Metallica turns on the sound and cameras

In “Metallica Through the Never,” which debuted last week in Burbank and opened wider in cinemas this weekend, the multi-platinum heavy-metal band has delivered less a traditional concert film than a music-driven feature.

“We wanted to give an experience that was different,” said Lars Ulrich, the band's enigmatic drummer, who cofounded the band in Los Angeles with guitarist James Hetfield in 1981. “So many concert movies are the same, so we thought if we weave a dramatic arc and different genres into the film, it would make for a more interesting movie.”

Filmed for 3D and IMAX, the movie is not only a vivid greatest hits package performed by the band on an elaborate concert stage especially designed for the film, but interweaves a tale set in a post-apocalyptic nightmare, as an overly dedicated young roadie, Trip (played by Dane DeHaan), is sent on a quest to retrieve a mysterious bag the band has lost.

“Trip is a huge fan. He lives, breathes and wants to die Metallica,” DeHaan explained. “All he wants to do is really stay and watch the concert, but he is pulled away to get this bag for the band and overcome these crazy obstacles, but for him it's worth it. ... Metallica writes lyrics that people can interpret with their own meanings, and that's what this film does as well.”

Ulrich adds, “Ultimately, people want to know what's in the bag. And we love that people leave the theater talking about it. When we were writing it, we saw this beautiful Iranian film, ‘A Separation,' where you would spend days contemplating the ending. Not in any way do I think our film is in the same category, but if people can spend some time debating the ending, that would be great.”

The film comes at a time when the hard-rock icons are feeling their most positive, and it reflects a very different band from the collision of demons revealed in their award-winning 2004 documentary, “Some Kind of Monster.”

“That film really got backstage in our minds,” said Hetfield. “This time it's all about the performance and there is not a lot of dialogue, which is great.”

After decades of musical and personal ups and downs that include lineup changes, deaths, substance abuse and rehab stints, the band has never been better, Hetfield said. Metallica has been based in the Bay Area since 1983.

“Everyone is really doing great now,” Hetfield said. “We are all dads now so our number-one priority is showing up as a dad and then as a band, so we now have the best of both worlds. We are still together after all these years. We are still making music and we still love what we are doing.”

“I think we have finally learned to set some boundaries,” Ulrich added. “We have a two-week rule, so no matter where we are in the world, we are back home to our family. It prevents you from falling off the deep end when you are on the road.”

The band is also enjoying a new sense of autonomy, after leaving Warner Bros. Records last year. The band self-financed “Metallica Through the Never.”

“It certainly makes you pay attention and give it your all in front of the cameras,” Hetfield said with a laugh. “So we made sure we did the best possible set-up we could.”

In the film are elements from some of the band's stage shows from across the decades. Familiar stage pieces include the imploding stage from the 1996-98 “Reload” tour, the snake pit from the “Black Album,” and the coffins from their most recent studio album, “Death Magnetic.”

“I think what we have assembled for this film is our “greatest bits,” Ulrich said. “We did so many theatrical shows back in the '80s and '90s, so to be able to reinvent them now was very exciting.”


KATHERINE TULICH writes about film and culture for Marquee.

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