SAN DIEGO — Singer and guitarist
Metallica had come to
Opening Friday on more than 250 Imax theaters across North America, "Metallica Through the Never" is part genre fable, part concert movie, channeling the band's predilection for apocalyptic imagery through a cinematic lens.
The film, directed by Nimrod Antal (
The idea for a Metallica Imax movie dates to 1997 when the band's management team first approached the musicians about shooting a concert film, then conceived as a conventional 30-minute short. But the massive cameras that the format required at the time turned out to be too unwieldy to be arranged on a stage, and the project was shelved until three years ago, when the group was on tour in Belfast.
"There was a realization that a lot of our fans were so young that the theatrical elements of Metallica's stage presentations from the '80s, a lot of them hadn't seen — statues and crosses and all this crazy stuff," said Ulrich, 49, seated beside Hetfield, Hammett and Trujillo under the fluorescent lights of a hotel ballroom. "You could do so much more with the technology of that now, so to revisit that carefully without going too far and being stuck in the past [seemed appealing]."
In the four decades since Ulrich and Hetfield met and formed the band in 1981, Metallica has sold more than 110 million albums, forging a reputation as a powerhouse live act whose muscular, masculine energy on stage magnified the sonic force of songs about violence and death and Old Testament-style retribution.
The band has an extensive history with film too — it was Dalton
It was the 2004 warts-and-all documentary "Some Kind of Monster," however, that might have had the most profound influence on the direction of "Metallica Through the Never."
"What we learned from the 'Some Kind of Monster' experience is if you have a dramatic arc in your film, it puts a whole different spin on it," Ulrich said. "There were a lot of music-world people that thought the movie was way too transparent and there was too much stuff that you shouldn't see, but the film world received it warmly. It's not really a movie about a rock 'n' roll band, it's a movie about relationships."
For "Metallica Through the Never," the group selected 16 tracks stretching back to its 1983 debut album, "Kill 'Em All," and tapped British architect Mark Fisher (who provided concert designs for Pink Floyd's "The Wall") to construct a massive stage, 200 feet long and 60 feet wide, with various trap doors and risers to allow for some outsize theatrical elements, and a floor made entirely of LED screens.
To develop the narrative, the band turned to Antal, a lifelong Metallica fan who earned early acclaim for his Hungarian-language subterranean thriller "Kontroll." He invented the Trip character, whose largely wordless journey was informed, in part, by the circular structure of Paulo Coelho's novel "The Alchemist."
"He totally understands Metallica and what we're about," said Hammett, 50. "He understands our audience, and he understands how passionate our audience is and how intense our audience is."
The band played a string of concerts in Mexico City last year to familiarize itself with Fisher's stage before traveling to Canada to shoot the film. Performing on the set, which takes up the entire ice floor of a standard hockey arena, required great care, and the musicians were amused and somewhat alarmed by the precautions that were necessary.
"You're playing a song, and by the way, don't go in this little area — there's a Tesla coil that shoots off 10,000 volts and you could get killed," said Hetfield, 50.
"Don't pass this little piece of masking tape with a little X on it or you'll get fried," Hammett added.
"A 400-pound camera sliding down a zip line just missed me," offered Trujillo, 48.
Antal collaborated with producer Charlotte Huggins, a 3-D veteran whose work includes 2008's Brendan Fraser adventure "Journey to the Center of the Earth," and cinematographer Gyula Pados to capture the "energy and power" of the stage show using 24 cameras.
"They wanted the viewers to have an opportunity to be on the stage with them, as opposed to in the pit looking up," Antal said. "We talked about having Steadicams on stage looking out over the band's shoulder onto the oceans of Metallica fans and being on the drum riser — really just giving the Metallica fan an opportunity to see a concert in ways that he or she hasn't before."
Antal married the concert footage with Trip's story line in the editing room, using the songs to advance the narrative and add mood and texture to the surreal saga. The final film premiered this month at the
Picturehouse, the reconstituted distribution entity led by indie film vet Bob Berney, is releasing "Metallica Through the Never," which Hetfield, Ulrich, Hammett and Trujillo financed themselves at a budget of $18 million, opening the movie exclusively in Imax theaters before expanding to other, non-Imax 3-D venues the following week. (The band also released a two-CD soundtrack album on Tuesday.)
Whether the R-rated film will expand beyond Metallica's core following to reach genre fans and casual moviegoers is unclear, but the musicians seemed cheered by the enthusiastic response from the Comic-Con crowd. That the project had reached completion after so many years seemed like a reason to celebrate.
"The hardest thing in Hollywood is trying to sell an idea that has no point of reference," Ulrich said. "If you can't sit there and go, 'It's like 'The Bourne Identity' meets 'Private Ryan' meets