Over the weekend, Metallica: Through the Never opened in theaters nationwide. As a longtime fan of the planet's favorite heavy-metal band, I wasn't going to miss it. Not only because I love Metallica's music (the good stuff, anyway), but because I'm also a fan of hilariously overblown visual spectacle.
Which is pretty much exactly what Through the Never was touted to be: a 3D IMAX spectacular taking us on a laser-studded journey through all the biggest hits. The flick isn't Metallica's first foray into Hollywood; in fact, it's something of a corrective. In 2004, their uncomfortably intimate reality-show drama Some Kind of Monster found the band essentially remaking This is Spinal Tap without the (intentional) laughs. Showcasing Metallica at its lowest point, that movie managed to effectively tear down the band's invincible rock-star image and cast them as all-too-human, all-too-lame middle-aged men with issues. It sucked.
The task of Through the Never is to restore the myth, and the movie pulls out all the stops to get us there. Perhaps unsurprisingly, though, it goes a bit overboard at (most) times. Maybe the specter of Spinal Tap is simply too perfectly applicable to this band to be escaped. In any case, it was all I could think about during the screening I attended.
Because Lord knows you're too cool to buy a ticket, here are the Top 10 Spinal Tap moments from the film for you to laugh at:
10. The Needless Side Mission In the funniest and most crucial bad decision associated with the making of Through the Never, director Nimród Antal decided that what a Metallica concert film really needed was a pointless narrative involving a functionally nameless roadies descending into a post-apocalyptic hell in order to retrieve some unnecessary McGuffin. Actor Dane DeHaan's character certainly proves his dedication to the band, braving a police riot, self-immolation and even a gas-masked, hammer-wielding doom rider in order to do his masters' bidding. Pity the poor fool, since he's missing the biggest and most elaborate Metallica concert of all time to complete his task.
And so are we, every time the action switches to DeHaan's mission. We've seen enough post-apocalyptic suicide missions in cinemas of late. That is decidedly not what we want to see in a Metallica concert film. Even Spinal Tap knew that its stars were in the band. More lasers, instead, please.
9. Gigantic, Malfunctioning Props Metallica is one of the biggest bands in the world. In some places, maybe the biggest. To emphasize the group's titanic, globe-spanning largeness, Through the Never finds them trotting out massive, electronic stage props that put Spinal Tap's giant, horned skull to shame. Lord knows I wasn't the only one waiting for a Stonehenge triptych to descend from the rafters.
LED tombstones. An exploding Justice statue. An enormous Tesla-coiled electric chair and more flaming cyclones than a National Park wildfire. All these and more serve as the spectacular set dressing for what the filmmakers claim is the largest indoor stage ever constructed. The fact that these props are made to seem constantly in danger of crushing our metallic heroes might've felt more like a commentary on the business of international rock tours if the band wasn't portrayed consistently as invincible demigods, carving their names into history with lightning.
Did the filmmakers have Spinal Tap in mind when they staged equipment malfunctions? If they didn't, they really fucking should have.
8. The Ridiculous Fake "Accident" No one knows better than Metallica how dangerous onstage pyrotechnics can be. Front man James Hetfield was burned nearly to a crisp in '92 when he stepped into one of the band's flashpots in Montreal. That's why it was impossible not to laugh out loud when the filmmakers orchestrated a transparently fake "accident" onstage that culminated in falling equipment, stretchers and a roadie engulfed in flames.
It's not the first time Metallica has attempted to entertain with silly Hollywood stunts framed onstage as "accidents." But it wasn't any less corny in 3D. There's simply no disguising the fact that Metallica shows are a well-oiled machine with virtually no spontaneity. Any hints to the contrary can only be played for laughs.
List continues on the next page.
7. The Many Faces of Lars Ulrich Talk about a guy born ready for his close-up. Impish Metallica drummer/business manager/mascot Lars Ulrich has long been known for deploying some of the most hilarious rock and roll faces in the biz, but with 24 3D IMAX cameras pointed at him, Ulrich takes his grimaces to an entirely new level in Through the Never.
Bald, sweating and ferocious behind his kit, Ulrich mugs as hard as he possibly can through a carefully calibrated set of tunes that he must know better than his own reflection. If you've ever felt compelled to count your favorite drummer's fillings, buy a ticket to this film immediately. Despite the movie's bizarre attempt to shoehorn a psychedelic narrative into the concert footage, all of the tragedy and triumph inherent in Metallica's oeuvre is written far larger across Ulrich's rubbery face. Nigel Tufnel would be impressed.
