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Movie Review: “Metallica: Through the Never”

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Let me start off with this: before I saw this film, I wouldn’t have considered myself the world’s biggest Metallica fan. I mean, I liked a few of their more popular songs like “One,” “Enter Sandman,” “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” and so on, but that was about the extent of my fandom.

That being said, I approached their new concert film “Metallica: Through the Never,” with a bit of trepidation, as I thought I’d have to sit through a bunch of performances from a band that I had little-to-no interest in. I know they say you have to go into every screening of every film with an open mind and zero expectations, but it’s kind of hard to do so when it’s a concert film and you’re not really a supporter of that specific kind of music.

However, there was a faint glimmer of hope for me, as a friend of mine had alerted me to the fact that the performance footage from the band would be combined with a storyline of sorts. He wasn’t sure exactly what the story was going to be, but he did mention something about a roadie having to run some errands for Metallica during their concert. Maybe the band would make the guy pick up their dry cleaning or do their grocery shopping. You know – milk, eggs, hairspray, guitar picks… that sort of thing. Whatever the “errands” were, at least I wouldn’t have to listen to 90 straight minutes of heavy metal-esque music.

Now that I’ve written my disclaimer and put my biased reservations out there for

James Hetfield prays for a big box office take in "Through the Never"

Religion and heavy metal… two great tastes that taste great together.

everyone to see, I have something to confess to you guys. I’ve never been so wrong and so pleasantly surprised about a film in all my life.

Actually, if truth be told, I ended up enjoying the concert footage a great deal more

than the weaved-in story about the roadie on an errand. I mean the premise was interesting enough. A young kid named Trip (Dane DeHaan  - who played the evil kid in “Chronicle” and portrays Harry Osborne in the upcoming “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”) skateboards over to the local Metallica concert and makes his way to the back of the venue, where everybody seems to know who he is. They let him in and he saunters through the bowels of the arena – “Goodfellas” style – passing band members, fellow roadies and groupies along the way. After he

Dane Dehaan drives his creep van in "Through the Never"

Man… if this was “Chronicle,” I could just FLY there.

stands amongst the audience for a bit and listens to some rockin’ tunes, his boss (I assume) tells him he has a “package” to pick up for the band. Again, he moseys on back through those same arena tunnels and into the parking garage, where he gets into the driver’s seat of a shady “creep van” (adorned with some kind of sinister puppet hanging from the rear view) and speeds off into the city streets to find this mysterious “package.”

Meanwhile, as this whole sub-story is playing out, the band continues their set. They play all the familiar tunes (consider the type of fan I am and even I knew all of the songs they played), complete with elaborate set designs, killer light shows and the most advanced pyrotechnics I’ve ever seen. I know it’s cliché to say this, but it was almost like I was right there with them – shadowing their every move.

This is where I get somewhat technical and tell you all the logistics regarding this awesome cinematic spectacle. The film, which is only being shown in 3D format and in IMAX theaters, opened in limited release on September 27 to record numbers – its $1.67 million weekend take was the best opening for an IMAX-exclusive concert film ever. Written and directed by Nimrod Antal (“Vacancy,” “Predators”), the film uses up to 24 cameras simultaneously and is based on Antal’s idea to focus on one of the more hot-button issues of the moment – the idea

of “the protestor,” which he conceived after spying Time Magazine’s “2011 Person of the Year” cover (the aforementioned cover, courtesy of street artist Shepard Fairey, is almost identical to the film’s movie poster). The show footage

Dehaan plays roadie-in-the-middle in "Through the Never"

Somebody walked into the wrong party.

was shot at concerts in Vancouver and Edmonton and the film had a total budget of around $18 million, all of which was completely financed by Metallica band members.

There. Now that I’ve gone through the bare facts of the project, we can put the focus back on the project itself.

Although, the storyline takes the viewer to some pretty strange places, it’s the concert footage that really stands out – especially in the 3D IMAX format. The 3D itself is not gimmicky, as Antal and his Director of Photography Gyula Pados tried to focus on the film’s visual essence not the prototypical reach-out-and-grab-you experience that’s usually attached to a 3D movie. The picture quality is brilliant and

Concert footage from "Through the Never"

Flames and heavy metal… two great tastes that taste great together… again.

simply pops off the screen. When a fireball explodes onscreen (and trust me, this happens A LOT), it’s almost as if you can feel the heat from the flames. When reaction footage from the audience is shown onscreen, it’s almost as if you are thrown right into the crowd yourself – pumping your fist in unison with the tens-of-thousands of ornery Metallica fans.

