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The success of Metallica’s 2004 documentary Some Kind of Monster, an unintentional self-parody, provided a large mattress for the band’s half-baked ideas to procreate, culminating in the bizarrely, non-sensical IMAX 3-D movie Through the Never. With more than 110 million records sold over its 30-year career, all Metallica had to deliver was an engaging live concert simulation enhanced with the gratuitous visual gimmickry of 3-D and IMAX technology to please its adolescent and blue-collar metal audiences. Oddly, the end result is a fool’s errand that ties live concert footage to a ridiculous story of a young stagehand braving an urban apocalypse to rescue a bag, implied as the band’s soul, from a stranded Metallica production vehicle before the concert ends.
With the mundaneness of a task-oriented video game, this pill-popping skate rat encounters riotous crowds and a gas-masked horseman of the apocalypse. Mimicking the time-continuum theme of Back to the Future, the integrity of the band’s elaborate stage props, and perhaps the band’s own survival, depends upon the symbolic bag’s safe return to the arena. When the bag’s return is uncertain, Metallica’s lighting rigs and coffin-shaped video monitors malfunction, shoot sparks and crash to the stage. A giant Lady of Justice statue (which to the band’s credit did not have enormous breasts) cracks and tumbles nearly crushing drummer Lars Ulrich. The performance quickly halts and vocalist, guitarist James Hetfield queries the crowd, “is everyone ok, is any one hurt?” Without pause, he quickly denounces the aggrandizing stage props so celebrated moments before to declare that all the band needs is a couple of amps like the old days. The band then completes its set with classic material.
While Some Kind of Monster hilariously captured a wildly successful band that could not speak with one another or work together without a therapist present, Through the Never is a journey into the shallow subconscious of a band that enjoys comic books for the pictures but can’t read. Directed by Nimrod Antal, the movie is filled with many non-sequiturs, including silhouette images of World War I soldiers on the stage’s video screens, a broken guitar that bleeds and Hetfield’s custom chop-top Merc expelling CGI flames when he flares the throttle at 5 mph. These moments of hilarity beg the band’s creative pathology. Were these ideas fleshed out over a few cases of beer? Here is a plausible scenario: guitarist Kirk Hammett, “dudes, I think it would be like really cool if like my guitar bleeds…can my guitar bleed?” Or, Hetfield, “my hot rod must fart flames!” The musical performances are good and demonstrate the band’s tightness around Lars Ulrich’s sometimes erratic beats. It captures all of the gratuitous stage moves typical of the genre, including Hetfield and bassist Robert Trujillo squaring off like creeping arachnids and stabbing each other with their guitar necks. There are more than enough 3-D close-ups of Lars Ulrich’s face, which frequently approximates birthing expressions. The concert in the round stage set-up also provides a few priceless glimpses of the diminutive drummer’s feet barely touching the bass drum pedals.
For hardcore Metallica fans, Through the Never may be a playful, fantasy celebration of the band’s dark themes and neuroses. For those who enjoy absurd cinema (Rockstar with Mark Wahlberg comes to mind), Through the Never is 90-minutes of compulsive laughter. Fortunately, the movie’s 120db sound level masks the sarcasm of the latter to preserve the enjoyment of the former.