I had been a fan of Trujillo’s since his days in Suicidal Tendencies and Infectious Grooves. I KNEW this guy could play! I was really excited to see him in the fold: I hoped he would push the others to excel. And when I saw his stage presence, I was blown away! I was extremely pleased.

So it is that, when ‘Through the Never’ finally saw the light of day (I had been hearing about it seemingly forever), I was partly intrigued. I had seen ‘The Big 4’ “live” in the cinema and had enjoyed Metallica’s set, but was wary of James Hetfield’s bastardization of classics like “One” and “Fade to Black” (two of my all-time favourite songs) by chanting over them during the solos. Ick.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to see another of their live shows because of this (Leave these metal classics alone! They’re not pop songs!), but then I kept reading stellar reviews of the picture. Everything I was reading forged the impression of a powerhouse film: loud, brash and bold – a rock and roll indulgence the way it’s meant to be.

All accounts warned that the story elements that tied the concert bits together were not to be taken seriously, that  they were mostly loose connections that were best enjoyed for their visceral impact. Frankly, having seen ‘The Song Remains the Same’ many times over, I knew I could handle anything they’d throw at me. And it couldn’t possibly be any worse than other rock band vanity projects.

When I discovered that the film was conceived in 3D, I knew that I should see it at the cinema instead of waiting for the blu-ray version: I could never recreate the effect at home, and this was one of those experiences best enjoyed in their full glory – not in 2D, with a small screen, or a lackluster sound system. This was going to be large, loud and tridimensional!

Dammit, I’m really glad that I made a point of it. I don’t go to the cinema much these days, given that I much prefer the enjoyment of movies in the luxury of my own home, but it was worth going out for this. Since I had a friend who was equally intrigued, if not excited at the prospect, it made it that much more compelling.

‘Metallica: Through the Never’ is a simple concept. It’s a concert movie which was edited together from two concerts and which is tied together by the story of a roadie who is sent out to retrieve something that the band needs for their show; the truck that was set to deliver it has broken down and he needs to find it and get back by the show’s end.

The problem is that Trip, a young man who looks like a cross between Leonardo DiCaprio and David Bowie, will have to make it through an unexplained riot to get to this item. And due to unforeseen circumstances, he will be chased and hunted down by the rioters, the most dangerous of which reminded me of ‘The Dark Knight Rises‘s Bane – but astride a steed.

The picture opens with a wide-shot of a darkened cityscape, which to me looked suspiciously like a computer fabrication. Soon, we are in an arena’s parking lot, empty except for one car, which stops and reveals an obese, 30-something reveller shouting “Metallica!!!” and climbing about the front of his ride awkwardly. Clearly, the movie was meant to be tongue-in-cheek.

Expectations adjusted accordingly, we are then introduced to our protagonist, who walks silently through the parking lot and into the arena, passing by the roadies setting up the night’s concert. He also crosses paths with the band members, all doing their own thing:

  • James Hetfield (vocals, rhythm guitar) arriving in his roadster, which spews fire from the exhaust.
  • Kirk Hammett (lead guitar) in conference with a roadie discussing his guitar, which is spilling blood on the ground.
  • Robert Trujillo (bass) practicing in a small open space, shaking the foundations as he’s prowling about. The guy is a beast (in a good way).
  • Lars Ulrich (drums) walking through the halls, eyeing Trip suspiciously as they pass each other.

Trip walks into the empty arena, which soon fills up, and the show begins. Before he can get through the first song, he is advised of his mission and must leave the arena. We, however, thankfully get to enjoy what would amount to, not only a collection of some of Metallica’s most notable works, but an indulgent extravaganza of the likes one will rarely see elsewhere:

1.     “The Ecstasy of Gold”: Metallica has used this sample of Ennio Morricone’s score to ‘Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo’ for at least two decades now and I still get chills when I hear it. It’s epic, dramatic, and an excellent intro to the band.

2.     “Creeping Death”: An awesome way to start the show, it zipped by very fast. What blew my mind was when I realized that the band played on an LCD (or LED) stage – the stage was bleeding from the center outwards. It was a pretty spectacular effect.

3.     “For Whom the Bell Tolls”: A staple that I quickly tired of many years ago, it has Trujillo prowling about on stage in that inimitable way that I love so much. Say what you will about how different he is from his predecessors, the guy is a phenomenal sight on stage.

4.     “Fuel”:  I’ve never been a big fan of this song, which is simple-minded (why didn’t they just sing about girls, girls, girls while they’re at it?), but it rocks, and the screen and stage was appropriately covered with fire. Impressive to say the least.

5.     “Ride the Lightning”: Still a brilliant song, this ditty showed a black and white video of a death row execution on stage and on screens while a mock electric chair came down from the ceiling, eventually filling the space above the band with blue electrical current. Nice. At the beginning, as James was singing, his mic cut out. He chucked it and went to an alternate one to continue. I loved this touch of pseudo-realism; this wasn’t going to be entirely polished.

6.     “One”: By far one of Metallica’s most accomplished works, to me this is a set closer – so it felt strange to hear it halfway through the show. But it was something to behold, with the sounds of war blasting through, laser blasts in lieu of machine gun fire, black and white footage of soldiers on large screens, …etc. Fittingly, the street riot began at this point.

