Directed by: Nimrod Antal
Written by: Nimrod Antal & Metallica
Starring: Dane DeHaan, James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammet, Robert Trujillo.
Concert films are an unusual thing to review. Most of the time, the filmmakers are charged with capturing a special show from a band. They should try to see each band member get an appropriate amount of air time, show how the audience reacts to the performance, and somehow try to capture the essence of the performing band. If the show goes well, it’s a pretty straightforward process. There isn’t too much to remark on unless the editors choose to paint the band in an unusual manner. Over the past five years, some bands have tried to capitalize on 3D’s renewed popularity to enhance the experience and offer the fans the feeling of being present in the concert. This approach has brought mixed results, some of the films based on the work of pop stars like Miley Cyrus and Hannah Montana have been immensely popular, but other films haven’t been quite as lucrative as you’d expect.
Metallica’s new concert film is a rare beast, perhaps comparable only to Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains the Same. Both films show the band performing before hundreds of fans in their respective concerts, but also telling some different stories in the background. Unlike Zeppelin’s film, Through the Never doesn’t give each band member their own fantasy piece. Metallica’s drummer Lars Ulrich expressed that this was due to the band’s desire to do something beyond the idea of a mere 3D concert movie. They wanted to lean more towards the “movie” side, and tell one story throughout.
Metallica Through the Never follows the exploits of a young man named Trip (Dane DeHaan) who works as a roadie for his favorite band, Metallica. The band themselves appear as mythologized versions of themselves. James Hetfield’s vintage car shoots large blasts of flame from the exhaust when he arrives at the venue. Kirk Hammett is working on a broken guitar that seems to be dripping blood. Robert Trujillo secludes himself in a room filled with bass amps, and during the course of his playing he seems to shimmer in and out of existence, in time with the music notes. When Lars Ulrich walks by Trip, an piece of electrical equipment explodes with a bang and flash of sparks.
When Metallica takes the stage, they show why they are one of the finest and most enduring rock and metal bands on the planet. From the opening chords of “Creeping Death,” the viewer and the audience knows that they’re set for an evening of hard-hitting heavy metal. The 3D actually adds to the experience when it comes to the the props that surround the band during certain songs. A giant electric chair descends from the ceiling during “Ride the Lightning,” and a group of Tesla coils fires bolts of lightning that are so bright and appear so abruptly that the viewer may involuntary move back out of instinct. Several of the songs impress visually and sonically, but none more so than Metallica’s arguably greatest song, “One.” Using pyrotechnics and their huge video screens, they capture the wartime atmosphere from the song’s opening moments and the hopelessness of a horribly injured land mine victim. The performance and presentation of the concert is worth the price of admission alone. The setlist covers all the band’s greatest hits, although some albums are better represented than others. Both Kill ‘Em All and Death Magnetic are represented by only one song. It would have been nice to get more of the deep cuts like “King Nothing” or “Holier Than Thou,” but fans are unlikely to complain too loudly.
During the opening parts of the concert, Trip is asked to drive across town to find one of the band’s equipment vans that has stalled and retrieve an item that the band needs for the end of the show. Once he makes his way across the city, he begins a surreal journey, encountering some things that shouldn’t be possible. His exploits seem to thematically match the songs that Metallica happens to be playing, although some moments match more seamlessly than others. “Enter Sandman” doesn’t seem to mesh with Trip’s story as well as the preceding “Battery,” for instance. Trip’s journey moves from one scene to the next with an inconsistent flow. Sometimes it seems logical, and other times it leaps forward to a completely different location with no explanation. The viewer is also denied a major piece of knowledge central to his story, which may annoy them. It certainly annoyed this reviewer during the drive home.
Although Trip’s story doesn’t work as well as it could, it doesn’t hurt the overall viewing experience. Perhaps the best way to describe Through the Never is to call it the world’s longest and most varied music video. The story, concert props and visuals, as well as the costumed characters through the film all seem to match the aesthetic of those classic videos that once aired on MTV. This is a clever move as it could provide longtime fans a sense of nostalgia as well as acquainting new fans with the band’s style.
In conclusion, Metallica Through the Never is a bold concert film experience unlike any other. It impresses both visually and musically, if not narratively, and both fans and newcomers can appreciate the performance that Metallica puts on. You can’t help but be impressed.