6. The Titanic-scale Hollywood Set In Through the Never, Metallica aren't just playing on what's been claimed to be the world's largest indoor stage. They're playing on a Hollywood set. Seemingly constructed entirely out of LED flat-screens, the set and its attendant props, pulleys and cameras is far too massive and impractical to ever be taken out on tour, even by Metallica's dedicated army of roadies and truck drivers. It makes the whole thing seem like an extended music video, not a live performance.
Lasers, lightning bolts, and movie stuntmen feel much more natural on this set than a heavy-metal band -- even the biggest heavy-metal band in the world. Doubt the band will get much more use out of it, but maybe Joss Whedon can put it to use in Avengers 2... as the villain.
5. The Tired Set List Much like Spinal Tap, Metallica hasn't had a hit in quite some time now. While Through the Never includes performances of some cherished deep cuts from the band's lengthy catalogue -- "Ride the Lightning" and "Orion" chief among them -- tunes from their 21st-century output were few and far between.
In fact, "Cyanide" from 2008's Death Magnetic was about it. Mercifully, perhaps, no tunes from 2003's much-maligned St. Anger were showcased. "Creeping Death" and "One" still slay, but the lack of anything remotely new in their se tlist only served to emphasize that, though they're not likely to receive second billing to a puppet show anytime soon, Metallica's best days are long past.
4. The Fans as Props The story of Metallica is and has always been the story of Metallica's fans. Through thick and thin, the band's dedicated disciples have supported the group through their remarkable ascent as well as their laughable missteps over the years. Typically, the unconditional love has gone both ways.
It's puzzling, then, that this cinematic monument reduces Metallica's fans to the faceless, shouting horde of black T-shirts that their detractors have always claimed them to be. While the massive arena crowd is certainly given plenty of camera time, the people in the seats serve as mere set dressing in a production already packed full of it. As in This Is Spinal Tap, the music fans in Through the Never are a complete abstract, unknown outsiders disconnected entirely from Metallica's show -- and success.
List continues on the next page.
3. 3D Chest Hair! After years of putting on stupid-looking plastic glasses in movie theaters, I think we can all agree that the 3D gimmick is an underutilized contrivance at best and, at worst, a cynical ploy to up movie prices. Save for a very few inventive shots, the 3D in Through the Never is completely useless. The artificial sense that, hey, James Hetfield looks like he's really in front of that blurry, out-of-focus Kirk Hammett onscreen ain't worth the extra three bucks it cost us to see.
Then again, if you've ever wanted to have Hetfield's sweaty chest hair pop out of the screen at you, you're totally in luck. When KISS put on an entire live concert in 3D years ago, they had the good sense to play around with it, with Peter Criss tossing giant drumsticks right into the audience's faces. Surely Spinal Tap would've done the same. But nothing so obvious and fun makes it into Through the Never.
2. The Insane Promotional Blitz It must've been exhausting and eye-opening for Metallica to be subjected to the new school of Hollywood press junkets upon this film's release. In order to ensure an impressive opening weekend, the producers sent the band members flying around the country individually to introduce multiple screenings per day of the movie on Thursday. The AMC Gulf Pointe 30 off the Gulf Freeway got Kirk Hammett, which is something, I guess.
It feels a little shameful, though, sending the world's most beloved metal band out begging audiences to come see their movie. While none of their appearances likely turned out as dismally as Spinal Tap's disastrous record-store appearance promoting Smell the Glove, one would hope that a 3D IMAX spectacular was gimmick enough to put butts in seats without the silly whistle-stop tour.
1. Ticket Price$ Sad to say, but $12.50 is about the cheapest anyone's ever going to see a Metallica live show for ever again. Time was, you could buy a whole CD to keep for your very own for that kind of scratch. But those days are deader than Cliff Burton.
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To be fair, movie ticket prices are a movie industry problem, not a Metallica problem. But for that same debit charge, I could've seen Prisoners or even Riddick this weekend and just listened to ...And Justice for All on the ride over. Having relentlessly toured every country with electricity over the past 20 years even as the recording industry collapsed, perhaps Hollywood was the only territory left for Metallica to conquer. But it was impossible to escape the notion that the too-short Through the Never is not much more than a big-budget money grab for the band and its handlers in an era where audio recordings are losing their profitability.
If you plan to enjoy the spectacle, bring money.
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