20 October 2013

Metallica: Through The Never

This film wasn't even on my radar until fairly recently, when the trailer popped up as one of the three at the top of the IMDb homepage. It's only showing for a limited season - at our closest cinemas it was on once a night for one week only, which finished on Wednesday. It's still showing (but still only once a night) at a different (and more expensive) cinema chain, so I headed off to Garden City on Friday afternoon to do some shopping and see that evening's session.

Theatrical poster.
Directed by Nimród Antal (who also co-wrote the film with the band), it's meant to be part concert film, part narrative.

The concert part of the film is obvious. It's Metallica, one of the biggest (and globally recognised) names in heavy music. I still haven't seen them live, but seeing them do their thing on the cinema screen in 3D was just incredible. I can only imagine what this would've been like on an IMAX screen.

The narrative part of the film is centred on Trip, a junior roadie. He is played by Dane DeHaan, one of the three young leads (the one who went the full Magneto) from 2012's found-footage science-fiction movie "Chronicle" (see #6 on this list). With extremely little dialogue in this film, he plays his part (such as it is) rather well, I thought.

Dane DeHaan
The cameras follow him on his skateboard as he enters the parking garage and stage entrance of the massive arena, carrying a takeaway food bag for one of the senior crew. We are treated to fleeting glimpses of the band members, given almost Spinal-Tap-like humorous onscreen introductions: James arrives, sunglasses on, in a shiny muscle car with flaming exhaust. Kirk is at the stage door and gives bouncers the OK to let Trip inside. Lars scowls. Rob practices his bass in a room of wall-to-wall (and floor-to-ceiling) bass amps. The walls literally shake.

This is all in the first five minutes. Then the concert gets underway, with the band's traditional entrance music - Ennio Morricone's "Ecstasy of Gold".

If it was only a concert film, in 3D, I'd be tempted to give this 9, if not 10, stars. Yes, I'm biased. I have a few Metallica concert DVDs and Blu-rays on my shelves. In addition to the great songs, there's great camera work, and stage effects. As a filmed performance of live music, it is incredible. Experiencing Metallica through surround cinema speakers was fantastic.

The narrative is where I felt let down - I was left wanting so much more. One song into the show, Trip is sent on a mission to retrieve something from a broken-down truck. Something the band needs. We never find out what it is. This worked in Pulp Fiction. Less so in Ronin. Not at all here, although I have read some interesting theories online already. The trouble is, the city is in some sort of turmoil. The streets are absolutely deserted, on an "Omega Man", "28 Days Later" level - is everyone in the city at the concert? Turn a corner, and suddenly we have angry mobs, molotov cocktails, and police in full riot gear.

Bane auditions for the next Planet Of The Apes film.
It gets a little surreal - which I didn't mind. Trip's doll that hangs from his rearview mirror walks around via stop-motion (or CGI) at one point. Physical actions out in the strange riot city have repercussions and effects within the concert arena. When Trip hits the ground with a hammer, several skyscrapers start collapsing, much like the closing scenes of "Fight Club". This is where the narrative started to grab me. And unfortunately, the closing credits followed shortly thereafter.

Stay during the credits for the band performing the instrumental "Orion". Using various split-screen effects (and multi-camera angles), both band and credits share the screen during this closing track.

There are some moments where the music is matched nicely with the visuals outside the arena. The riot police beat their shields in time with an instrumental section of "Wherever I May Roam", which is followed by a full-on riot intercut with the band playing "Cyanide".

But there wasn't enough of this music-to-plot linking for my taste. There were times where the narrative distracted me, and I wanted the cameras to just get back to the concert. Then there were other times where I got a teaser of action, and wanted more, but was treated instead to extended concert footage as I was left wondering what was happening outside in the "riot world". In its ambitious attempt to be both a concert film and a narrative, it fell a little short.

While I appreciate what I think Metallica and Antal were going for here, I was still a little disappointed. (That being said, it's far less disappointing than their previous "arty" foray, the "Lulu" project with Lou Reed.)

Is it worth seeing during its limited release? If you like music (and Metallica in particular), probably. It's an awesome concert experience - you'll see (and hear) a great band at the top of their game.

As a purely narrative movie intercut with songs, it's barely a 6... but the music really does rescue it, and I'm going to give it 7 out of 10.

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