And the sounds… oh my god, the sounds. This film is the reason that IMAX was invented. The audio quality of this particular movie is like a golden gift for your eardrums. Like I said before, I was NOT the biggest fan of Metallica and their particular brand of music going into this film, but the resonance and reverberation of each and every note (not to mention the infectious energy of the onscreen audience) slowly transformed me from non-believing skeptic to metalhead in about an hour-and-a-half. In fact, I was this close (index-to-thumb) to making an executive decision to grow my hair out to a full-bore mullet, but my fashion sense prevailed in the end.

However, the aspect of the film that really turned me into a true blue fan of the band (and their music) were the band members themselves. James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett and Robert Trujillo were just names to me before, but after this film, I have complete and utter respect for them as artists who are at the

Electric chair imagery in "Through the Never"

Lack of creativity is not a problem for Metallica’s set designers.

top of their game. Their ability to control a crowd, as well as deal with the occasional foul-up (there is one point where the Hetfield’s microphone goes dead – so he makes an angry face, gnashes his teeth, and gives a few forceful hand gestures and the problem is fixed right away), brings them to legendary status in MY own mind from now on. The power they have, on-stage and with the crowd, is absolutely amazing.

I never wanted to pick up a guitar OR a bass OR a pair of drumsticks and play my heart out in front of a surging group of fans until I saw this film. Being a former musician, I have felt this power (on a MUCH smaller scale) and am familiar with how intoxicating it is. If MY experiences left ME feeling this way, I can only imagine how these guys feel on a nightly basis. I would think that rock musicians would eventually need to go to rehab in order to combat the withdrawals of performing, but that’s another tale for another article.

Contrary to the way I felt going into “Metallica: Through the Never,” I was more annoyed when the action switched to the fantastical-looking (but ultimately second-class) storyline. Mostly because it took me out of the trance I was in (both on a visual and audio level) from the concert footage. I mean, the tale was appealing enough. After Trip leaves the parking garage in the creep van, he drives around an eerily empty city – stopping at red lights and noticing things like bloody hand prints on bus stop billboards – until his van gets hit by a speeding car. After the accident, he brushes the glass off and emerges from the wreckage. That’s when he notices a man in a suit – just standing still in the middle of the street. At this point, I was thinking zombies – as I bet you will be too – and who am I to tell you that you’ll be wrong. So I won’t.

With spoilers in mind, the next act of the film combines some more top-rate concert footage with Trip’s… uhhh… trip. He runs through the isolated city and eventually comes across an angry flash mob with bandit-style face-coverings (just like the

The Horseman cometh in "Through the Never"

This guy looks suspiciously like the father figure from “House of 1000 Corpses”… but that’s okay. We’ll give ‘em a pass.

movie poster alluded to) that are facing off with a riot squad (a la the Kanye West/Jay Z video for “No Church in the Wild”). Now, all hell breaks loose… literally. This is when the plot gets… well… weird and a hulking, ominous guy – wearing a gasmask and riding a horse (death itself?) – begins stringing up protestors and policeman alike and hanging them from light poles.  It’s all very surreal and supernatural… and confusing. I guess it’s supposed to be all of these things. I mean, who wants a straight forward concert film. Besides fans of Katy Perry and One Direction, that is.

When the storyline is all said and done, we’re left with a sort of “Pulp Fiction” or a “Se7en” style ending. But instead of a “What’s in the box?!” or “What’s in the briefcase?” line of questioning, we have a “What’s in the duffel bag?” scenario going on. I’ll tell you one thing, I never expected the Metallica concert film to have a cliffhanger attached to it, but sometimes life throws you a pleasant surprise.

It was all a very ambitious project – right from the start. However, it all worked. Some of the story was a little too “out there,” but the concert footage and its prodigious lighting, stomach-shaking sound and giant, ominous statues (… and justice for all)  brought it all back to Earth. The band members and Antal definitely

... and justice for all in "Through the Never"

They actually build this thing on stage… in front of the whole audience. Awesome!

get an “A” for effort with this one. At the very least, they tried to do something different for their fans – giving them a glimpse into what lurks beyond a typical Metallica show. The band let the viewer follow them backstage, as well as letting them roam around their minds for a bit. If you are a fan of the band coming into this film, what more could you ask for? And if you’re not a fan of the band, believe me, by the time the credits roll (during which the band plays a special, live set in the midst of an empty arena), you will be.

I’m all the proof you need.

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