Metallica aren’t very likely to fly under the radar. Over almost 40 years, the band has sold over 100 million albums, played sold-out shows all over the globe, and inspired countless musicians, myself included.
Through the course of their career, Metallica has weathered tragedy and controversy. They’ve experimented, from scaling their compositions down on their 1991 self-titled album to the hard rock groove of Load and Reload.
Sometimes it pays off (their self-titled album has sold over 30 million copies), sometimes it doesn’t (I’m looking at you, Lulu).
Today, we’re looking at one of the times that—sadly—didn’t.
Metallica Through the Never
Metallica is no stranger to video releases, having released A Year and a Half in the Life Of Metallica, being the subject of the documentary Some Kind of Monster, as well as a handful of live performances.
Looking to push the envelope, the band set to work on a theatrical release that would be part live show and part surreal narrative.
The narrative portion focuses on Trip (Dane DeHaan), a roadie for the band who is sent to take gas to a stranded truck, being told that the disabled vehicle is carrying “something very important.” Trip consumes a blue and red pill and sets off on his quest.
Intercut with performance footage, Trip’s adventure sees him interact with a city that starts off as desolate and eerie before escalating into riots. I won’t go into great detail about it here because, honestly, it won’t make much sense. That’s not a criticism of the film, rather a call for you to see it for yourself.
The song choices blend very well with Trip’s vignettes and Metallica’s live show is tailor-made for such a cinematic endeavor. The cinematography is outstanding as is the sound design, naturally.
A Different Type of Project
Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich set off to find a director, ultimately finding a match in Nimród Antal. Antal, who had broken into Hollywood with projects like Vacancy and Predators, saw the possibilities inherent with the concert/narrative hybrid.
With Antal in tow to guide the massive project, work got underway. A specially-designed stage was used for the concerts. The performance was shot over the course of 5 nights in Canada (2 in Edmonton, 3 in Vancouver) with setlists that were carefully constructed to fit the movie’s narrative.
Now, anyone who’s been to a Metallica live show or seen footage of one knows that they love utilizing an elaborate stage setup. They also use a fair amount of pyrotechnics. While the end result of these facts is a hell of a show, it presented very unique concerns for the camera operators who had to capture everything.
As an example, the live performance of the song Fuel is accompanied by synchronized pyrotechnics. Special care had to be taken to ensure that the crew knew the timing of the show in order to avoid potentially lethal missteps.
Thankfully, no such incidents occurred.
Release and Reception
The film saw wide release on October 4, 2013 (September 27 in IMAX) and received largely positive reviews. Sonny Bunch of the Washington Free Beacon described the film as “three-quarters concert film, one-quarter disaster epic” and added that it was “the most fun I’ve had at the movies this year.”
I was pumped for the movie and went to see it opening weekend in a largely empty theater. Okay, that’s an exaggeration: I was the only person in the theater. While being alone added much to the atmosphere of the narrative segments, I couldn’t help but imagine how much better the experience of the concert footage would have been with a packed house.
Unfortunately, my experience wasn’t an outlier.
The movie earned $1.57 million during its opening weekend, landing it in 14th place. Over its theatrical run, it grossed just under $8 million worldwide. With an estimated budget of $18 million, the film was a flop, financially-speaking.
The truth is that, from my perspective, the film delivers exactly what it set out to. The effort to blend the concert footage with the narrative scenes is obvious and the end product is something unique.
No, it’s not the first such film, though it does more than enough to set itself apart.