Sunday, September 29, 2013

Metallica: Through the Never

Heavy Metal is a genre that has resonated with me for a good chunk of my life, but this affinity would not be possible if not for my discovery of Metallica. I first became exposed to the band in high school, when I was also a more avid Guitar Hero player (I began with III: Legends of Rock) and read a preview for a game based entirely around the band’s music. It may seem crazy, but I picked it up anyway out of curiosity and the rest is history. Since then, I’ve been listening to a wide variety of Heavy Metal subgenres, including, but not limited to: Groove (Pantera; Lamb of God), Progressive (Dream Theater), Symphonic (Nightwish; Symphony X) and Melodic Death (Dethklok). While I’ve been dipping my toes into many of these subgenres, it’s sometimes good to go back to Metallica and remind myself of why I love this kind of music in the first place. As someone who is a fan of most of their work, I became curious when I had heard about an upcoming movie of theirs, called Through the Never, and read about its basic plot (what also helped was that I got a free promo shirt for it at SDCC 2013). Due to the timing of the release, I went to see it in IMAX 3D on its second day, which also happens to be my 21st birthday (yesterday as of this posting). Having now seen it, I am overall satisfied with how it turned out, though it does have some shortcomings.

As Metallica plays to a sold-out show, a roadie named Trip (Dane DeHaan) is sent on a last-minute errand to find a truck containing something that the band needs. On the way over, his van gets hit by a car, setting off a series of surreal, drug-fueled events involving a riot within the city and a mysterious horseman who deals death wherever he goes. While trying to avoid these chaotic elements, he still attempts to locate the van and survive while delivering Metallica its cargo.

Through the Never is essentially composed of two elements, a non-fiction element of concert footage of Metallica while on tour in August 2012 and a fictional one of the trip that Trip has on his trip to the truck. The first, the concert footage, is very well put together. Everything is shot with crystal clarity and the camera angles chosen create possibly the best concert video I ever seen. Thanks to these angles, there is a deeper sense of immersion, since at times you feel like you are actually onstage with the band. Even when the camera isn’t directly on the stage, there are plenty of other shots that show it off in its full glory, others still where each individual member can show off their skills to the fullest, including a few that show just how good Lars Ulrich is with his drumming and Kirk Hammett with his guitar playing.

Of course, the stage itself is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. The massive 200-foot construct is able to not only facilitate so many gimmicks at once, thanks to an impressive series of trapdoors and risers, along with a floor made almost entirely of screens, but is also actually happening in real time with nothing but practical effects. Seeing the band interact with the myriad of features, including James Hetfield placing his back against a white cross during Master of Puppets or the members being able to go from mike to mike when necessary, is also cool to watch and shows that they were able to familiarize themselves with such a complex arena. The fact that it all went off without a hitch, except of course when the story required it, shows that the greatest level of care went into making the show stand out to the very energetic crowd.

The stage is very elaborate.

If there’s one thing I really need to give the band credit for however, it would be their choice of setlist. Each of the 16 songs seems carefully chosen to not only appeal to Metallica fans both old and new, but also showcase some of their best, as well as classic, material, with selections from all the way back to Kill ‘Em All up to Death Magnetic. Throughout the film, I found myself tapping my heels and air guitaring in my seat to the songs, mouthing a good deal of the lyrics to myself from familiarity and in general just being able to absorb the sonic waves of Trash Metal into my being; It’s a good thing then that not very many people were at my screening, since I’m sure I would have disturbed a much larger audience were I the only one doing this. What helped the experience greatly was the mixing, which I thought to be very good at letting the audience hear not only Hetfield’s vocals, but also each individual instrument. The only time I think it ever faulted would be during the credits, where the band plays Orion in an empty arena. Since the song is built around the bass playing abilities of the late Cliff Burton, I think Robert Trujillo’s part should have been mixed a little louder for the solos; in any case, his bass playing is excellent and his animalistic style did not disappoint.

The fictional element however, that being Trip’s surreal journey, is actually the weak point. There is definitely a lot of interesting imagery, including one badass moment near the end that brings to mind the visuals of Scott Pilgrim, but in the context of a story hardly makes any sense. We never really learn why there is a riot, why a man on horseback is lynching people left and right or even why the death dealer has his own posse. There are plenty of other spoileriffic questions, but the fact remains that there is a lot of sometimes visceral imagery put in front of the viewer without any satisfying payoff in the end. Even the meat of the subplot, that being whatever the heck might be in the bag he was sent to retrieve, isn’t answered in a way that would have any real value (maybe the bag contains Dave Mustaine’s dignity?).

This never really gets explained.

That said, I did like how the songs that Metallica played were relevant to Trip’s situation at hand and tied into things neatly, even doing some cool transitions between the two sides. While the story is overall serious in tone, I found some particular moments, despite one possibly breaking the flow of the music, to lend a good amount of humor to the events. Trip is a silent protagonist, and has good body language to compensate, but I think they made the right decision in doing that, since any dialogue he might have said wouldn’t have added anything of value to the already nonsensical “plot” we are subject to. Then again, the addition of his story, while a very interesting concept, is not ultimately why someone watching the movie would stay invested.

As the culmination of what had to be years of planning, Metallica’s first attempt at a somewhat more plot-driven concert movie is a very worthwhile one. There are a few hiccups when it comes to having fiction in such a film, but the main reason for anyone to watch would be to see the best collection of concert footage ever assembled. Metallica fans will most certainly get their money’s worth, but it is understandable for outsiders to have some concerns about going due to a lack of familiarity with the band. If you do, but decide that you want to go anyway, try it; you may just become a fan yourself.

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