Fantastic Fest 2013 Review: Metallica: Through the Never


A fantastic concert can’t make up for a poor narrative

Truly great concert films are a rare find. Many of the great ones come from talented filmmakers and documentarians (Martin Scorsese, D.A. Pennebaker, and the Maysles brothers) and focus on influential musicians (Bob Dylan), the concert of all concerts (Woodstock), or an event mired in tragic circumstances (The Rolling Stones performance at Altamont – Gimme Shelter). Now the concert film has degenerated to a popular-hits set list for Top 40 artists like Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and One Direction. And the formula is pretty much the same: personal interludes and beyond-the-stage footage of artists mixed in with chart-topping hits.

When you hear the heavy metal group Metallica had wanted to do a concert film for several years the initial reaction by the band’s rabid fans would be something to the effect, “Well it’s about damn time.” But aside from the fans and heavy metal music lovers alike, the general public may be more inclined to pull out earplugs, not lighters, and sit unmoved, not bang their heads, to songs like “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”

To counteract this, director Nimrod Antal’s Metallica: Through the Never includes a narrative story involving a young roadie venturing out into a desolate wasteland (in this case, Vancouver) to retrieve a prized keepsake belonging to the band. It’s a warranted change of pace from concert films of late. (If you want a more in-depth look at Metallica – at a time when the band was going through some serious growing pains – watch 2004’s Metallica: Some Kind of Monster.)

While Antal’s story treatment beat out four others (all which had a sci-fi bent), the narrative doesn’t provide much of a logical through line in relation to the Metallica concert transpiring at the same time. Nevertheless, in terms of originality for concert films, it’s hard to overlook Through the Never‘s ambitiousness. The film will be aurally pleasing to those who know the Metallica songbook by heart; it wouldn’t surprise me if in the future the film becomes a sing-along staple at Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas nationwide. The visuals are also top-notch. During the concert Antal utilized 11 3D cameras to capture the band’s performance on a specialty-built 360-degree stage with all the bells and whistles (ahem, pyrotechnics, Tesla coils, graveyard crosses, and a towering statue of “blind justice”).  Another twenty or so 3D cameras were also used during production to film the narrative segments.

Through the Never starts with a great continuous shot that sweeps across the Canadian cityscape, around the concert venue where the band will be performing, and ends on a close-up of a Metallica fan’s POS car as he make his arrival to the sold-out concert. The portly metalhead crawls out of his rust bucket and exclaims, “first to arrive, last to leave.” Committed fan? Lunatic? Lunatic that should be committed? You decide.

That opening shot and the then-introduction of roadie Trip, played by Dane DeHaan (The Place Beyond the Pines, Chronicle), sets up the musical odyssey, in which the banging sounds of Lars Ulrich on drums, James Hetfield’s growling vocals, and guitar strumming from Kirk Hammett and Robert Trujillo, are paired with Antal’s epic visuals to become a Metallica fan’s playground.

My own history with the band began when I was probably thirteen or fourteen and heard The Black Album for the first time. It was the heaviest rock I had listen to, and it was also the album that brought the band mainstream attention. Having listened to signature hits “One,” “Master of Puppets,” and “Ride the Lightning,” my interest in the group waned around the same time Jason Newsted left the band, interestingly enough. Thankfully, the set list chosen for this particular performance included a lot of their old stuff that will be familiar to those who tuned in and later tuned out of Metallica. Yes, those people do exist, much to the chagrin of devout ‘Tallica fans.

Ennio Morricone’s “The Ecstasy of Gold” (from Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) sets the mood for the band’s arrival on stage. Metallica has maintained this great Morricone instrumental as its intro music since 1983. With anthem-like metal ballads, this preamble helps give its first song that much more of an operatic build. The fact that the stage gives the group a 360-degree space to roam wherever they may want to seems apropos considering they once had a hit single titled “Wherever I May Roam.”

The images Trip sees during his misadventures are cryptic in tone and make for striking visuals, but it would mean more had DaHann’s character been a character. He’s a character outline, really. When he reaches his destination and obtains what can be best described as a MacGuffin to push the plot forward, an opportunity is missed. The contents of the bag aren’t revealed, much like audiences never found out what was in Marcellus Wallace’s briefcase in Pulp Fiction. Which leaves our minds to ponder the possibilities. Hundred to one odds it contains all of Robert Trujillo’s scrunchies.

Through the Never does its best to damage as many of Metallica fans’ eardrums as possible with an epic concert, and had it just been the concert it would be a solid recommendation for fans. The narrative is what detracts from the entertainment the most, when it should enhance the overall experience. On-stage accidents in the final act also seem forced, and present another added distraction to the proceedings. Surprisingly, the loudness of the band doesn’t change despite setting up amps on stage as if they were practicing in a garage. Sad but true.

Metallica: Through the Never won’t have much crossover appeal to those not already devotees to the band but should be welcomed to metalheads that can’t stand bubble gum pop. As for me, the strong set list can’t make up for a shoddy narrative.

Director(s): Nimrod Antal
Writer(s): Nimrod Antal, James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett and Robert Trujillo
Notable Cast: Dane DeHaan, James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett, Robert Trujillo

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