7.     “The Memory Remains”: This is very much a studio song that doesn’t work without Marianne Faithfull’s croaky vocals. Hetfield has the crowd sing those parts in her stead, but it’s not the same. Plus which I hate sing-alongs at metal shows: it’s contradictory. Nothing special happened on stage aside from a rig breaking. It was now established that the show wasn’t unfolding “as expected” (clearly this is all staged).

8.     “Wherever I May Roam”: We are only treated to the intro to arguably the best song on the ‘self-titled’ album, but it’s the best part.

9.     “Cyanide”: “Cyanide” is an alright song, but it works primarily because there’s a standoff between the rioters and the police, with Trip caught in the middle, with the police beating their batons rhythmically on their shields, providing an extra layer of percussion and tension to an already charged moment. It was simple but very effective.

10.     “…And Justice for All”:  the title track from their fourth album, the band recreated a sequence from their 1989 tour that had Lady Justice (who graces the cover of said album) falling apart towards the end of the song. In this case, however, they had a crew build her up at the beginning of the song, only for her to crash down at the end. This didn’t work: set in the middle of the massive, expansive in-the-round stage, it looked like a hokey ’80s throwback. Back in the day, the statue was part of the stage from the onset, and was set to the side. It was only when she started to fall apart that attention as drawn to her. By building her up and immediately taking her apart, it stripped the moment of its immensity – it felt more like a gimmick. A cheesy one. Also, the statue’s proportions were wrong, making her look less classic and more cartoony.

11.     “Master of Puppets”: Another masterpiece from the band (the titular track from their most highly-regarded album), this was a blistering piece with one of the most visually arresting sets of the night: blue, fluorescent crosses rose up on stage, and smoke started to emerge from behind them, surrounding the band members in wafts of smoke. Filling the space above the stage were screens on which crosses were projected. It was a simple design, but had a wondrous effect.

12.     “Battery”: One of their most blistering songs, it was accompanied by massive on-stage fireballs at the same time as Trip was setting himself on fire to keep the rioters at bay. This was as visceral as the show got, with Trip getting into a melée to the sounds of this thrash classic.

13.     “Nothing Else Matters”: This one just killed the mood. It’s a decent song, but it just didn’t fit tonally.

14.     “Enter Sandman”: I’m sick to death of this song, but it worked very well in the movie, especially as a backing piece to the city crumbling around Trip and Metallica’s set collapsing due to the vibrations of the destruction taking place outside the arena. I enjoyed this moment because it brought to a head the uncertainty that was building on stage. It also showed added another layer of “realism” to the proceedings, in that it showed the damage control procedures as well as the band and crew’s reactions to chaos.

15.     “Hit the Lights”: In some ways, this was my favourite part of the picture, in that, after the stage collapsed and the gear was thereby unusable, Metallica basically took out some basic amps and guitars and played an old classic, the way they would have many years ago. It was raw, it was furious, it was brilliant. Sometimes, simplicity is best. “Hit the Lights” was nice to hear after all these years, and it was a great closer.

16.     “Orion”: During the closing credits, the band took the stage, alone together to play a riveting take of “Orion”, a song I’ve never heard anywhere else except on ‘Master of Puppets’. It was totally awesome, even if James felt the need to wear some stupid-@$$ sunglasses because he’s so damn cool. Get over yourself, dude. And stop tattooing yourself. It doesn’t look good and it’s actually NOT cool (when Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus are tattooing themselves, you know that it’s too mainstream to be cool anymore, and it’s no longer the mark of a rebellious nature when everyone does it).

The audio was terrific, of course, but not everyone was happy with the mix, with some saying that the bass was lost in the mix (hmmm, that seems familiar…). Personally, I was very happy with what I heard and loved how the music was mixed into the picture when we followed Trip. I was particularly impressed with the way they kept the music muffled when he was in the arena’s guts, just as it would be for real, or how they cut the music to put mall music at one key moment. There was intention in the way this was put together and it was done well.

The visuals were also quite nice and well thought out. The special effects were carefully thought-out to mix with the concert and Trip’s quest. Obviously, all the stage set-ups were designed to impress, but I couldn’t help but wonder if they were put together merely for the film or if Metallica are now trying to outdo U2 on the road. Either way, it was an impressive display of stage design and stage craft combined.

(On a side note, I think that these types of set-ups are a crutch – either you’re a great band or you’re not. Either you can work the crowd, or you need gear to do it for you. Stripped of all the gimmickry, what would the band do? The perfect example of how this affects the dynamic between artists and their fans, are the close-ups of the passive concert-goers who couldn’t dig the band playing right in front of them; they needed gadgets to be involved. As a musician, I’d rather play to a small hall of rabid fans than an arena filled with zombie wannabes)

As for the 3D, one would naturally wonder if it’s worth it – as opposed to seeing the band for real. Personally, I thought that it was. Between all the onstage fire and electricity and all that Trip experienced (including a car crash, a riot, multiple hangings, a chase, the decimation of a city, drowning, …etc., an extra dimension certainly added to the overall effect. I would advise watching it in 3D if at all possible.

All this to say that ‘Through the Never’, was a goddamn blast. Sure, it’s basically an extended music video, but it’s filled to the brim with excitement and it’s extremely well-conceived. For what it is, of course. I mean, we’re not talking about the latest Academy Award-winning masterpiece: we’re talking about a loud, noisy, bold and ambitious metal extravaganza here. Metallica delivered beyond my expectations.

Post scriptum: And what was it that Trip was set out to get, you wonder? I can’t tell you…

Date of viewing: October 2, 2013

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